Sonnet 19: An Analysis

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger's jaws,
And burn the long-liv'd Phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets,
And do whate'er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one more heinous crime:
O, carve not with the hours my love's fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen!
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty's pattern to succeeding men.
Yet do thy worst, old Time! Despite thy wrong
My love shall in my verse ever live young.

Sonnet 19 by William Shakespeare

Sonnet 19 is a fascinating sonnet that doesn’t get a lot of recognition since it comes after the ever-popular Sonnet 18.  

It begins with the line “Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,”(1) a strong opening statement and the only line in the sonnet with eleven syllables instead of ten, which implies that the wording of this line is particularly important.  

Time is capitalized to represent the personification of a concept, and the phrase “blunt thou the lion’s paws”(1) begin the poet’s understanding of Time’s inevitable destruction. 

The poet expands on this understanding within the next four lines as he explains how the passing of time causes death (“And make the earth devour her own sweet brood”)(2), dulls the fiercest of predators (“Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws”)(3), and even causes the decay of the supernatural (“And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood”)(4). It also creates “glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st” (5), which implies that nothing in this universe is safe from Time’s advances.  

The poet understands and acknowledges Time’s authority in line’s 6 and 7 (“And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time/ To the wide world and all her fading sweets”) but then the poet does something unthinkable.  

He tries to stop time.  

The volta of the poem is the phrase “But I forbid thee one most heinous crime” (8) and launches the second half of the sonnet, which is a cry for mercy for the subject of the poem.  

The lines “O, carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow/ Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen,” (9,10) are interesting because they command Time to keep the subject ageless.  

The next lines mirror this statement with “Him in thy course untainted do allow/ For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men” (11, 12). The use of the pronoun “him” keeps the subject hidden from the reader, but still implies a level of intimacy between the poet, the beloved, and Time.  

The final couplet is defiant to Time’s advances. “Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong/ My love shall in my verse ever live young.”(13, 14) 

The poet is once again acknowledging Time’s inevitable conclusion, but instead of accepting his fate, he vows to make his love immortal through the written word.  

Sonnet 19 is both a plea and a promise, and it shows that one needs to understand the nature of Time before one can control it. It’s a subtle poem, but one with a powerful implication about the immortality of the written word because, as seen by the continued examination of the sonnets, the Poet fulfilled his vow of making his love for the subject immortal. 

Sonnet 19 has always been one of my favorites, and this analysis was an assignment for my college literature class. I chose to publish it today because I will be reading/performing this sonnet in the 10th Annual Shakespeare’s Birthday Sonnet Slam on October 24th. I will provide the link when it is available.

What do you think of sonnet 19? Is my analysis accurate? Let me know in the comments!

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