Shakespeare’s Sonnets

by: William Shakespeare

Mortality

1

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

In Sonnet 18, the speaker laments that the young inevitably age and lose their beauty. However, the speaker offers a young man in his prime some hope: The summer of his life will actually live on forever as the speaker’s poetry captures his essence. As long as there is an audience for poetry, the young man will have immortality through others’ imaginations.

2

Like as the waves make toward the pebbled shore, So do our minutes hasten to their end.

In Sonnet 60, the speaker compares the rate at which life passes by to a wave lapping the shore. He acknowledges that death comes inevitably for everyone, and that all should carry an awareness of their own mortality. Just as the wave lands on the shore only to go back out to sea, time gives us life and also takes that life away. However, readers may note that poetry captures and freezes moments in time, allowing the people the poet writes about to become immortal in a way.

3

Why so large cost having so short a lease, Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?

In Sonnet 146, the speaker personifies his soul as an extravagant homeowner making too large an investment in a constantly deteriorating dwelling, his body. He questions himself as to why he spends time and money on his aging body given the brevity of life. Rather than focusing on his physical health, he sees greater value in nourishing his soul for the afterlife. The speaker’s sense of mortality not only encourages him to preserve himself in these sonnets, but also to act virtuously while he still has life.