“Sonnet 2: When forty winters shall beseige thy brow” by William Shakespeare

Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt

When forty winters shall beseige thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask’d where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty’s use,
If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.

This is a continuation of the themes of beauty and procreation expressed in Sonnet 1. It appears that the woman who is the focus in this sonnet is endowed with physical beauty, which, Shakespeare points out, will be gone by the time she reaches 40. So again the issue of procreation is brought forth, as a way to pass on one’s beauty and keep it alive.

While this seems to be the main concept in the poem, I see another interpretation that I think is far more interesting, at least from a writer’s perspective. I see the child as a symbol for something you create, and for a poet, that would be a poem. How does beauty transcend the ravages of time? Through art. Every time I have crafted a poem or written a story, it was like giving birth to an idea or vision which I had. I cannot say that this was what Shakespeare had in mind when he penned this sonnet, but I can definitely see the child as a metaphor for an artistic creation.

One of the cool things about Shakespeare is that his work really does transcend the ages. His words are universal and I believe that 100 years from now, people will still be reinterpreting what he wrote.


Filed under Literature

6 responses to ““Sonnet 2: When forty winters shall beseige thy brow” by William Shakespeare

  1. Are you sure the focus of this sonnet is a woman?

    • Hey Scott. Thanks for your comment. That is a very good question. I know there is much debate about who was the focus of his later sonnets, but I suspect, based upon the theme of procreation, that for this particular sonnet the person is female. If I were to venture a guess, a woman he knew but was not romantically involved with. Cheers!

  2. This sonnet is also dedicated to Fair Youth I think!…

    Best wishes, marvelous post, Jeff.

    Aquileana 😛

    • Fair Youth; Rival Poet & Dark Lady In Shakespeare´s Sonnets:

      >Fair Youth Sonnets: 1/ 77 & 87/126

      >Rival Poet: Sonnets 78 /86

      >Dark Lady: Sonnets 127/152

      Dark Lady: As with the Fair Youth (Henry Wriothesley), there have been many attempts to identify her with a real historical individual, Mary Flitton, Emilia Lanier, and others have been suggested.)

      The Dark Lady sequence (sonnets 127–152), distinguishes itself from the Fair Youth sequence by being overtly sexual in its passion. Among these, Sonnet 151 has been characterised as “bawdy” and is used to illustrate the difference between the spiritual love for the man the sexual love for the woman.

      The Rival Poet’s identity remains a mystery; among the varied candidates are Christopher Marlowe, George Chapman, or, an amalgamation of several contemporaries


      Cheers, Aquileana 😛

    • You may be right. I may have to re-read it 😉