Those hours that with gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,
Will play the tyrants to the very same
And that unfair which fairly doth excel.
For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter and confounds him there,
Sap checked with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o’ersnowed and bareness everywhere:
Then were not summer’s distillation left,
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty’s effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it, nor no remembrance what it was.
But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,
Leese but their show. Their substance still lives sweet.
This is another sonnet that falls into the fair youth category that deals with procreation. The essence is that one should bear and raise children so that they will provide comfort in one’s later years.
Shakespeare uses seasonal metaphors to represent the stages of life: spring as the time of birth, summer as the period of early adulthood, and winter as old age. Personally, I find the symbols associated with old age to be the strongest in this poem; for example, line 7: “Sap checked with frost and lusty leaves quite gone.” If one considers a tree to be the symbol of the person to whom the poem is addressed, then the sap would represent the person’s blood, which has thickened and slowed as old age sets in, causing one’s energy to be “sapped.” The leaves would symbolize the person’s hair, which has fallen off and left the top bare.
I confess in my younger days I was not sure I wanted children. Now, as a father, I cannot imagine a life without my kids in it. When the winter of my days arrives, I look forward to spending that time with my children and reflecting back on my life with them. Yes, this poem has certainly struck a chord in me.