Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface
In thee thy summer, ere thou be distilled:
Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place
With beauty’s treasure, ere it be self-killed.
That use is not forbidden usury,
Which happies those that pay the willing loan;
That’s for thyself to breed another thee,
Or ten times happier, be it ten for one;
Ten times thyself were happier than thou art,
If ten of thine ten times refigured thee:
Then what could death do, if thou shouldst depart,
Leaving thee living in posterity?
Be not self-willed, for thou art much too fair,
To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.
And we have yet another fair youth sonnet addressing procreation. But this one is a little more interesting, particularly in the use of metaphors and the incorporation of what may be some number mysticism.
In the first two lines, Shakespeare encourages the young man to have children before he gets too old. I really like the phrase “winter’s ragged hand.” It evokes an image of an old, weathered face, accompanied by aged hands with loose skin draped over the bones.
In lines 3 and 4, Shakespeare uses the vial as a symbol for a woman’s genitalia. The youth is encouraged to find a wife he can treasure and who will bear his children.
With line 5, things start to get a little interesting. References are made to usury, which in Shakespeare’s time was the loaning of money at an interest greater than 10%. We then have the word “ten” repeated five times. The number 10 has mystical significance. According to Pythagoras, 10 is represented by the decad, which is symbolic of the world and heaven and is fundamental to understanding the creation of the universe. For more on Pythagoras’ theory, here is a brief and informative article: Pythagoras and the Mystery of Numbers.
The next thing I would like to point out is the importance of the number 10 in Jewish kabbalistic mysticism. The Tree of Life contains ten sephirot. Basically, the ten sephirot are the divine emanations from God which are the basis of all creation. I do not know if Shakespeare possessed a firm grasp of Jewish mysticism, but I would not be surprised if his contemporaries were studying this and possibly shared some insight.
The last thing I want to point out about the number 10 is that the last mention of the number in this sonnet occurs in line 10. I personally do not think this is a coincidence. I suspect Shakespeare did this to emphasize the importance of this number.
I also want to comment on the last line. As I read it, I could not help thinking about Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem, “The Conqueror Worm.” It is one of my favorite poems by Poe. If you’re interested, click here to read my thoughts on that poem.