“Sonnet 15: When I consider every thing that grows” by William Shakespeare

1579 drawing of the Great Chain of Being from Didacus Valades

1579 drawing of the Great Chain of Being from Didacus Valades

When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and cheque’d even by the self-same sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay,
To change your day of youth to sullied night;
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

So I really enjoyed this sonnet. The imagery that Shakespeare employs really connected with me.

This falls into the category of “fair youth” sonnets and is one of Shakespeare’s procreation sonnets. What struck me as different in this sonnet is his entreating to the youth to become a father is much more subdued than in his other ones, where he sometimes vehemently urges the youth to procreate. This one is much more subtle, only claiming that he perceives that “men as plants increase,” simply implying that reproduction is natural.

But the part of this poem that I found most interesting is lines 3 and 4:

That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;

This echoes the famous line from As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage.” But it also implies a connection between the earthly realm and the heavenly realm, an idea that was reflected in the concept of the Great Chain of Being (see The Elizabethan World Picture by E.M.W. Tillyard). Essentially, everything is connected. What happens on earth is a reflection of what happens in the heavens, and vice versa. So according to English Renaissance thought, what happens on earth is reflected in the heavens.

I’d like to close with my thoughts on the ending of this poem. Time is the great enemy of life, and will ultimately bring old age, decay, and death to all of us. But Shakespeare tempers this with a positive image. Through his poetry, he grafts the fair youth anew. What he is saying is that through his poems, the youth will remain forever young.

Thanks for stopping by and have an inspired day!

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12 Comments

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12 responses to ““Sonnet 15: When I consider every thing that grows” by William Shakespeare

  1. Lovely sonnet – I agree. I like the idea of the stars’ secret comments too; I wish it was possible to eavesdrop on them ;). Oh well, there is astrology at least as a way.

  2. Lovely poem, as usual. Shakespeare’s references to stars and the heavens always contain thoughts that soar and enter into our souls.

  3. Alex Hurst

    A beautiful sonnet, indeed. It is so obvious every time I read Shakespeare how genius he was. I like that the sonnet is not speaking of death in fear, but in gentle understanding of the fate that awaits us all. I definitely agree, though, that the youthful never grow old!

  4. Thank you for reminding me of this beautiful sonnet, and for the thoughts around it. I think there’s a lovely mixture of sensitivity and self-satisfaction in Shakespeare’s description of time here, he says the stars are commenting, but the only person making reflections in this poem is S himself. It’s hard to imagine a writer today having Shakespeare’s (admittedly well-placed) completed confidence in his own longevity.

  5. Shakespeare’s sonnet to fair youth are so poignant and beautiful…
    I much enjoyed your analysis and particularly the metaphors related to Shakespeare’s “As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage”…
    Great post, dear Jeff! All my best wishes. Aquileana ⭐

  6. Thanks for sharing. Yes this is very worthy of some muse. Another perspective on the “men as plants increase” might be a reference to the Alchemic tree of life. Spreading thier roots and reaching higher toward the divine source as they develop in spirit.

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