The stars, through their hidden influence, exert their illusions (ie. 'shows' - see above line);
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
When I observe that men grow as plants do,
Cheered and cheque'd even by the self-same sky,
Encouraged and nourished by the sky that holds the stars,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And that they flaunt their youthful vitality, and after reaching their prime begin to decline,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Until their youth has passed from memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Then the thought of this short stay (on earth)
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Brings you in the prime of your youth vividly before my eyes,
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay,
Where the destroyer Time fights against Decay,
To change your day of youth to sullied night;
To change brightness of your youth to the dark night of old age;
And all in war with Time for love of you,
Because I love you I declare war against Time, and
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.
As he takes from you, I renew your life (in my verse).
this huge stage (3): Shakespeare's first reference to the world as a 'stage.' See Jaques' famous speech in As You Like It: "All the world's a stage/And all the men and women merely players" (2.7).
Whereon the stars...comment (4): "It was generally believed that man's behaviour and events were influenced, though not determined, by the stars ('influence' is a technical astrological term = ethereal fluid flowing from the stars, affecting men and events), and such influence is described as 'secret' because it worked behind man's back ('unheard') like a political cabal or theatrical claque. Astrologers, of course, claimed to penetrate this 'secret influence'" (Blakemore Evans, 128).
Lines 5-8: - Line 5 marks the beginning of a conceit based on flowers. Shakespeare uses a conceit of this kind in several sonnets, such as Sonnet 5 (13-14), Sonnet 6 (1-2), and Sonnet 12 (2-12).
As he takes...new (14): Thus the poet defeats both the ravages of time and the onset of Decay as he plants ('engrafts') his friend anew.
The group of sonnets 15-19 has been referred to as the third stage of Shakespeare's sonnets, in which the poet strives to immortalize his dear friend in verse, thereby saving him from the ravages of all-consuming Time. No line states more clearly this underlying theme in the sonnets than line 13: "And all in war with Time for love of you." For more information on the theme of time in Shakespeare's sonnets, please see my analysis of Sonnets 18 and 19.
Notice the significant parallels between Sonnets 15 and 12. Although the theme of Sonnet 12 - the necessity of procreation - is slightly different from the theme of Sonnet 15, they are nonetheless strikingly similar in style. "The two texts exhibit virtually identical sentence structures: each has (1) dependent "When" - clauses in the octave, one at the start of each quatrain (though Sonnet 12 has another at line 3), (2) a principal "Then" - clause, making up the third quatrain, and (3) a clausally independent couplet attached by "And." Moreover, in the octave of each, the "I" ponders the universality of temporal decay, especially the kind that is ruinous to plant and human life; in the sestet he switches from universal to particular, and also to second-person address, to focus these melancholy reflections specifically upon the friend" (Pequignew, 23).
Holden, Anthony. William Shakespeare: His Life and Work. Boston: Little, Brown, 2002.
Lee, Sidney, Sir. A Life of Shakespeare. New York: Macmillan, 1916.
Pequignew, Joseph. Such is my Love. Chicago: UP, 1985.
Shakespeare, William. The Sonnets. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Cambridge: UP, 1996.
Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare's Sonnets. Ed. A.L. Rowse. London: Macmillan, 1964.
Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare's Sonnets. Ed. Tucker Brooke. London: Oxford UP: 1936.
Shakespeare, William. The Works of Shakespeare. Ed. John Dover Wilson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1969.
Wright, George Thaddeus. Shakespeare's Metrical Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
How to Cite this Article
Mabillard, Amanda. An Analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnet 15. Shakespeare Online. 2000. (day/month/year you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/15detail.html >.