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Shakespeare Sonnet 15: "When I consider every thing that grows"

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

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Introduction

In the first quatrain of "When I consider every thing that grows,” the speaker begins a “when” clause which leaves the first quatrain an incomplete sentence.

In the second quatrain, the speaker again employs that same pattern, and the thought is not complete until the third quatrain beginning with “then.”

The speaker uses this pattern often: when such-and-such happens, then such-and-such is the result.

Shakespeare's Sonnets

Shakespeare's Sonnets: Premium Edition - Illustrated
Shakespeare's Sonnets: Premium Edition - Illustrated

This collection features all 154 of the Shakespeare sonnets.

 

First Quatrain: "When I consider every thing that grows"

In the first quatrain, the speaker holds forth with “When I consider every thing that grows / Holds in perfection but a little moment.”

The reader immediately comprehends that the speaker will again be using the fact that all living things age, decay, and die under time’s influence to persuade the young man to marry and produce pleasing offspring while he is still young.

Interestingly, given the Shakespearean association with such, the speaker then employs a theater metaphor, “That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows / Whereon the stars in secret influence comment,” to assert that the brevity of life and its influences are brief and unknown by ordinary consciousness.

Second Quatrain: "When I perceive that men as plants increase"

The second quatrain continues with its own “when” clause: “When I perceive that men as plants increase, / Cheered and check’d e’en by the self-same sky.”

The speaker compares human beings to plants in their capability to reproduce and remarks that their progeny is welcomed and condoned by an approving “self-same sky.”

The youthful “sap” that runs through plants corresponds to the youthful blood that courses through the veins of the human being in his prime; all living things are programmed to renew themselves this way.

Third Quatrain: "Then the conceit of this inconstant stay"

The third quatrain contains the “then” clause which supplies the resulting conclusion following the “when” clauses of the first and second quatrains: “Then the conceit of this inconstant stay / Sets you most rich in youth before my sight.”

Here is the young man at the height of his prime, “Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay, / To change your day of youth to sullied night.”

The here and now is the time when nature begins to inflict the downward course from youth to old age.

The Couplet: "And, all in war with Time for love of you"

Then the speaker reminds the young man that “Time” is struggling to diminish the lad, to impoverish his love, and to take away his pleasing manly qualities.

However, if the young man will just follow the suggestions of the speaker, what Time takes away will be returned to him in the form of his new pleasing son.

The speaker has framed his suggestion in terms of “when” clauses that once again supply the argument that the young man understand his downward journey to old age and act to restore the loss that will result if the lad dies without leaving his lovely qualities embodied in his offspring.

Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 15

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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