Poem of the week: Sonnet 65 by William ShakespeareThis reflection on ‘sad mortality’ is a shining tribute to the power of love
Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea
But sad mortality o’er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O, none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.
It’s the contrast of sounds that makes the start of this Shakespeare sonnet (65 in the sequence of 154) especially arresting. The opening line’s assembled concrete nouns have weight and mass: brass, stone, earth (presumably as in “planet Earth” though the added suggestion of heaped soil is effective) and “boundless sea”. These words seem to embody tangibility compared with the plaintive fragile cadence of “sad mortality” – though it’s the latter that has the power to “o’er-sway” them.