Life Struggling Against Death in Shakespeare's Sixtieth Sonnet (Sonnet 60)
Shakespeare's sixtieth sonnet is probably addressed to the same young, male friend to whom most or all of the earlier sonnets are said to be addressed. The sonnet does not specify this, however, so it could be to anyone or everyone. The theme is certainly universal; time steals human life away, but poetry is immortal. The poet uses diction and imagery to paint a picture of life struggling against death and losing.
The speaker of the sonnet tells the audience in the first quatrain that human life is fleeting. He or she refers to life as "our minutes" (813). This is a twist on the traditional expression "our days." The use of "minutes" in place of "days" makes life seem even shorter and gives the poem a sense of urgency. The speaker uses wave imagery to show the audience that life is rushing: "Like as the waves make toward the pibbled shore,/ So do our minutes hasten to their end" (813). The wave is a very appropriate symbol for life. First it is nonexistent, then it becomes a small groove on the water, then it swells to greatness. As it grows in size, it speeds up, as life seems to speed up as people grow older.
The speaker says that the minutes of life are "Each changing place with that which goes before,/ In sequent toil all forwards do contend" (813). The speaker treats the minutes of life without glamour. The minutes, like the waves, pass in the same way as those that wint before them. The speaker uses the word "toil" to imply that life is drudgery. The wave, even when swollen to its zenith acts in an imitative and monotonous way. Then it begins to shrink more quickly than it grew, finally dissipating as it crashes onto the beach. It is also interesting that the speaker of the poem calls the shore "pibbled" instead of sandy. A sandy shore is soft and absorbent, but a pebbled shore is hard. It hurts to land on it. The speaker tells the audience that life on Earth is unimpressive, and will end painfully and abruptly.
In the second quatrain, the speaker slows the poem down to take a look at what happens to youth. He or she places the focus on youth by using the word "nativity," and slowing is accomplished by using the word "crawls." The speaker reiterates the wave image's statement of the short-lived glories of life. When nativity has struggled (crawled) to maturity and has been "crowned" at last, time attacks and begins to destroy the youth with which it once favored a person. This is where the speaker sets up the image of time as an enemy.
The "Time" of the poem is first introduced with the "crooked eclipses" that fight with Nativity's glory. Eclipses are darkening forces and "crooked" can mean...