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Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand. Sonnet 60 is one of 154 sonnets written by the English playwright and poet William Shakespeare. It’s a member of the Fair Youth sequence, in which the poet expresses his love towards a young beloved. Sonnet 60 focuses upon the theme of the passing of time. This is one of the major themes of Shakespeare’s sonnets, it can be seen in Sonnet 1 as well. Like sonnets 1-126, Sonnet 60 is addressed to “a fair youth” whose identity is debated.
The sonnet compares minutes to waves on a pebbled shore regularly replacing each other. Time is also depicted as a gift giver and also as a gift destroyer. Sonnet 60 is an English or Shakespearean sonnet. The Shakespearean sonnet contains three quatrains followed by a final rhyming couplet. Helen Vendler calls Sonnet 60 “one of the perfect examples of the 4-4-4-2 Shakespearean sonnet form”. Vendler writes that the first two lines of the sonnet begin with trochees, which “draw attention to the hastening of the waves, the attacks by eclipses and by Time, and the countervailing praising by verse”. This poem has many competing images, including time, conflict, and the sea.
In Stephen Booth’s thorough criticism of Sonnet 60, he remarks that of the battle that the speaker attempts to wage against time in his effort to be together with the youth. The words chosen by Shakespeare such as toil, transfix, fight, contend, glory, confound, and scythe all hint at a violent conflict to which the speaker finds himself irreversibly attached. Lopez dives into more detail about this conflict, focusing on the death and destruction that Sonnet 60 describes The second quatrain explains life’s cycle, presenting the journey from birth to death and from sunrise to eclipse or sunset as ways to explicate the feeling of loss after having so much. It culminates in the pessimism that all that was ever had, has been or will be lost. Helen Vendler sees the conflict that both Booth and Lopez are picking up on, but also adds the idea of the different concepts of time that Shakespeare develops. The waves upon the shore, beating endlessly as the minutes beat upon the hours, is the stationary model, showing the consistency and terminality of the speaker’s enemy. She also describes a model of rise and fall, characterizing the tragic model.
Sonnet 60 appears as part of a larger collection of 154 sonnets published in 1609 under the title “Shakespeare’s Sonnets”. Sonnets 1-126, or the “Fair Youth” sequence, are commonly thought to be addressed to a young man, though that man’s identity is not known. Sections of Book XV of Ovid’s Metamorphoses serve as the template for much of Sonnet 60. Nothing is permanent in all the world. Ovid closes this section, like Shakespeare, depicting Time as a devouring animal. Consumes all things, and very, very slowly. According to Jonathan Bate, Shakespeare relied heavily on these sections of Ovid’s Metamorphoses while composing Sonnet 60, and these passages from Ovid roughly correspond to the three quatrains of the sonnet.