Sonnet 19- Devouring Time, Blunt Thou the Lion’s Paws: Sumary and Analysis

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Written by the most influential English poet, author, and novelist of all time, this sonnet is a fine work of William Shakespeare. Known as the national poet of England or ‘ Bard of Avon ‘( poet of Avon) because he was born in Avon , he has written around 154 sonnets, 39 plays, and 3 long verse poetry work. He primarily wrote most of his works between 1589 and 1630 which varied in different genres from historical to comedies and tragedies. His notable works include Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Othello,  The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, etc. His work has been translated into many languages and thus remains the most popular and irreplaceable part of English Literature. 

Born to John Shakespeare and Mary Arden as the third of eight sons, Shakespeare attended the King Edward VI Grammar School in Stratford, where he learned Latin. He got married at the age of 18 to Anne Hathaway, who was 26 at that time. Together they had three children,  two daughters, Susanna ( the eldest one) and Judith, and a son named Hamnet ( twin of Judith). However, Hamnet died at the age of 11 due to some unknown reasons.

Afterward in 1576, he came in touch with James Burbage, a theatre owner, and thus started his journey as a theatre worker during his initial days. During this period, England was ruled by Queen Elizabeth. By the 1590s, theatres were established well, and acting and playmaking were worth paying jobs. Hence Shakespeare maintained his family well. He performed in Ben Johnson’s plays ‘ Every Man in His Humour ‘ and  ‘Sejanus’. He worked with the theatre called The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. He was also a shareholder there and thus received ten percent of all profits. Later on, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men received official status as the King’s Men in 1603 and received royal patent and protection. It’s been said that he lost his father in 1601, and in 1609 he moved to his hometown, where he resided until his death on 23 April 1616.  He was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church two days after his death. His tomb’s epitaph read. 

“Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare.
Bleste be yͤ man yͭ spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he yͭ moves my bones.”

Interpretation : Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones. 

Sonnet 19- Devouring Time, Blunt Thou the Lion’s Paws: Sumary and Analysis

His wife, too, died in 1623 before seeing his First Folio edition of his works and was buried next to him. It’s worth noteworthy that he never wrote to be read or studied but to be Sonnet 19- Devouring Time, Blunt Thou the Lion’s Paws: Sumary and Analysisviewed on stage. His plays and poems passed many messages to his readers about humanism and secular views. We also see the impact of the Renaissance in his works. He stretched and touched the boundaries of literature with history, politics, as well as personal experiences of daily life very well. 

That’s why one of his fellow authors said: “We wondered, Shakespeare, that thou went’st so soon / From the world’s stage to the grave’s tiring room.”

Analysis of Sonnet 19- Devouring Time, Blunt thou the Lion’s Paws 

This sonnet is similar to Shakespeare’s other sonnets in its form. That is, it follows all the typical parameters of that of a Shakespearean sonnet. Firstly it consists of 14 lines divided into three quartets and one couplet. It’s written in iambic pentameter with rhyming scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. There is a good use of simile,  personification, etc. We also see the change in the poet’s tone, a sharp turn, and a change in the poet’s mood in the last couplet, just like in other sonnets.

Now speaking about the difference between this sonnet and the others is that this one is particularly addressed to time instead of fair youth. However, the apparent theme of this sonnet is also about beauty and love. In the initial lines poet addresses time’s evil doings like aging, decomposition, etc. He tells time that time kills all beautiful creations around her in order to show her power. But the poet warns her not to think of decaying the poet’s beloved’s beauty. He warns her to perform such a sin. But the poet himself knows that time will not stop just by his warnings and will definitely do its evil deed; hence poet himself takes this responsibility of making his beloved’s beauty immortal through this verse. As he knows nothing can be saved from time’s wrath, he also doesn’t want his lover’s beauty to disappear from this world; hence he’s writing these verses to immortalize his lover’s beauty. 

Line by line Explanation of Sonnet 19- Devouring Time, Blunt Thou the Lion’s Paws 

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;

Poet is in conversation with time in these lines. He says that as you are eating up everything, then go ahead and make lion’s paws blunt and decay every beautiful thing created on earth. 

Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-liv’d Phoenix in her blood;

Then pluck away the sharp teeth from the brave tiger’s jaws and make the Phoenix burn in her blood. Here the plucking away of the tiger and the burning of Phoenix in her blood are the significance of their death. As Phoenix is a mythology creature bird who has a tendency to be reborn from its ashes. Making it burn in its blood will lead it to its end. Hence poet is talking all about the destruction that time causes. 

Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,

As time moves, seasons change, and thus changes, people’s moods, happy or sad.  Hence time creates its effect on each and everything, even the cycle of nature or human mood. As time moves very with force, it sweeps out whatever it wants. 

To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one more heinous crime:

Poet says that time can create its effect everywhere in the world and make anything decay,  but he forbids time from doing one sin. 

O, carve not with the hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen!

Poet forbids time from plucking out any hair from his lover’s eyebrows and even from drawing an aging line that wrinkled on the poet’s beloved’s face. All in all, the poet asks time to spare his beloved’s beauty from its wrath and let her beauty be preserved. 

Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.

Hence if time lets the poets beloved live untainted and spares her from aging, then in this process, he will preserve a beauty for the world to admire. His beloved’s beauty will then become a beauty standard for future generations. 

Yet do thy worst, old Time! Despite thy wrong
My love shall in my verse ever live young.

Poet then moves from his words and challenges time to do whatever it can, do the worst it can because even after doing so wrong, it can’t harm his intentions. As the poet is writing these verses to make his beloved’s beauty immortal.

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