William Shakespeare’s sonnet 11 is one in the sequence of ‘Procreation Sonnets‘. Like most of his sonnets, sonnet 11 follows ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme. The sonnets which follow this rhyme scheme are called Shakespearean Sonnets. The concluding couplet in Shakespeare’s sonnets is used to summarize the previous 12 lines or sometimes used to bring up a surprising ending. For the readers who come to read this sonnet with no idea about the previous sonnets:
Sonnet 11 is addressed to the ‘Fair Youth’ whom the speaker wants to marry and have children in order to keep up his beauty through his son before his stunning beauty would fade away. The Fair Youth is an unknown young man. Critics tried to identify the young man with a few personalities of Shakespeare’s time. But there was no enough evidence to prove their claim.
The first 126 sonnets are addressed to the Fair Youth who seems to have no interest in his own marriage. The speaker is extremely worried about the Youth’s careless attitude and afraid that his beauty would be buried with him unless he marries to transmit his gene to next generation. Continue below for the summary and analysis of sonnet 11.
SONNET 11: AS FAST AS THOU SHALT WANE, SO FAST THOU GROW’ST
As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st
In one of thine, from that which thou departest;
And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow’st,
Thou mayst call thine when thou from youth convertest.
Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase;
Without this folly, age, and cold decay:
If all were minded so, the times should cease
And threescore year would make the world away.
Let those whom nature hath not made for store,
Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish:
Look whom she best endow’d, she gave the more;
Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish:
She carv’d thee for her seal, and meant thereby,
Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.
SONNET 11 SUMMARY
The speaker addresses the Fair Youth that his beauty continues to fail as he gradually grows old. One day his beauty will disappear totally. In order to maintain nature’s balance, the youth must step back from his determination and marry soon. When he grows old, his ‘fresh blood’ (his child) will have at least some of his youth. The speaker tries to make the youth understand his irresponsible attitude. If everyone were to think like him, the human race would come to an end very soon. In order to preserve his beauty, he should be wise enough accept to marry. It would be folly to refuse again. The speaker insists him to understand the necessity of procreation.
Through his child (son), the youth can keep up his tender beauty as he creates a copy of himself. There are thousands of ‘Harsh, featureless, and rude’ people in the world whom nature hasn’t intended for reproduction; they barrenly perish without any issues. Nature, the mother, has given bounteous gifts, “Wisdom, beauty and increase”, for the youth to cherish. She has printed her seal on him and wanted him copy him more and let not the copy die. She wants him to reproduce, to make a copy of himself and pass on his beauty to next generation. But his denial means to upset the nature’s balance and disobey her order.
Sonnet 11 is one of Shakespeare’s sonnets notable for the themes of marriage, procreation, mortality and passage of time. The fast pace of time urges the youth to marry and utilize the only means to acquire immortality through procreation. ‘Time’ is often a major theme in most of Shakespeare’s sonnets. The speaker insists very often the ravages of time, and discuss how beauty fades away in the course of Time.
No matter how powerful are the ravages of time. The youth’s beauty is carefully preserved in these sonnets. So is the art (sonnet 11 and all other sonnets). It withstands all the ravages of time and its beauty (along with the youth’s beauty) is unfailingly passed on to every next generation.
Sonnet 11, a typical Shakespearean sonnet, consists of 14 lines of iambic pentameter, three open quatrains and a couplet. It was published in Shakespeare’s 1609 ‘Quarto’ by Thomas Thorpe.
Marriage and procreation are the major themes in the Sonnet 11. The Youth is gifted with beauty, wisdom and increase. The poet tries to convince the youth telling how it is a disgrace to nature denying to marry and have children when she has given him bountious gifts.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in the Sonnet 11. Some of them are alliteration, personification and metaphor.
Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line. Alliteration is employed in the eight line of the sonnet: ‘And threescore year would make the world away.’
Personification is a literary device that refers to the attribution of human characteristics to non-living or inanimate objects. William Shakespeare, in this sonnet, personifies nature, calls it ‘she‘.
A metaphor is a figure of speech that directly refers to one thing by mentioning another, comparing one thing to another. While using this technique, a poet is saying that one thing is (like) another thing. In this sonnet, William Shakespeare employs a metaphor in the concluding couplet of this sonnet: She carv’d thee for her seal, and meant thereby, Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die. The poet says that the youth is a seal.
THE 1609 QUARTO VERSION OF SONNET 11
AS faſt as thou ſhalt wane ſo faſt thou grow’ſt,
In one of thine,from that which thou departeſt,
And that freſh bloud which yongly thou beſtow’ſt,
Thou maiſt call thine,when thou from youth conuerteſt,
Herein liues wiſdome,beauty,and increaſe,
Without this follie,age,and could decay,
If all were minded ſo,the times ſhould ceaſe,
And threeſcore yeare would make the world away:
Let thoſe whom nature hath not made for ſtore,
Harſh,featureleſſe,and rude , barrenly perriſh,
Looke whom ſhe beſt indow’d,ſhe gaue the more;
Which bountious guift thou ſhouldſt in bounty cherriſh,
She caru’d thee for her ſeale,and ment therby,
Thou ſhouldſt print more,not let that coppy die.