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|Line 12 of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18|
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0156 Wednesday, 6 April 2010
 From: Felix de Villiers <
 From: Bob Grumman <
Line 12 of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18
Andrew Fleck's interpretation in the following citation is charming but misses the point altogether:
"Perhaps significantly, the idea of the growing youth (getting taller, more lively, more vibrant all the time) growing big/tall enough to get out from the shade cast by death further helps to link the two lines together."
The youth can get as tall and vibrant as he likes -- precisely the reason why Shakespeare wanted him to reproduce himself -- but he will not escape age and death. The only way he can live on during the passage of time is by being recorded in verse.
In this my 'obvious' interpretation, supported by various variations on the same theme, I neglected the final rhyming word 'grow'st.'
'Grow'st' may have been adopted as a convenient rhyme to 'ow'st.', but rhymes have a way of creating a a sense of their own. The expedient becomes significant. Why will the youth not only live in verse but grow in it? This touches on an essential aspect of art - even if Shakespeare did not know it - that it unfolds its significance in the passage of time. Poets usually do not understand the content of their own art; they don't like interpretations and avoid them, often detest them. Goethe and Thomas Mann invented masks to hide the content of their works; Shakespeare, magnanimously, left it to chance. After all his characters had a life of their own and what could he do about it? This is a central theme of the Sonnets. The Sonnets will outlive him and divulge a different sense to succeeding generations. In this way, the youth will not only live but grow in time. This significance of the independent life of his creatures is jealously admitted in the Sonnets to the poet's chagrin and runs through the Sonnets as an undercurrent. He can't control the future of his creations. They will live in time as they wish, as we wish to see them rightly or wrongly.
First of all, thanks much, all of you, for your (mostly most excellent) responses to my request for help on line 12 of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18. I'm not up to dealing with all of those answers right now but hope eventually to respond to each of them. To keep myself from getting too confused (I, alas, am easily confused), I 'd like to focus on just one part of line 12, "to time." As those of you who visited my blog and read my summary of my discussion of the line at New-Poetry will know, a main problem of mine is deciding whether the phrase best goes with "eternal lines" or with "thou grow'st." That is, is the line about eternal lines to time, or about the addressee's growing to time.
I'm still cloudy about it. Some suggest it's about eternal lines of poetry that address time, or some aspect of time such as the future. I like this as a reader but not as a logical literalist (and I'm after the direct literal word for word meaning of the line here, nothing else, although of course the line is meaningful in many other very important ways). As a logical literalist (or one who thinks himself that), I find the eternal lines to be addressed to the person the poet calls more lovely and more temperate than a summer's day, so it can't be addressed to time.
Or can it? Can it be addressed to both - to both at the same time, or to one in the beginning, and to another later? I also have trouble with the idea of the poem's paying tribute to time - because it simply doesn't seem to me to be doing that; it's paying tribute to the addressee as being superior to time.
Okay, a poet doesn't have to be literalistically logical. I can accept poetic license, but I'm afraid I'll consider it cheating, so don't want to. Although, the poem will remain a classic for me even if I do accept it.
My problem with "thou grow'st to time" is greater. In the previous discussion, Brian Hawkins suggested "to" could mean "into." Time could mean future or eternity, so the line could be about what happens when the addressee enter into eternity, which would work very nicely. But I want some evidence that "to time" could mean "into time" back then. "Growing to time" don't mean nuttin' to me, as is.
One feather-ruffled note: as indicated in my summary of the previous discussion about line 12 I started at New-Poetry, I've consulted or been shown most of what's been written about this sonnet including, for sure, Booth, whom I consider the Main Authority on the sonnets (although I don't agree with everything he says). Neither Booth, nor Vendler, nor anyone else, seems to me to have answered my very narrow questions about the line, though. (Probably because I'm the only one in the world wanting explications as fanatically detailed as I do.)
Note also that sometimes I get snappish. Please be patient with me if I do. It's my moon in Aries. . . .
Best to all,
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