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OMMENTARY

SONNET  64     LXIV


LXIV

1. When I have seen by Time's fell hand defaced
2. The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
3. When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed,
4. And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
5. When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
6. Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
7. And the firm soil win of the watery main,
8. Increasing store with loss, and loss with store;
9. When I have seen such interchange of state,
10. Or state itself confounded to decay;
11. Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate
12. That Time will come and take my love away.
13. This thought is as a death which cannot choose
14. But weep to have that which it fears to lose.
    This sonnet takes up again the theme of time's swift passage, and the destruction of all things. The thought behind it is universal, and the usual antecedents quoted are Horace's odes (exegi monumentum aere perennius - I have built a monument that is more lasting than bronze (i.e. my poems)) Golding's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses also has relevant passages. For further details and discussion see Sonnet 64

 

THE 1609 QUARTO VERSION

 

64

 VV Hen I haue ſeene by times fell hand defaced
The rich proud coſt of outworne buried  age,
When ſometime loftie towers I ſee downe raſed,
And braſſe eternall ſlaue to mortall rage.
When I haue ſeene the hungry Ocean gaine
Aduantage on the Kingdome of the ſhoare,
And the firme ſoile win of the watry maine,
Increaſing ſtore with loſſe,and loſſe with ſtore.
When I haue ſeene ſuch interchange of ſtate,
Or ſtate it ſelfe confounded, to decay,
Ruine hath taught me thus to ruminate
That Time will come and take my loue away.
  This thought is as a death which cannot chooſe
  But weepe to haue,that which it feares to looſe.

 

 The poet records his reactions to seeing the elaborate monuments to the dead in churches, which, however rich and costly, are subject to decay and destruction. And to the gradual effect of change on sea and land. This prompts him to consider that his beloved will also be subject to the same forces, a thought which adds a deep sadness to the unclouded joy of loving.

     

  1. When I have seen by Time's fell hand defaced

 

 

   1.1. fell = savage, fierce;
defac'd = disfigured, smashed. Probably a reference to the defacement of idols - the destruction of any images of saints or divinity, which were a special target of Puritan and Reformist zeal. There are many defaced statues on the continent. In this country the destruction was more effective and very little evidence remains.
2. The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;    2. This probably refers to monuments in churches and graveyards, which expressed the pride and grandeur of wealth. Many monuments and sepulchres were from ages long since gone, outworn buried age, and were subject to ruin and decay, as well as human vandalism.

3. When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed,

 

   3. sometime = sometimes; Alternatively sometime = formerly, which would refer to the lofty towers, and this would then give the meaning 'when I see towers which were formerly lofty now razed to the ground'.
down-raz'd = razed to the ground, ruined. The destruction of the monasteries was a comparatively recent event, and fresh in memory.

4. And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;


 

   4. eternal can refer either to brass, or to slave, probably both.
mortal rage = deadly rage. Being a slave to mortal rage would imply being under it's power, rather than being merely its servant. The latter meaning is difficult and does not entirely make sense, as it is not clear what services brass could perform as the minion of mortal rage, other than to be molested by it. mortal rage could also mean 'destruction caused by mortals'. See further commentary on this in Sonnet 64
5. When I have seen the hungry ocean gain    5. The imagery is that of an advancing army, gaining land by pushing its forces forward.
6. Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,    6. The army secures a foothold on the land, an advantage over the enemy.
7. And the firm soil win of the watery main,    7. the watery main = the ocean, the open sea.

8. Increasing store with loss, and loss with store;

 

 

 

 

 

   8. Increasing store with loss - can be the object of win in the line above, increasing being adjectival, in that the land wins an increasing store of territory from the ocean, with some losses. Then it receives further losses, with some gains. Or increasing can be a present participle referring to the firm soil, giving the meaning 'the firm soil triumphs in its battle against the sea, increasing its holdings, albeit with some loss, then increasing its losses with some compensatory gains (not as much as the losses)'. With either grammatical interpretation the meaning is fairly evident. Perhaps more important is the fact that the sound of the line is like the sound of a wave approaching and then receding, approaching and receding.
store = a holding, something kept, something reserved to be put aside.
9. When I have seen such interchange of state,    9. This takes up the idea of kingdom from line 6. States and governments are subject to change and ruin, and especially to changes in the power structures.
10. Or state itself confounded to decay;    10. Confounded has the meaning of being brought to ruin as well as the meaning of thwarted and blocked.. Cf. 60 line 8 and the note.
11. Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate    11. ruminate to consider, speculate, ponder. Its closeness in sound to ruin and ruinate is no doubt deliberate.

12. That Time will come and take my love away.

 

 

 

   12. The contrast here is between the complex latinate words of the previous lines - interchange, confounded, ruminate - with the simple mono-syllabic Anglo-Saxon words of this line, underlining the brutal harshness of the reality. Time's classical destructive powers have the immediate non-literary effect of taking away all that is dearest to us, over and above its capacity to operate in the historical world with temples, monasteries, monuments, bronzes, kings and vast empires.
13. This thought is as a death which cannot choose    13. This thought is as painful as the thought of death. which seems to refer to thought rather than to death. (See below for link to further discussion).
14. But weep to have that which it fears to lose.    14. The thought (or the poet himself) must weep for his beloved's mortality, even though, through love, he possesses him and holds him in his thoughts.
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Home Sonnets 1 - 50 Sonnets 51 - 100 Sonnets 101 - 154 A Lover's Complaint. Sonnet no. 1
First line index Title page and Thorpe's Dedication Some Introductory Notes to the Sonnets Sonnets as plain text 1-154 Text facsimiles Other related texts of the period
Picture Gallery
Thomas Wyatt Poems Other Authors General notes  for background details, general policies etc. Map of the site Valentine Poems
London Bridge   as it was in Shakespeare's day, circa 1600. Views of London   as it was in 1616. Views of  Cheapside  London, from a print of 1639. The Carrier's  Cosmography.   A guide to all the Carriers in London.  As given by John Taylor in 1637. Oxquarry Books Ltd
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