Those hours, that with gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,
Will play the tyrants to the very same
And that unfair which fairly doth excel;
For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter, and confounds him there;
Sap checked with frost, and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o'er-snowed and bareness every where:
Then were not summer's distillation left,
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty's effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it, nor no remembrance what it was:
But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,
Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.
This and the following sonnet are written as a pair.
The poet laments the progress of the years, which will play havoc with the young man's beauty. Human life is like the seasons, spring, summer, autumn's maturity and fruition, followed by hideous winter. Nothing is left of summer's beauty except for that which the careful housewife preserves, the essence of roses and other flowers distilled for their perfume. Other than that there is no remembrance of things beautiful. But once distilled, the substance of beauty is always preserved. therefore the youth should consider how his beauty might be best distilled.
The 1609 Quarto Version
THoſe howers that with gentle worke did frame,
The louely gaze where euery eye doth dwell
Will play the tirants to the very ſame,
And that vnfaire which fairely doth excell:
For neuer reſting time leads Summer on,
To hidious winter and confounds him there,
Sap checkt with froſt and luſtie leau's quite gon.
Beauty ore-ſnow'd and barenes euery where,
Then were not ſummers diſtillation left
A liquid priſoner pent in walls of glaſſe,
Beauties effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it nor noe remembrance what it was.
But flowers diſtil'd though they with winter meete,
Leeſe but their ſhow,their ſubſtance ſtill liues ſweet.