|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.
From Shakespeare's Sonnets about this sonnet:
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.
with gentle work - Nature is portrayed as a gentle artificer, making things with kindness, but later becoming tyrannous and harsh.
frame = make, but contains the suggestion of making into a structure, or scaffolding.
What is't? A spirit? Lord how it looks about! Tem.I.ii.412
the very same must refer to 'the lovely gaze'.
which fairly doth excel = which excels in beauty, fairness.
and confounds him there = and destroys him (summer) there, where winter reigns.
Confounds = destroys. Also suggests thwarts, reduces to perplexity. From the Latinconfundere - to pour together, mix confusedly.
were bereft = would be lost. We may paraphrase, 'If beauty were to die, the beneficial effects of beauty would die with it (if we did not save them by distillation)'.
Nor it, nor no = neither it, nor any.
though they with winter meet = although winter overtakes and destroys them.
but = only.
their show = their outward appearance (with a suggestion of showiness, frivolity).
substance = essence, essential being. Neo-Platonic philosophy made much of the distinction between shadow and substance.
still = always, ever.