Sonnet 3 by William Shakespeare

Sonnet 3 is part of William Shakespeare’s collection of 154 sonnets, which were first published in a 1609 quarto. The poem is a procreation sonnet within the fair youth sequence, a series of poems that are addressed to an unknown young man. Particularly, Sonnet 3 focuses on the young man’s refusal to procreate.

The form of the poem is typical of a Shakespearean sonnet: three quatrains and a rhyming couplet. It has fourteen decasyllabic lines, iambic pentameter, and an ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme. Sonnet 3 has procreation and beauty as main themes. Moreover, the tone of the poem portrays the lyrical voice’s fixation and fervor over the young man.

 

Sonnet 3 Analysis

Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest,

Now is the time that face should form another,

Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,

Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.

In the first quatrain, the lyrical voice urges the young man to have a child. The poem starts by referring to the story of Narcissus, as the lyrical voice mentions the young man’s tendency to “Look in thy glass”. The lyrical voice admires his beauty, but he/she sees the young man as selfish, as he/she tells him to: “tell the face thou viewest,/ Now is the time that face should form another”. Thus, the lyrical voice is encouraging him to have children, to “form another”. In order to convince him, the lyrical voice suggests that he is being unfair for not passing on his beauty: “Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,/Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother”.

For where is she so fair whose uneared womb

Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?

Or who is he so fond will be the tomb

Of his self-love, to stop posterity?

In the second quatrain, the lyrical voice states the reasons why the young man should have a child. To convey this, the lyrical voice uses an extended metaphor of farming, as several rural terms make a reference to sexual intercourse. The young man is told that no woman would reject him: “For where is she so fair whose uneared womb/ Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?”. And, moreover, that it isn’t a good idea not to have children: “Or who is he so fond will be the tomb/Of his self-love, to stop posterity?”. The final lines of the stanza insinuate that, with the passing of time, the beauty of the young man will fade and, in order to stop that, a possibility is to procreate and pass on that beauty.  It also suggests that the young man is being foolish and selfish, and that he is fixed in his own present.

Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee

Calls back the lovely April of her prime;

So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,

Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time.

In the third quatrain, the lyrical voice compares the young man and his mother in order to convince him of becoming a father. The lyrical voice suggests that the young man is the reflection of his mother and that she can see herself in her child: “Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee/ Calls back the lovely April of her prime”. Notice how youth is described: “the lovely April of her prime”. Thus, that could also happen if the young man had a child: “So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,/Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time”. The window is used as an idea that reunites past and present; the windows are the young man’s eyes that will enable him to see his youth in his children (“thy golden time”). The lyrical voice is trying to make the young man understand that he will eventually get old and his beauty will fade, but, if he has children, this beauty will live on his predecessors.

But if thou live remembered not to be,

Die single and thine image dies with thee.

In the final couplet, the lyrical voice mentions the consequences that the young man will suffer if he doesn’t have a child. If the young man dies before having a child, no one will remember him nor his beauty: “But if thou live remembered not to be,/Die single and thine image dies with thee”. Once again, the lyrical voice emphasizes the need to pass on the young man’s beauty to a child, or else it will die with him. These final lines condense the idea that the lyrical voice has introduced throughout the sonnet.

 

About William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was baptized in 1564 and died in 1616. He was an English poet, playwright, and actor. He is known as the greatest writer of the English language and as the most exceptional dramatist of all times. Moreover, William Shakespeare is often referred as England’s National Poet, and his works include 38 plays, 154 sonnets, 2 long poems, and other texts and collaborations. Between 1585 and 1592, William Shakespeare started a successful career in London as an actor and writer. Also, he was a part-owner of a company called Lord Chamberlain’s Men. During those years, Shakespeare wrote most of his famous work. His first plays were mostly comedies, but his later works were tragedies, including Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, as his most remarkable plays. William Shakespeare wrote tragedies until 1608, and, after that, he wrote tragicomedies and collaborations with other writers. In 1613, when he was 49 years of age, William Shakespeare retired to Stratford. He died three years later in 1616.

Most of his plays were published during his lifetime. However, they were printed in a variety of qualities and with several variations. Nevertheless, in 1623, John Heminges and Henry Condell, who were Shakespeare’s friends and colleagues, published a more precise text known as the First Folio. The First Folio is a collected edition of Shakespeare’s dramatic works that includes most of the plays recognized as written by Shakespeare. It has a preface with a poem written by Ben Jonson.

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