‘As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st’ is number eleven of one hundred and fifty-four sonnets that Shakespeare wrote during his lifetime. It is part of a series of poems that were dedicated to a young man only known as the Fair Youth. His identity has never been confirmed. This sonnet is one of seventeen that is part of the group focused on procreation.
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The poem begins with the speaker telling the youth, has he has several times, that he is going to grow old and die sooner than he thinks. He’d be able to save some of his youth if he’d only have children. In order to drive his point home, the speaker tells the youth how irresponsible he’s being. If everyone acted like him then the human race would come to an end. The poem concludes with the speaker telling the youth that he needs to take advantage of the gifts that nature has given him. It’s his duty to reproduce himself.
‘As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line sonnet that is structured in the “Shakespearean” or English form. It made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines. The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and it is written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed and the second stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM.
The last two lines of ‘As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st’ are a rhyming pair, known as a couplet. They often bring with them a turn or volta in the poem. They’re sometimes used to answer a question posed in the previous twelve lines, shift the perspective, or even change speakers. In this case, the last two lines address the Fair Youth’s job as a product of nature, to reproduce and continue her beauty.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st’. These include, but are not limited to, alliteration, metaphor and personification. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “fast” and “from” in lines one and two or “would” and “world” in line eight.
A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that does not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. There is a great example of a metaphor in the last lines of the sonnet. Shakespeare’s speaker says that the youth is a “seal” that nature made so that she might reproduce her beauty. It is his job to take advantage of what nature gave him and reproduce himself.
Personification occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. It is also in the last lines of the poem that a close reader will find an example of this technique. Shakespeare refers to nature as “she”. He gives the force an agency all its own.
As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st
In one of thine, from that which thou departest;
And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow’st
Thou mayst call thine when thou from youth convertest.
In the first lines of sonnet number eleven, also known as ‘As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st,’ the speaker jumps immediately into the main theme of this sonnet, and those which have come before it, the importance of having children. The speaker addresses the Fair Youth, a headstrong young man who is childless, and tells him that he’s soon to grow old. It’s going to happen quickly but just as quickly as he ages he could grow again through the body of a child.
If he has a child then the youth that he now possesses would be reborn in another. This would in effect mean that the youth is himself still young.
Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase;
Without this, folly, age, and cold decay.
If all were minded so, the times should cease,
And threescore year would make the world away.
The speaker believes that in finding a wife and having a child that there is a lot to be gained. There is “wisdom, beauty, and increase”. If he doesn’t embrace these things then, in the end, he’s only going to have “folly, age, and cold decay”. There is a great example of internal half-rhyme in this line with “age” and “decay”.
Still trying to convince the youth to have a child, the speaker tells him that if everyone addicted as he did then the human race would come to an end. In “threescore” or sixty years there would be no one left and the world would disappear.
Let those whom nature hath not made for store,
Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish.
Look whom she best endowed, she gave the more,
Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish.
She carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby
Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.
The third quatrain addresses the fact that some people, those that are “Harsh, featureless, and rude” won’t have kids. They should, the speaker says, if they want “barrenly parish” but the youth is not one of these.
Nature is personified in the next lines. “She,” the speaker says, gave much to those who are beautiful. She endowed them with everything they could want and the youth should cherish these gifts. He is a “seal” or stamp that needs to be reproduced in order to further nature’s beauty. Shakespeare uses the seal, printing, and copying as a metaphor for reproduction in these lines.