Sonnet 5 – Those hours, that with gentle work did frame by William Shakespeare

Sonnet 5 is part of the 154 sonnet collection that William Shakespeare wrote. The Sonnets were first published in a 1609 quarto titled: Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Sonnet 5 belongs to the traditionally called “Procreation Sonnets”, sonnets 1 to 17, which urge a young man to marry and have children in order to immortalize his beauty. Moreover, Sonnet 5 is also part of the “Fair Youth” sequence, sonnets 1 to 126, which refer to the young man whom the poems are addressed to. These poems have a romantic tone and utilize powerful imagery.

As the rest of the poems in The Sonnets, Sonnet 5 can be characterized as a Shakespearean sonnet. A Shakespearean sonnet differs from a traditional sonnet, as it has three quatrains and a final couplet. It follows an ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme and has iambic pentameter.

Sonnet 5 depicts the passing of time and relates nature’s four seasons with the stages of life. This particular sonnet refers to aging in general and does not mention the young man particularly. However, Sonnet 6, which functions as a continuation of Sonnet 5, talks directly to this man. Thus, both poems form a series within the “Procreation Sonnets”, as they are closely related and construct a bigger thematic unit.

Sonnet 5 - Those hours, that with gentle work did frame by William Shakespeare


Sonnet 5 Analysis

First Stanza

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.

The first quatrain explains the results of passing of time.  The lyrical voice explains how time, even though it made the young man beautiful in his early age, will eventually make him older and take away his beauty. Beauty is associated with youth (“Those hour that with gentle work did frame/ The lovely gaze where every eye doth well”) and aging, on the other hand, destroys this good looks (“Will play the tyrants to the very same/and that unfair which fairly doth excel”). Time is personified in the first line and throughout the quatrain (“Those hours”), as it emphasizes the powerful force of aging. There is a Epanalepsis in the second line, accentuating the meaning of “gaze” and “eye” (“The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell”). Moreover, there is an alliteration in the third line, repeating the same consonant sound to add dimension (“Will play the tyrants to the very same”).


Second Stanza

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 everywhere.

The second quatrain furthers the negative consequences of aging. Youth is linked to summertime, whereas old age relates to winter.  The process of aging destroys beauty (“Beauty o’er-snowed and bareness everywhere”), and takes the summer out of life by turning it into winter (“For never-resting time leads summer on/To hideous winter and confound him there”). Again, there is a personification of time, as it accentuates the effects that time will have on the young man’s life and the force it possesses because of its constant enforcement (“For never-resting time”, “To hideous winter”). There is alliteration on the third line (“Sap checked with frost and lusty leaves quite gone”). The tone of the poem gets more dramatic as the lyrical voice describes in more detail the consequences of the passing of time. Furthermore, there is a pessimist tone, as the lyrical voice concludes the quatrain by saying that beauty will eventually disappear (“Beauty o’ver-snowed and bareness everywhere”).


Third Stanza

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.

The third quatrain depicts the necessity of preserving beauty. Both summer and beauty, associated with youth, are ephemeral. The lyrical voice expresses that there is a possibility of forgetting about beauty if it is carried away by the force of aging. There is an epanalepsis on the third line, accentuating the importance of beauty (“Beauty’s effects with beauty were bereft”) and there is alliteration in the last line (“Nor it nor no remembrance what it was”). The tone of the poem continues to be dramatic and pessimist, as the lyrical voice describes the possibility of beauty disappearing with old age.


Fourth Stanza

But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,

Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.

The final couplet explains how beauty can be protected. “flowers distilled” refer to the extraction of perfume, where the visible and the physical are extracted and the essence of the flower remains. This is an extended metaphor to continue talking about preserving beauty. For the lyrical voice, the only way to conserve beauty is to prolong its essence by having children. And, despite of aging, the lyrical voice could keep his beauty if he decides to procreate.


About William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, also known as Bard of Avon or Swan of Avon, was baptized in 1564 and died in 1616. Although his date of birth is not certain, he was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright and actor and it is considered by many as one of the greatest dramatists of all times. He was often referred as the English National Poet. William Shakespeare was married to Anne Hathaway and they had three children (Susanna Hall, Hamnet Shakespeare and Judith Quiney). Over the years, his plays have been staged all over the world and translated into every major language. Up to this day, Shakespeare’s works are still incredibly popular and are constantly studied, read, and interpreted in diverse cultural and political contexts.

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Julieta Abella
Julieta has a BA and a MA in Literature and joined the Poem Analysis team back in May 2017. She has a great passion for poetry and literature and works as a teacher and researcher at Universidad de Buenos Aires.

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