‘Sonnet 63,’ also known as ‘Against my love shall be as I am now,’ is number sixty-three of one hundred fifty-four sonnets that Shakespeare wrote over his lifetime. ‘Sonnet 63’ belongs to the long Fair Youth sequence of sonnets, which last from number one all the way through one hundred twenty-six. These sonnets are devoted to a young, beautiful man whose identity remains unknown to this day.
This sonnet, as well as a few that follow, are not addressed to the traditional “thee” or “you” that appears in the rest of the Fair Youth series. This creates a different effect as if the speaker is meditating on the subject of his love rather than speaking directly to him.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 63,’ the speaker admits that the Fair Youth, the young man that he cares so deeply for, is going to age and lose his beauty. This is something quite offensive to the speaker but he can’t ignore it. He plans to fight back against this process by making sure that the youth is immortalized in all his beauty by describing him in his poetry.
‘Sonnet 63’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line poem that is contained within one stanza. The English or Shakespearean sonnet (sometimes also known as the Elizabethan) is 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. Iambic pentameter 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.
As is common in Shakespeare’s poems, the last two lines 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.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 63’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and personification. The latter, personification, occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. In this poem, there is a very clear example of this technique in the last lines as the speaker describes time’s ability to destroy the youth.
Enjambment can be seen in the transition between lines four and five. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. This particular transition is quite impactful and unusual for Shakespeare who generally separated the first quatrain from the second with end-punctuation.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “blood” and “brow” in line three and “vanishing” and “vanished” in line seven.
Against my love shall be as I am now,
With time’s injurious hand crushed and o’erworn;
When hours have drained his blood and filled his brow
With lines and wrinkles; when his youthful morn
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 63,’ the speaker begins by references some very familiar subject matter. As with many of Shakespeare’s sonnets dedicated to the Fair Youth he touches on the theme of age and the power of time. He notes that there will be a time in the future in which his love is just as “crushed” as his complexion appears today. His age will be reflected in the state of his love. The “love” in these lines is not the relationship but the person, the Fair Youth.
This young man, the speaker admits, will eventually be as old as he is. The youth’s forehead will be covered in “lines and wrinkles” and time will have drained the blood or the youth from his body. These lines are reminiscent of those contained in ‘Sonnet 2’ where the poet addresses the same themes.
Hath traveled on to age’s steepy night,
And all those beauties whereof now he’s king
Are vanishing or vanished out of sight,
Stealing away the treasure of his spring;
The second quatrain adds to this. The fourth line is enjambed, carrying the reader into the fifth in order to finish the sentence. Shakespeare’s speaker says that the “youthful mourn” of the youth’s life will have moved into old age, or “steepy night”. It will a much more difficult period in his life.
Once old, the beauty the youth has is going to disappear. They are “vanishing or vanished out of sight” and taking with them all other “treasures of his spring”. The personification of Time in these lines is another very common technique in Shakespeare’s sonnets. Time is often depicted as the creator and destroyer of all things. It has the power to make the youth as beautiful as he is as well as the power to tear him down.
For such a time do I now fortify
Against confounding age’s cruel knife,
That he shall never cut from memory
My sweet love’s beauty, though my lover’s life.
His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
And they shall live, and he in them still green.
In the final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 63,’ the speaker states that he is anticipating this future readily. He knows that it’s going to happen whether he wants it to or not so he is preparing himself. It is his plan to defend against time, or “age’s cruel knife”. The speaker is ensuring, through his poetry, “these black lines,” that the youth “shall live” and remain “green”. The greenness of the youth is anther commonly referenced image. This is meant to evoke a feeling of newness and purity. The speaker wants this young man to survive all the ravages of time and the only way to do this is to depict the youth in the speaker’s poetry.