Shakespeare's sonnets can be by most considerations split into two parts. In the
first part, sonnets 1-126, the speaker is talking to a young boy. The second part, sonnets
127-152, the speaker is addressing a dark lady. For the purposes of this essay, I would
like to look at the last sonnet of the first part, sonnet 126. In this sonnet, the speaker is
issuing a warning to "my lovely boy," of the inevitability of time over nature.
The sonnet begins, "O thou my lovely boy, who in thy power Dost hold time's
fickle glass, his sickle-hour." Shakespeare makes ten uses of the word glass in his
sonnets. In this particular use, he is referring to glass as a mirror. Time's fickle or unpre-
dictable mirror only shows the person's face at the present time. "His sickle-hour"
is probably referring to the hour of one's death because we associate sickle with reap-
ing or the grim reaper.
The sonnet continues by saying, "Who hast by waning grown,
and therein show'st Thy lovers withering as thy sweet self grow'st." In other words,
the youth is growing in age by waning or decline which is what happens in old age, but
the youth is still beautiful and only sees his lovers fading beauty.
In the next portion of the sonnet, nature is introduced as a," sovereign mistress
over wrack." Therefore, she is the ruler over the destruction or ruin that time brings
about. The speaker goes on to describe nature's skill and purpose. "As thou goest
onwards still will pluck thee back, She keeps thee to this purpose: that her skill."
Even as the youth goes forward in time, nature has the power to preserve and main-
tain the beauty. In doing this, nature disgraces...