Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,
Crooked elipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.
This sonnet attempts to explain the nature of time as it passes, and as it acts on human life. In the first quatrain, the speaker says that the minutes replace one another like waves on the "pebbled shore," each taking the place of that which came before it in a regular sequence.
In the second quatrain, he tells the story of a human life in time by comparing it to the sun: at birth ("Nativity"), it rises over the ocean ("the main of light"), then crawls upward toward noon (the "crown" of "maturity"), then is suddenly undone by "crooked eclipses", which fight against and confound the sun's glory. In the third quatrain, time is depicted as a ravaging monster, which halts youthful flourish, digs wrinkles in the brow of beauty, gobbles up nature's beauties, and mows down with his scythe everything that stands. In the couplet, the speaker opposes his verse to the ravages of time: he says that his verse will stand in times to come, and will continue to praise the "worth" of the beloved despite the "cruel hand" of time.