"To be or not to be that is the question." This line was from one of Shakespeare's more famous plays, Hamlet. Although many people don't know this, Shakespeare was much more than just a playwright. He was also an artist of words in the era of language known as sonnet poetry. Sonnet poetry divides into three quatrains (four-line groupings) and a final couplet, rhyming a bab cdc d eff gg.
The structure of the English sonnet usually follows the Petrarchan, or explores variations on a theme in the first three quatrains and concludes with an epigrammatic couplet. In sonnet sequences, or cycles, a series of sonnets are linked by a common theme. Within Shakespeare's Sonnet sixty, Shakespeare explains the importance of life and how precious time is to man by using imagery that relate to time. In the first four lines of the sonnet, Shakespeare is explaining how life is always changing and also how the life of man is short, just as the wave of the seas makes it's way toward the shore.
In lines number two and three of the sonnet, Shakespeare is telling the reader that life goes from generation to generation; not necessarily as exactly as the last life but similar. Just as man produce offspring to carry their name from generation to generation and like the waves, "each changing place with which goes before," their offspring look similar but not identical to the "master mold" from which they came from. In line four of the sonnet, Shakespeare slightly changes directions and tone to explain that life has its many hardships and that in life, there is always going to be some source of discomfort as shown." ... sequent toil all forwards do contend." Toil refers to trouble or hardship and the phrase all forwards do contend refers to the future ahead for man. Then suddenly again, Shakespeare changes the mood again in sonnet line five through eight. Within these lines of the sonnet, Shakespeare is attempts to tell the reader that from birth to the time of full maturity in adulthood, the gifts that man will receive will be grand.
The gift does not necessarily have to be tangible but can be a symbolic such as knowledge. The only true way to obtain knowledge is to have experience and in gaining experience, it takes time. If we break the lines of the sonnets down, we can get a clearer view of what the author is talking about, such as lines 5 and 6. Nativity in line five means birth and once born, the newborn is now part of mankind. As the newborn crawls, which has the connotation of slow speed or gradualness, to maturity, the now new mature member of mankind will receive his "gift." Within lines seven and eight, the author again changes the mood to show that there is a downfall to this crowning. That an eclipse, which usually symbolizes darkness and bad luck, will hover over the man and strip him of his "gifts." Which means that as time goes on, old age will set in and all the beauty and all the wealth that the newborn received during maturity will vanish.
These lines, five through eight set up the remaining six lines of the sonnet. Within these lines, Shakespeare reinforces the first four lines of the sonnet by showing that time in a man's life is short and when old age comes, the ideas of beauty and wealth all fade away. "Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth." What this means is time transfixes, which is to cut or destroy, the flourish and all the benefits of being young. The "parallels in beauty's brow" in line 10 is referring to the wrinkles on the tops of the foreheads of man when he gets older. "The rarities of nature's truth" refers to the image of that of a time feeding on rare items, which may be the youthfulness of these older people.
The presence of truth in the line and the difficulty of explaining the meaning of the phrase nature's truth may be partly due to the necessity of rhyme. Truth always rhymes with youth in sonnets, whenever either word appears at the end of the line. After nature is finished feeding on the youth of man, all that is left is nothing but a scythe, which was a tool portrayed by the figure Death. Then, in the last two lines, Shakespeare again reinforces what he stated in the previous lines that were that no matter what; there is no escaping the cruel hand of time and death. Time is sometimes a necessary evil as stated in Shakespeare's Sonnet sixty. Time is necessary for man to live and explore the many gifts that he will find when he is older.
But as good as this may sound, there is a steep downhill slope on the other side. When maturity reaches a peak, there is no other way but to go down. All the beauty and wealth from youth disappear; with that, the gifts of life will disappear till you are left with nothing but death.