Sonnet 65 by Shakespeare argues that beauty and youth are illusions as they inevitably fade with the effects of time. The reader is pulled into the age old battle between humanity's desire for immortality and inevitable physical decay. Shakespeare suggests that it is only ideas captured by `black ink' (verses) that have any hope of transcending the test of time. The metaphoric loss of a legal battle by `beauty' against the `rage' of time in the first quatrain is intertwined with images of nature, to reinforce the idea that evading decay is hopeless. Time's metaphoric `battering' of the fortress of youth in the second quatrain warns that not even humanity's strongest attempts at self preservation can prevent mortality. The use of imagery, metaphor, personification, irony, diction, sound patterns, structure and allusion, combine to convey the message that whilst time is all consuming, there is a chance that the immortality of verse will prevail.
Shakespeare is quick to point out in the first line that nothing on earth can withstand the effects of time. To illustrate just how destructive a force time is, Shakespeare attempts to list objects in nature that are least vulnerable to time, like `brass', `stone' and `sea' and then have them ironically overpowered by `mortality'. This irony is continued in lines three and four where the same objects are described as being `...not stronger than a flower...' against the test of time.
This idea is continued with the creation of a metaphoric legal battle in lines three and four. `Beauty' is personified to `...hold a plea' against the personified enraged judge (time). The word `plea' alludes to the wording of a legal hearing (WBD n.4.), where the defendant makes a claim. Shakespeare stresses the futility of the case with the rhetorical question `How with this rage shall beautie hold a plea, Whose action is not stronger than a flower?' Purposefully creating an image of a meek defendant (beauty and love) being abased in front of a prejudiced judge (time), with no real defense. His clever wordplay on `action', using the legal and physical sense of the word (Mahood 1968: 105), simultaneously supports the court battle metaphor and stresses the uselessness of the attempt to dissuade time. This clever use of metaphor and personification highlights the greater meaning, that our ploys to stay young are no more effective than a flower attempting to stop the advancement of time.
The second quatrain holds an extended metaphor of a military battle between youth's strength and time's power of decay. Shakespeare uses `...summers hunny breath...' as a metaphor for youth and beauty. By giving `breath' to summer, it is personified into an image of a soft and lovely person- an epitome of youth. A breath is intermittent and only stays for a whim of time. This is important as it displays how the strength of youth is an illusion in the context of time.
This holds particular relevance to the image of youth...