My glass shall not persuade me I am old,
William Shakespeare's Sonnet 22 is among the part of his sequence written to a young man; more narrowly, it is among the early poems, in which the speaker of the poem and the young man are represented as enjoying a healthy and positive relationship. The last line, however, hints at the speaker's doubts, which become prominent slightly later in the sequence.
I will not believe that I am old as long as you are young, but once I see that you are old, I will know that I will die soon. The reason for this is that you and I have exchanged hearts, so that I cannot be truly old until you, who have my heart, grow old. We are the same age. Thus, I beg you to take care of yourself for my sake, as I will take care of myself for your sake, as a mother takes care of her baby. But do not expect that if my heart is slain (i.e., through your carelessness or betrayal) I will give you yours back: you didn't give it to me just to take it back later.
Source and analysis
The poem is built on two conventional subjects for Elizabethan sonneteers. The notion of the exchange of hearts was popularized by Petrarch's Sonnet 48; instances may be found in Philip Sidney (Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia) and others, but the idea is also proverbial. The conceit of love as an escape for an aged speaker is no less conventional and is more narrowly attributable to Petrarch's Sonnet 143. The image cannot be used to date the sonnet, if you agree with most critics, that it was written by a poet in his mid-30s. Samuel Daniel employs the same concept in a poem written when Shakespeare was 29, and Michael Drayton used it when he was only 31. Stephen Booth perceives an echo of the Anglican marriage service in the phrasing of the couplet.
"Expiate" in line 4 formerly caused some confusion, since the context does not seem to include a need for atonement. George Steevens suggested "expirate"; however, Edmond Malone and others have established that expiate here means "fill up the measure of my days" or simply "use up." Certain critics, among them Booth and William Kerrigan, still perceive an echo of the dominant meaning.
The conventional nature of the poem, what Evelyn Simpson called its "frigid conceit," is perhaps a large part of the reason that this poem is not among the most famous of the sonnets today.
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