Sonnet 123 in the 1609 Quarto
Sonnet 123 is an English or Shakespearean sonnet. The English sonnet has three quatrains, followed by a final rhyming couplet. It follows the typical rhyme scheme of the form abab cdcd efef gg and is composed in iambic pentameter, a type of poetic metre based on five pairs of metrically weak/strong syllabic positions. The 3rd line exemplifies a regular iambic pentameter:
× / × / × / × / × / To me are nothing novel, nothing strange; (123.3)
- / = ictus, a metrically strong syllabic position. × = nonictus.
Although every line may be scanned regularly, some lines may be otherwise construed, such as line 13 which can be read with an initial reversal:
/ × × / × / × / × / This I do vow, and this shall ever be, (123.13)
The meter demands a few variant pronunciations: line 10's "wondering" functions as two syllables, and line 12's "continual" as three; line 11's "records" (although it is a noun, not a verb) is to be stressed on the second syllable.
Shakespeare addresses the ideas of change and growth in one's lifetime by metaphorically standing up against time Father Time. The major theme is that years continue to pass and the narrator is naturally getting older with each passing year, but he does not feel that it is necessary for his character to change accordingly. There are changes in the physical world that may happen within one's lifetime (pyramids), but that is not substantial on a personal level. Even so, we ought to respect what was done before us; however, that does not mean we have to revere it and at the same time an individual's pride would persuade one to think of these ideas as one's own, rather than something merely copied from the past (lines 5-8). There is little point in worrying about what has already happened, or for that matter worrying about what is happening now, but one should just live one's life for what it is. Copying down events and comparing written records with mental recollection is pointless because it wastes time in the present to do so, and time is continually moving (lines 9-12). Finally, the narrator resolves that no matter what happens in life (as new events to come are "done" by Time) he will stick to his own constitution and be true to himself regardless of what any consequences may be.
There are numerous other takes on the sonnet ranging from the poem's use of time (or lack thereof) as a metaphor for the tyranny of post-modernist working life as well as the potential sociopolitical themes apparent in the poem's thematic fear of change (conservatism).
This sonnet is one of the few pieces in Shakespeare that references ideas such as time, change, and death without the use of direct biblical or literary allusion.
- First edition and facsimile
- Shakespeare, William (1609). Shake-speares Sonnets: Never Before Imprinted. London: Thomas Thorpe.
- Lee, Sidney, ed. (1905). Shakespeares Sonnets: Being a reproduction in facsimile of the first edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press. OCLC 458829162.
- Variorum editions
- Alden, Raymond Macdonald, ed. (1916). The Sonnets of Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. OCLC 234756.
- Rollins, Hyder Edward, ed. (1944). A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: The Sonnets [2 Volumes]. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co. OCLC 6028485.
- Modern critical editions
- Atkins, Carl D., ed. (2007). Shakespeare's Sonnets: With Three Hundred Years of Commentary. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. ISBN 978-0-8386-4163-7. OCLC 86090499.
- Booth, Stephen, ed. (2000) [1st ed. 1977]. Shakespeare's Sonnets (Rev. ed.). New Haven: Yale Nota Bene. ISBN 0-300-01959-9. OCLC 2968040.
- Burrow, Colin, ed. (2002). The Complete Sonnets and Poems. The Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0192819338. OCLC 48532938.
- Duncan-Jones, Katherine, ed. (2010) [1st ed. 1997]. Shakespeare's Sonnets. The Arden Shakespeare, Third Series (Rev. ed.). London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-1-4080-1797-5. OCLC 755065951.
- Evans, G. Blakemore, ed. (1996). The Sonnets. The New Cambridge Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521294034. OCLC 32272082.
- Kerrigan, John, ed. (1995) [1st ed. 1986]. The Sonnets ; and, A Lover's Complaint. New Penguin Shakespeare (Rev. ed.). Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-070732-8. OCLC 15018446.
- Mowat, Barbara A.; Werstine, Paul, eds. (2006). Shakespeare's Sonnets & Poems. Folger Shakespeare Library. New York: Washington Square Press. ISBN 978-0743273282. OCLC 64594469.
- Orgel, Stephen, ed. (2001). The Sonnets. The Pelican Shakespeare (Rev. ed.). New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0140714531. OCLC 46683809.
- Vendler, Helen, ed. (1997). The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-63712-7. OCLC 36806589.