Sonnet 77

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Sonnet 77
Detail of old-spelling text
The first two lines of Sonnet 77 in the 1609 Quarto
Rule Segment - Fancy1 - 40px.svg





Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear,
Thy dial how thy precious minutes waste;
The vacant leaves thy mind’s imprint will bear,
And of this book this learning mayst thou taste.
The wrinkles which thy glass will truly show
Of mouthed graves will give thee memory;
Thou by thy dial’s shady stealth mayst know
Time’s thievish progress to eternity.
Look, what thy memory cannot contain
Commit to these waste blanks, and thou shalt find
Those children nurs’d, deliver’d from thy brain,
To take a new acquaintance of thy mind.
These offices, so oft as thou wilt look,
Shall profit thee and much enrich thy book.





—William Shakespeare[1]

Shakespeare's 77th sonnet repeats the theme of the passing of time and the inevitability of decay. There is less emphasis on the recuperative power of art than in some other works.


When you look in your mirror, you will see how quickly you are aging. This blank book will allow you to record the impressions of your mind, and these impressions will themselves teach you. The lines in your face that your mirror shows you will remind you of the open mouths of fresh graves. The hands of the dial will truly teach you how time keeps pushing you towards death. Write these things down now, and when you return to them much later you will find that they have matured along with you; they will mean more to you then. The oftener you do this, the more "your book" will profit by the discipline.


Sonnet 77 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 2nd line exemplifies a regular iambic pentameter:

  ×  /×   /    ×   /  ×    / ×     / 
Thy dial how thy precious minutes waste; (77.2)
/ = ictus, a metrically strong syllabic position. × = nonictus.

"Dial" is here 2 syllables, as it is in line 7.

Source and analysis[edit]

Since George Steevens and Edmond Malone, the poem has been taken as referring to the gift of a blank-book or book of tablets, perhaps to the beloved, although some have suggested a more distant friendship than that in the other sonnets. Edward Dowden hypothesized that the poem relates specifically to the Rival Poet: knowing that he has lost favor, Shakespeare makes a present of this blank book to the beloved, who will now have to fill it himself, since Shakespeare has fallen silent.

The mirror and dial referred to in the sonnet are often assumed to be devices represented on the cover of the book; alternately, as Rolfe hypothesized, they might have been gifts enclosed with the book. Henry Charles Beeching discounts any clear biographical clue in the poem, arguing that it is so unrelated to those next it in the sequence that it must be read apart.

Booth notes that the gift of a mirror and dial places the poem in the memento mori tradition; however, his sense of a pun on "wear" and "were" is regarded as forced by G. B. Evans.

Sonnet 77 is the midpoint in the sequence of 154 sonnets. The fact that it is about a mirror may be relevant to its placing. Edmund Spenser mentions mirrors at the midpoint of his sequence, Amoretti, Sonnet 45 of 89: "Leaue lady in your glasse of christall clene, / Your goodly selfe for euermore to vew".[2]

The original quarto's "blacks" in line 10 is almost universally emended to "blanks", following Alexander Dyce. Some critics have defended "blacks" as referring to printer's type, or to slate notebooks.


  1. ^ Pooler, C[harles] Knox, ed. (1918). The Works of Shakespeare: Sonnets. The Arden Shakespeare [1st series]. London: Methuen & Company. OCLC 4770201. 
  2. ^ Larsen, Kenneth J. "Structure" in Essays on Shakespeare's Sonnets.

Further reading[edit]

First edition and facsimile
Variorum editions
Modern critical editions