Sonnet 126 by William Shakespeare is addressed to a male character as a warning of time’s eventual victory over us all. The sonnet begins in affirming that the male has temporarily escaped a fate most of his peers have already endured.
Shakespeare’s introductory lines, “O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy pow’r/ Dost hold time’s fickle glass, his sickle hour,”, means that the male’s maintained beauty suggests that he has tamed time and all the destruction it may cause. Though Sonnet 126’s narrator acknowledges that the male has altered in appearance, trading his youthful exterior for that of an older man, he has aged gracefully and has only become more attractive, or “Who hast by waning grown”. The narrator comments that the male has aged so well that he puts his old lovers to shame, or that they are even less attractive by comparison when he says “and therein show’st/ Thy lovers withering, as thy sweet self grow’st'””.
Shakespeare goes on to explain that in the male’s current state, nature has seemed to conquer time. Sonnet 126’s narrator writes “If nature, sovereign mistress over wrack,/ As thou goest onwards still will pluck thee back,” or that as the man mentally progresses in years, nature holds back his body from aging. Furthermore, Shakespeare also says that nature is making an example of it’s power by preserving his exterior and thus invalidates time when he writes the next two lines, “She keeps thee to this purpose: that her skill/ May time disgrace, and wretched minute kill.”
However, after Shakespeare has explained to the boy how nature is abasing time with his beauty, he begins to warn of the eventual consequences; “Yet fear her, O thou minion of her pleasure;/ She may detain, but not still keep, her treasure.”, or that nature cannot stave off time forever. He urges that nature must always answer to time and that it will soon relinquish him to time’s decay; Her audit, though delayed, answered must be,/ And her quietus is to render thee.”.
Sonnet 126 carries a few implications. Though it is never stated, one may assume Shakespeare is urging the male character, or subject of the sonnet, to relish but not become attached to his physical form. In reminding the male character of his eventual decay of beauty, it is suggested that he should make certain he has a type of security, such as friendships or love, which is not dependent upon the form which will one day change for the worse. To his entire audience, though, the sonnet stands as a reminder, perhaps a refreshing one to those who have been snubbed by time early in their lives, that nothing external lasts.