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[1]       Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest

[2]       Now is the time that face should form another,

[3]       Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,

[4]       Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.

[5]       For where is she so fair whose uneared womb

[6]       Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?

[7]       Or who is he so fond will be the tomb

[8]       Of his self-love, to stop posterity?

[9]       Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee

[10]     Calls back the lovely April of her prime;

[11]     So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,

[12]     Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time.

[13]     But if thou live remembered not to be,

[14]     Die single, and thine image dies with thee.

 

This sonnet continues the theme of the first two: an encouragement to marry and have children.

The distinguishes mark lies with the concept of “image”.  The idea of mirror/image appears in the first & third stanzas as well as the couplet. It also brings in a new element: the subject of the poem is himself the image of another.

 

First Stanza

[1]       Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest

[2]       Now is the time that face should form another,

[3]       Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,

[4]       Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.

 

 

The first line sets up the conceit for the rest of the poem. The image which he sees in the mirror becomes a separate-self, capable of replication. That face which he sees in the mirror itself should form another face of the same image.

 

This is a subtle and curious idea: Shakespeare is not saying, Make another “your”. Rather, make another in your image.  In this respect, Shakespeare is following in the language of  the Bible

 

Genesis 5:3 (Geneva)

Now Adám lived an hũdreth and thirtie yeres and begate a childe in his owne lickenes after his image, and called his name Sheth.

 

Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. Adam has a son is created in his own image.  And so it is not the man, but the man’s imagewhich is replicated. Thus, it is the face in the mirror which should replicate the image. The man himself will be no more; but the image which appears in the mirror will persist.

[3]       Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,

[4]       Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.

This language also harkens back to Genesis. If the man will not renew the image (by having a child), he will “unbless” some potential mother by not sharing a child with her. In this, there seems to be a hint of Eve’s joy in getting a child (after the murder of Abel by Cain):

 

Genesis 4:1 (Geneva)

1 AFterwarde the man knewe Heuáh his wife, which cõceived & bare Káin, & said, I have obteined a man by yͤLord.

 

Second Stanza

 

[5]       For where is she so fair whose uneared womb

[6]       Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?

[7]       Or who is he so fond will be the tomb

[8]       Of his self-love, to stop posterity?

 

This stanza fits neatly into two characters: the woman who will not have a child with him and the man who foolishly destroys himself.

 

So who is the woman so beautiful …

 

What is an “uneared womb”?  There is an obsolete use of the word “ear” which means to plow:

1 Samuel 8:12 (Geneva)

12 Also he wil make them his captaines over thousandes and captaines over fifties, and to eare his grounde, and to reape his harvest, & to make instruments of waire, and the things that serve for his charets.

The Merriam Webster dictionary offers this instance:

 

to form ears in growing

the rye should be earing up

Or:

 

⌜SECOND⌝MESSENGER

(FTLN 0467)      [54]     Caesar, I bring thee word

(FTLN 0468)      [55]     Menecrates and Menas, famous pirates,

(FTLN 0469)      [56]     Makes the sea serve them, which they earand

(FTLN 0470)      [57]     wound

(FTLN 0471)      [58]     With keels of every kind. Many hot inroads

(FTLN 0472)      [59]     They make in Italy—the borders maritime

(FTLN 0473)      [60]     Lack blood to think on ’t—and flush youth revolt.

 

William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra (Folger Shakespeare Library, n.d.), 39.

 

Therefore an “uneared womb” would be a woman who had not been “ploughed” – this matches the image of “tillage”.  The image of the field from the previous Sonnet is here returned and applied to the potential mother.

 

So what woman is there who is so beautiful that she would refuse to be the mother of your children? (She does not want to a farmer in her field. I don’t image this imagery would be very welcome in conversation with a woman today – and I have no idea that it would have pleased a woman four hundred years ago. But he also was not writing to the woman).

 

[7]       Or who is he so fond will be the tomb

[8]       Of his self-love, to stop posterity?

 

“Fond” is an old fashioned word for foolish. It was used as late as Wordsworth, “What fond and foolish thoughts”.

 

Who is someone so foolish that he will be his own tomb, but refusing to bear children?

 

Third Stanza

 

This stanza picks up the elements of image from the first stanza and mother from the second stanza:

 

[9]       Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee

[10]     Calls back the lovely April of her prime;

[11]     So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,

[12]     Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time.

 

He himself is the image of his own mother – and replicates her spring. He is a joy to his own mother by recalling to her, her own “April of her prime”.

 

The “mirror” is here replicated and transformed into a “window” – glass being the common medium of both.

 

At present, he looks into a mirror and sees his own image. But with a child, he sees through the glass as a window into the image replicated in another human being. There is an advancement in the image.

 

The language of mother is used to put him into relation. He has come from a mother (like Eve having a son), and he will be like Adam replicating his image.

 

The Couplet:

 

[13]     But if thou live remembered not to be,

[14]     Die single, and thine image dies with thee.

 

If he dies single – without taking a mother to him – he will not be remembered. And that image in the mirror will be nothing being that image in the mirror. He can replicate his image in a mirror only as long as he lives. But he if has a child, the image is replicated outside of the mirror – it becomes visible through a window (as he was visible to his mother).