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Sonnet 2 - Study Guide

Study Guide to Shakespeare's Sonnet 2


Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2: When Forty Winters Shall Beseige Thy Brow is interesting because it further expresses his desire for the subject of his poem to breed. This theme is introduced in Sonnet 1 and continues through to poem 17.

The poem advises the fair youth that when he is old and looks withered and terrible he can, at least, point to his son and say that he has passed on his beauty to him. However, if he does not breed, he will have to live with the shame of simply looking old and withered.

In short, a child would compensate for the ravages of ageing. The poem suggests that you can live your life through your child if necessary. The child would provide evidence that he was once beautiful and worthy of praise.

You can read the full text to Sonnet 2 in our collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Sonnet 2: The Facts

  • Sequence: Sonnet 2 is part of the Fair Youth Sonnets
  • Key Themes:Old age, procreation, a child providing evidence of one’s worth, Winter, obsession with the fair youth’s beauty.
  • Style: Sonnet 2 is written in iambic pentameter and follows the traditional sonnet form

Sonnet 2: A Translation

When forty winters have passed, you will have aged and become wrinkly. Your youthful looks, so admired as they are now, will be gone. Then if anyone asks you where your beauty lies, where the worth of your youthful, lusty days is evident, you could say: “Within mine own deep sunken eyes.”

But that would be shameful and not praiseworthy if you didn’t have a child to show off and say this is evidence of my beauty and the reason for my aging. The child’s beauty is proof of mine: “Proving his beauty by succession thine.”

The child would be youthful and beautiful when you are old and would remind you of being young and warm blooded when you are cold.

Sonnet 2: Analysis

Being forty years old in Shakespeare’s time would likely have been considered to be a “good old age”, so when forty winters had passed, you would have been considered old.

In this sonnet, the poet is giving almost fatherly advice to the fair youth. He does not appear to be interested in the fair youth romantically himself in this poem, but is encouraging a heterosexual union. However, the preoccupation with the fair youth and his life choices soon becomes quite overwhelming and obsessive.

The sonnet takes a subtly different tack from Sonnet 1 (where he says that if the fair youth does not breed it would be selfish of him and the world would regret it). In this sonnet, the poet suggests that the fair youth would feel shame and would personally regret it himself – perhaps the speaker does so to appeal to the narcissistic side of the fair youth, pointed to in Sonnet 1. Perhaps a narcissist would not care what the world thinks, but would care what he may feel himself in later life?

Want to read the entire poem? Our collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets contains the original text to Sonnet 2.

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