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British Library

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When I do count the clock that tells the time…

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Poem Activity

Have fun with the poem by trying this...

Go to the Poetry Archive ‘Shakespeare 400’ page and listen to the former Poet Laureate and co-founder of Poetry By Heart, Andrew Motion reading sonnet 12. Consider how Shakespeare writes about the destructive power of Time; the transience of beauty and the best response to Time’s ‘scythe’. Here you can also listen to Motion read his own poem, Rhapsodies, written in response to sonnet 12. Which aspects of Shakespeare’s sonnet do you think Andrew Motion is responding to most strongly?

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Modern English Original spelling

Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Links Off

When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls, all silvered o’er with white;

When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,

Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;

And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.

WHen I doe count the clock that tels the time,
And see the braue day sunck in hidious night,
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls or siluer’d ore with white:
When lofty trees I see barren of leaues,
Which erst from heat did canopie the herd
And Sommers greene all girded vp in sheaues
Borne on the beare with white and bristly beard:
Then of thy beauty do I question make
That thou among the wastes of time must goe,
Since sweets and beauties do them-selues forsake,
And die as fast as they see others grow,
And nothing gainst Times sieth can make defence
Saue breed to braue him, when he takes thee hence.