Shakespeare Sonnet 7 - Analysis

Study Guide to Shakespeare's Sonnet 7

Shakespeare Writing
Shakespeare Writing. CSA Images/Printstock Collection/Getty Images

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 7: In The Orient When The Gracious Light is interesting because it uses an extended metaphor to get across a very familiar point. The comparison in this metaphor is between the life of the beautiful youth and the movement of the sun across the sky. Both are admired for their magnificent beauty and both represent the passing of time.

There is also the obvious son/sun pun. The sun is personified when it staggers away from the day like an old and feeble man.

People admire the sun as they admire the young man’s beauty but when it fades people will forget and not bother with you; in the same way that when the sun goes down, men look elsewhere and busy themselves with other things. Until the sun comes up again and therefore the fair youth should have a son so that people will continue to worship his beauty.

Sonnet 7 can read in full here.

Sonnet 7: The Facts

  • Sequence: Belongs to the Fair Youth Sonnets
  • Key Themes: The movement of the sun across the sky compared with the life of the fair youth, The majesty and magnificence of the sun compared with that of the fair youth, The passing of time, Ageing, An appeal to the fair youth’s vanity, Procreation so that beauty does not die out.
  • Style: Obeys the strict rules of the Shakespearean sonnet form, in iambic pentameter.

Sonnet 7: A Translation

When the sun first appears in the east, he lifts up his burning head and men’s eyes pay homage to his appearance, serving the majestic sun with looks of awe; and having climbed up the steep heavenly hill.

Resembling a strong young man in his prime, mortals still worship him, watching and admiring his climb into the sky, but when at his highest point with his weary horses, he staggers away from the day like an old and feeble man, the dutiful eyes of those who worshipped the sun are now distracted from its lowly position in the sky and get on with other things.

So you, approaching old age, will go unnoticed unless you have a son.

Sonnet 7: Analysis

The poet is at least now using a new prospective to say virtually the same as he has been saying in the previous poems. The sun metaphor is effective in that it clearly represents life and majesty and beauty in the same way the fair youth does to the poet. The reader is able to relate to it in that they are familiar with the importance of the sun and can now imagine the power of the poet’s feelings towards the fair youth as a result.

Having previously used "summer" to mean the young man’s youth and the passing of the seasons to establish the ageing process, the poet is now employing the sun itself and its movement across the sky to evoke the passing of time for the reader.

The poet again appeals to the fair youth’s ever apparent vanity in comparing him to something as fundamental as the sun. In threatening that the fair youth may eventually go unnoticed would possibly be worse than death for a conceited person?