Go to Knowledge4Africa.com

William Shakespeare

When I do count the clock

The first quatrain

Keith Tankard
Updated: 18 January 2014
Contact the English4Africa Subject Coordinator

It is with great sadness that we have to announce that the creator of Knowledge4Africa, Dr T., has passed away. Helping people through his website gave him no end of pleasure. If you had contact with him and would like to leave a message, please send us an e-mail here.


The poet looks at the aging process, noting how everything passes from youth to old age and death. Nothing can stop it, he says, except perhaps if we each breed lots of children, then we will live on through those children.


William Shakespeare, commonly known simply as "The Bard", was born in April 1564. Although he lived a mere 52 years, he has won himself the reputation of being the greatest of all English poets and playwrights.

He grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon where, at the age of 18, he married Anne Hathaway with whom he had three children. Modern scholars love to question whether or not he was actually gay - but such is the energy-sapping research of these scholars.

The Bard established a most successful career for himself in acting and in writing for the stage. Ultimately he became the part-owner of The Lord Chamberlain's Men, a theatrical company which eventually came to be known as The King's Men.

In his early years in theatrics, Shakespeare focussed his attention on writing comedies and histories. Only later did he produce a series of tragedies such as Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear, the works for which he is preeminently known.

Although he wrote two lengthy narrative poems as well as several other shorter poems, his reputation as a poet was established through his amazing collection of sonnets - 154 in all.

Indeed, his particular style of sonnet, commonly known as the Elizabethan form, is also referred to simply as "the Shakespearian sonnet".

In about 1613, he returned to Stratford-upon-Avon and died there in April 1616. Scholars would later come to question not only his sexual stance but also whether or not it was he who actually wrote all the work attributed to him.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

Apart from the fact that Shakespeare wrote this poem, how can we tell that it's a Shakespearian sonnet? (6)

[Need help?]

"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 silver'd o'er with white."
  • What is the theme of this quatrain? (2)

[Need help?]

  • The poet speaks of three measurements which reflect the passing of time. Explain what they are? (6)

[Need help?]

  • Why does the poet "count the clock"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why should the day be "brave" whereas the night is "hideous"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What is a "violet"? Why is it "past prime"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What are the "sable curls"? Why would they be "silver'd o'er with white"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What is the purpose of the apostrophes in "silver'd" and in "o'er"? (4)

[Need help?]

This sonnet is often referred to as the "fertility sonnet". In what way can this be said to be true? (6)

[Need help?]

Try another worksheet?

See also:
This document is copyrighted. No part of it may be reproduced in any form whatever without explicit permission in writing from the author. The sole exception is for educational institutions which may wish to reproduce it as a handout for their students.

Contact the English4Africa Subject Coordinator