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William Shakespeare

When I do count the clock

Quatrain 2 & 3,
plus the rhyming couplet

Keith Tankard
Updated: 18 January 2014
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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:

"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."
  • What is the theme of this quatrain? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why does the poet refer to the trees as "lofty"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why does the poet use the word "barren" rather than "bare"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Rewrite in your own words so as to make the meaning clearer: "Which erst from heat did canopy the herd." (4)

[Need help?]

"And summer's green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard."
  • The poet refers here to three colours which depict the passing of the seasons. What are these colours and how do they represent the seasons? Explain your answer. (6)

[Need help?]

  • What image is the poet using when he says that the sheaves are "borne on the bier"? (4)

[Need help?]

"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."
  • Who is the subject to whom Shakespeare is speaking? In other words, whom does he mean when he says, "thy"? (2)

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  • What point is the poet making in his "question"? (4)

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  • What does the poet mean when he speaks of "sweets and beauties"? (4)

[Need help?]

"And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence."
  • What does the poet mean by "Time's scythe"? According to the poet, what is the only way we can protect ourselves from the "scythe" of Death? (6)

[Need help?]

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See also:
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