Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear,
Thy dial how thy precious minutes waste;
The vacant leaves thy mind's imprint will bear,
And of this book, this learning mayst thou taste.
The wrinkles which thy glass will truly show
Of mouthed graves will give thee memory;
Thou by thy dial's shady stealth mayst know
Time's thievish progress to eternity.
Look what thy memory cannot contain,
Commit to these waste blanks, and thou shalt find
Those children nursed, delivered from thy brain,
To take a new acquaintance of thy mind.
These offices, so oft as thou wilt look,
Shall profit thee and much enrich thy book.
This is one of the sequence of climacteric sonnets, 49, 63, 77, 81, 126, 154, all of which deal with the demise of love, life, youth and beauty, either for the poet, or the beloved, or both. This one is less dramatic than the others, in that it finds an occasion for encouraging the youth to record his thoughts, for moral impovement at a later date, and does not insist that the final destruction is immanent or an object of all-pervasive fear and loathing. The tameness of the conclusion almost allows one to believe that, reading the divine offices, the breviary of former thoughts on mortality, in some quiet nook, could go on for ever and that no one need ever die.
All the sonnets bearing the climacteric numbers, which are multiples of seven or nine, show evidence of being placed purposively. They usually interrupt a set or sequence which has some unifying theme, as here, where the sequence runs from 76 to 86, apart from the interruptions of the climacteric numbers 77 and 81. The precise significance of the use of these numbers in the sonnets is unknown, although it is clear that the sonnets set at these crucial points were carefully chosen, and that their position is not the result of any accidental placing.
The 1609 Quarto Version
THy glaſſe will ſhew thee how thy beauties were,
Thy dyall how thy pretious mynuits waſte,
The vacant leaues thy mindes imprint will beare,
And of this booke,this learning maiſt thou taſte.
The wrinckles which thy glaſſe will truly ſhow,
Of mouthed graues will giue thee memorie,
Thou by thy dyals ſhady ſtealth maiſt know,
Times theeuiſh progreſſe to eternitie.
Looke what thy memorie cannot containe,
Commit to theſe waſte blacks,and thou ſhalt finde
Thoſe children nurſt,deliuerd from thy braine,
To take a new acquaintance of thy minde.
Theſe offices,ſo oft as thou wilt looke,
Shall profit thee,and much inrich thy booke.