No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change:
Thy pyramids built up with newer might
To me are nothing novel, nothing strange;
They are but dressings of a former sight.
Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire
What thou dost foist upon us that is old;
And rather make them born to our desire
Than think that we before have heard them told.
Thy registers and thee I both defy,
Not wondering at the present nor the past,
For thy records and what we see doth lie,
Made more or less by thy continual haste.
This I do vow and this shall ever be;
I will be true despite thy scythe and thee.
As the sequence of sonnets dedicated to the youth draws to a close, the poet finally and crucially insists that his love is not of a mortal composition. It is not anything that is subject to time's destruction or to the fickle wheel of fortune. In these three last sonnets he affirms his truth and constancy, with a love which will outlive the pyramids, and the whims of political change, and all external forms of favour and preferment. No matter that all his past experience has shown him that the object of love may not be worth the devotion he lavishes upon it. It is the love that counts. It is the ability to make the sacrifice of oneself. It is the strength of will that makes something out of nothing, and produces from a trivial and transitory romance something which lasts as long as time itself lasts - it is that which must be extolled and hymned, for if that cannot be saved from the general destruction, then nothing else is worth talking about. The rest is silence, as Hamlet said, and this love must be treated in such a way, as a silent mystery, for there is no other fitting end to it.
As KDJ points out, these three sonnets, 123-5, "can be read as three comments on the 'wonderful year' 1603-4, during which many poets wrote tributes on James I, but Shakespeare did not". (KDJ p.356, and Intro. p.26.) His love for the youth was irrelevant to pomp and circumstance, and far removed from politics. Although other possible targets of reference for 'the pyramids' may be cited, such as the obelisks discovered in Egypt and transported to Rome in the late 1580's and erected by Pope Sixtus V, they may be too remote. We are nowadays more willing to allow a later date of composition for some of the sonnets, for it is no longer so necessary to hide their controversial nature as being the product of an immature writer. The level of sophistication and the compression of meaning found in many of them is comparable with some of the best to be found in the plays. If the reference here and in 125 is to James' coronation, then this group of three sonnets would post-date March 1604, and the possible allusion to the gunpowder plotters in the couplet of 124 would indicate a date after 1605.
The 1609 Quarto Version
NO ! Time, thou ſhalt not boſt that I doe change,
Thy pyramyds buylt vp with newer might
To me are nothing nouell,nothing ſtrange,
They are but dreſſings of a former ſight:
Our dates are breefe,and therefor we admire,
What thou doſt foyſt vpon vs that is ould,
And rather make them borne to our defire,
Then thinke that we before haue heard them toulde:
Thy regiſters and thee I both defie,
Not wondring at the preſent,nor the paſt,
For thy records,and what we ſee doth lye,
Made more or les by thy continuall haſt:
This I doe vow and this ſhall euer be,
I will be true diſpight thy ſyeth and thee.