How plainly here the poet speaks! In the enormous plenitude of his conceptions which have not as yet found a human sphere to vent themselves, the thought occupies him that his mind as well as his body will grow old, that the exuberance, or beauty, of his intellect, now gazed on with so much admiration, the youthful freshness of his intellectual powers, which now afford him such delight, will gradually decay, some day cease to be, and that, in the field of his intellectual beauty, time will dig deep trenches. If he should then be asked where all his beauty lies, where all the treasure of his lusty days, and he be forced to reply that they were in his own, then, deep-sunken (mind’s) eyes, it would be an all-devouring shame, and thriftless praise. But, how much the more would the use of his beauty praise deserve, if he could answer: “This fair child of mine shall sum up my account, and make my old, i. e. late excuse.” He must therefore use his mind’s beauty, display it in productions, –he must create, –beget an intellectual child. By this alone can he be represented in after ages. The beauty of his creations will be pointed out by posterity as belonging to him. How delightful the consolatory reflection, that even when his intellect grew aged, when the enthusiasm of youth, his intellectual blood became cold, he could still contemplate in his creations the glowing ardour of his prime!
This sonnet raises the question of the locus of self-worth: Does it lie in the self, or in the world’s opinion of self? We see for thefirst time in the sequence the technique of double exposure, by which Shakespeare offers to alternative scenarios both responding to the same situation.
In an indirect discourse, the young man that Shakespeare refers to, at the age of forty, has two possible answers to the question, “Where lies thy beauty and Where all the treasure of thy lusty days? These questions are answered by the lines, “Within my own deep-sunken e…