But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O! none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.
Sonnet 65: Translation to modern English
Since neither brass nor stone nor earth nor the limitless ocean can resist the power of mortality, how could beauty have a chance of resisting its force when beauty’s power is no stronger than that of a flower? Oh, how could the sweet-smelling breath of summer hold out against the fierce attack of war-like time when invulnerable rocks are not strong enough, nor steel gates firm enough, to resist its decaying force? Oh, terrifying thought! Where, oh where could time’s finest jewel be hidden from time itself? Or what strong hand could slow time down? Or who is there to forbid its destruction of your beauty? Oh, no-one unless this miracle should happen: that the one I love will continue to shine brightly in black ink.