When fortie Winters shall beseige thy brow, Shakespeare: Summary & Analysis

"When fortie Winters shall beseige thy brow" is another Shakespearean sonnet that explores the fleeting nature of beauty and the passage of time. The speaker contemplates the transformation of beauty over the years and emphasizes the value of procreation as a means to extend one's legacy. The poem contrasts the temporal nature of physical appearance with the lasting impact of progeny.

"When fortie Winters shall beseige thy brow"

Original Text

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
Thy youth's proud livery so gazed on now,
Will be a tottered weed of small worth held:
Then being asked, where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;
To say, within thine own deep sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty's use,
If thou couldst answer 'This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,'
Proving his beauty by succession thine.
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel'st it could.

Simpler Modern Translation

When forty winters besiege your forehead,
And dig deep lines in your beauty's field,
The proud appearance of your youth that's admired now,
Will be a faded flower of little value:
Then, when asked where your beauty is,
Where all the energy of your passionate days;
To say, within your own sunken eyes,
Would be a consuming shame and empty praise.
How much more praise your beauty would deserve,
If you could answer, 'This child of mine
Will sum up my account and excuse my age,'
Proving his beauty by inheriting yours.
This would be like becoming new again when you're old,
And feeling your blood warm when you thought it couldn't.


"When fortie Winters shall beseige thy brow" contemplates the effects of aging on physical beauty. The speaker addresses the subject, predicting a time when their youthful appearance will fade, and their former beauty will hold little value. The poem proposes that procreation is a means to perpetuate beauty and legacy, suggesting that offspring can embody the beauty of their parents.

Critical Analysis

The sonnet envisions the passage of time and its impact on physical appearance. The imagery of "fortie Winters" besieging the brow and "deep trenches" being dug in the field of beauty symbolizes the effects of aging.

The contrast between the subject's present "youthes proud liuery" and the future portrayal of their beauty as a "totter’d weed" highlights the ephemeral nature of physical attractiveness.

The speaker argues that beauty should be preserved through progeny. The reference to "this faire child of mine" suggests that the speaker's offspring would embody the beauty that fades in the subject.

The poem underscores the idea that the beauty of offspring would be a testament to the subject's beauty, serving as a lasting legacy. This notion contrasts with the fleeting nature of one's own physical appearance.


  • Fleeting Beauty: The poem examines the transitory nature of physical beauty as it diminishes over time.
  • Legacy and Procreation: The poem suggests that creating offspring is a way to extend one's legacy and preserve beauty through successive generations.
  • Temporal vs. Lasting: The contrast between the fleeting beauty of youth and the potential lasting beauty of offspring is a central theme.


  • Mortality: The poem reflects the inevitability of aging and the diminishing of physical allure over time.
  • Hopefulness: The poem suggests that creating offspring can provide a form of continuity and a sense of accomplishment.

Literary Devices

  • Imagery: The imagery of "fortie Winters" besieging the brow and "deep trenches" being dug in the field of beauty vividly portrays the effects of time.
  • Metaphor: The reference to beauty as a "totter’d weed" contrasts the subject's present attractiveness with its future decline.

Discussion Question

How does "When fortie Winters shall beseige thy brow" explore the theme of beauty's transformation over time and the potential for legacy through procreation? How does the speaker use the idea of offspring to highlight the contrast between the fleeting nature of physical beauty and the enduring value of familial lineage?

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