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Sonnet 64

a cornucopia of a book
Read by Claire Marchionne
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A. L. Rowse in his Shakespeare's Sonnets writes: "This particular group of sonnets about the ravages of time reaches its climax with this fine - and famous - one.  It has historical as well as psychological interest.  We can tell, from the frequent references in his works, that Shakespeare was interested in the monuments, the castles, churches, tombs that he saw as he went about the country.  The latter half of the sixteenth century was a queasy time to be travelling about England, observing the ravages wrought upon the monuments of the past.  This sonnet draws our attention to the Abbey-towers thrown down by the Reformation, the splendid brasses ripped out of the churches by the fury of the Reformers and the avarice of others.

a mighty and momentous book, which re-orders one's thinking about much of England's religious past

By far the best work of scholarship on this subject, written after Rowse's above remarks, is The Stripping of the Altars, Traditional Religion in England 1400 - 1580 by Eamon Duffy, winner of The Longman-History Today Book of the Year Award.

When I have seen by Time's fell hand defac'd
The rich-proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-raz'd,
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss, and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded, to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate--
That Time will come and take my love away. 
  This thought is as a death which cannot choose
  But weep to have, that which it fears to lose.

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