Sonnet 2 “When Forty Winters Shall Besiege Thy Brow,” Poem by William Shakespeare Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


Shakespeare’s second sonnet, “When Forty Winters Shall Besiege Thy Brow,” is the first in which the unnamed “Fair Youth” is mentioned. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets in all, the second of which is titled “When forty winters shall besiege thy brow.” It is one of several sonnets that address the subject of procreation and is a part of the lengthy Fair Youth sequence. Shakespeare encourages The Fair Youth, who is the intended listener and subject of the vast majority of his sonnets, to have children in sonnets from one to seventeen. 

About the poet

Shakespeare, an English playwright, poet, and actor, is regarded as the greatest English-language author and the greatest dramatist in history. Between 1589 and 1613, he wrote the majority of his well-known plays and histories. Up until 1608, the majority of his works were tragedies, like Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. Shakespeare’s plays are performed more frequently than those of any other author because they have been translated into every major living language. His works are still being researched and reexamined. Shakespeare’s posthumous collected work, The First Folio, was published in 1623 by John Heminges and Henry Condell. Ben Jonson’s poem praised Shakespeare as “not of an age, but for all time.”


Line 1-4

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 tatter’d weed, of small worth held:


The speaker addresses the young man in these lines and predicts how time will change the young man’s physical appearance. The speaker imagines a day in the future when the young man’s face has been impacted by the passing of forty winters, signifying aging. The “deep trenches” are the lines and wrinkles that will reduce the formerly attractive and young face. The proud beauty of the young man’s youth, which is now widely regarded and admired, will deteriorate and turn into a withered and unimportant weed, lacking worth or relevance, according to the speaker.


These lines emphasize the fleeting nature of physical beauty and serve as a warning and a call to action. The speaker emphasizes that the young man’s physical beauty would definitely deteriorate with time, making his current youthful appearance a transient and fleeting state. Through the use of imagery like “deep trenches” and “totter’d weed,” the impacts of aging and the declining value of physical attractiveness are powerfully depicted. The young man is urged to think about the repercussions of not procreating and passing on his attractiveness to future generations by the intensity with which the lines are written. It emphasizes the idea that having children may help maintain one’s legacy and value, assuring the continuance of beauty and a lasting influence outside of one’s own lifetime.

Line 5-8

Then being ask’d 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.


The speaker asks the young man where his beauty and vitality will be when he grows older as he continues to address him. The young man’s argument that his beauty and youth still remain in his own eyes, according to the speaker, would be a disgraceful and wasted reaction. The speaker seems to be saying that trying to gain acceptance simply through one’s beauty is pointless and ultimately destructive.


These lines focus on the idea of the transient nature of outward beauty and the significance of inner qualities. The speaker pushes the young man to reflect on his actual value in relation to things other than his outward appearance. The speaker makes an argument that putting all one’s attention on one’s physical appearance is both self-indulgent and fruitless, calling it “an all-eating shame and thriftless praise” to declare that beauty lies within one’s own eyes. While “thriftless praise” suggests that such a response would be a wasted and meaningless expression of adoration, “all-eating shame” expresses the concept that such a reaction would consume and diminish one’s actual essence. The lines inspire the young man to develop traits that will last beyond the transient nature of physical attractiveness and to seek significance and worth beyond superficial attributes.

Line 9-14

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 cold


The speaker suggests that if the young man had a child who would carry on his attractiveness by succession, his beauty would be much more praised and admired. The speaker suggests that the young guy would build a new version of himself by having a child, which would carry on his legacy and preserve his attractiveness even in old age. The speaker goes on to say that it would be a refreshing experience to see his own bloodline continue and feel the warmth of his own blood in his veins.


The idea of procreation and the concept of leaving a lasting legacy through descendants are both explored in these lines. The speaker suggests that if the young man had a child who would carry on his physical appeal, his beauty would be even more highly regarded. It is implied by the speaker’s phrases, “This fair child of mine / Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,” that the young man’s child will be a monument to his attractiveness, acting as an explanation or justification for his own deteriorating and aging appearance. The concept that the young man’s beauty will be confirmed and preserved by the continuance of his lineage is highlighted by the words “Proving his beauty by succession thine!” The last two lines imply that seeing one’s own children’s life and the warmth of their blood in one’s veins will renew one’s spirit and help one realize one’s own mortality. These phrases emphasize the value of family and the possibility of leaving a beautiful and lasting legacy for future generations.