Analysis of Sonnet 73 by William Shakespeare

 

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an English poet, dramatist and an actor widely recognized as one of the greatest writers in English. Shakespeare is believed to have been a prolific writer, producing not only plays but sonnets, poems while being an actor as well.  His works have been reinterpreted and adapted over the ages, once again asserting his timeless versatility that enables even the modern readers to find familiarity in his works.

Shakespearean sonnets are different to the Petrarchan sonnets mainly with their rhyme scheme. The Rhyme pattern is abab cdcd efef gg with the final couplet used to summarize the previous 12 lines or present a surprise ending. Similar to the Petrarchan sonnet, the rhythmic pattern in the iambic pentameter.

Sonnet 73 is one of the sonnets known as the sonnets to the Fair Youth. The Fair Youth poems are expressions of spiritual love towards a young man. These sonnets range from sonnet 1 – 126. Like the Dark Lady in the latter part of the series of sonnets, the Fair Youth is also an obscure character to whom the poet seemed to love so passionately.

 

Overview

Form: Three quatrains and end couplet. (14 lines), Shakespearean sonnet

Meter: iambic pentameter

Rhyme scheme: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG

Tone: remorseful, understanding

Theme: Transitory nature of life

Narration: 1st person, written to the Fair Youth

 

Deep-end Analysis

That time of year thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

 

inversion: the whole quatrain is featured of reversed word order - may be to show the speakers remorseful feeling about getting old.  

visual imagery: Yellow leaves, bare ruin’d choirs (imagery that shows decay and emptiness)

kinesthetic imagery: few yellow leaves hanging upon boughs shaking against the cold

symbol: yellow leaves (autumn/ old age)

 

The poet addresses the Fair Youth, his lover telling about him getting old. He compares his old self to the changing of nature. One day, He will be like a few autumn leaves which are about to fall before winter. He further explains that his life soon would be dull without any sweetness. He uses negative, decaying and empty imagery to show his old self which is about to meet death and decay. He further shows the inevitable loss of sweetness in voice and how dull he can be in the near future. By doing so, he prepares his lover to accept what is inevitable.

 

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day

As after sunset fadeth in the west,

Which by and by black night doth take away,

Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

 

metaphor: twilight (end of the day/ end of the life that means the old age) black night (death)

personification: black night doth take away

visual/kinesthetic imagery: sunset fadeth in the west/ black night doth take away

 

Here, night and death are compared each other. Like the night seals the day in the darkness, death seals the person inside a coffin - there by sealing his connection with the world. The poet keeps on explaining his inevitable death to his lover to make him prepare to accept what is to arrive soon. His feeling of loss is clearly visible through the dark and negative imagery he uses. He sees death is as a dark force that breaks the connection of loved ones and seal them in dark coffins.

 

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

As the death-bed whereon it must expire,

Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.

 

metaphor: glowing of such fire/ ashes of his youth (fire creates ashes, from the young age of fire, ashes get accumulated)

personification: ashes of his youth doth lie

kinesthetic imagery: glowing of fire on the ashes.

symbol: fire (desire, lust, vigor of youth)

simile: ashes of youth lie as the death bed (the death bed of life is created by decaying youth)

irony: consum’d with that which it was norish’d by (the life force: lust and desire in human life themselves consume the life of human)

 

The poet introduces his life to a burning fire. Throughout the life he has fed it with desires similar to adding firewood into the fire to continue it burning. As a result of continuous burning, more ash created making the fire suffocated to extinguish. The poet has realized that his life fire has created enough ashes making him an old person and his final sparks of life is burning like the embers under the ash in a fire. This is a genius and philosophical reading of life showing the poet’s understanding of the reality of life force and its transitory nature culminating with death and decay.   

 

This thou perceiv’st which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

 

word pun: leave (going away and sprouting of new leaves)

 

The poet turns the poem from a death poem to a love poem in final couplet. He teaches the world to love each other knowing that life is transitory, which ends soon. As he says, knowing the reality of life should make his lover to love him more - and more strongly. Moreover, the poem ends with a positive tone. Though the poet is going to leave his beloved, generously, he lets the left behind one to forget him and continue his life.

Though the poem discusses something that is not romantic, the poem is written to a lover as a love poem. However, the poem is a great reading of life and a lesson to the reader how to live and love each other. What is your idea of the poem? Kindly leave a comment below to enlighten our readership.

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