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Shakespeare?s Sonnet #73
Shakespeare\'s Sonnet #73, published in 1609, is written in the Shakespearean or English sonnet style. It consists of three quatrains and one couplet at the end, written in iambic pentameters. Each quatrain has its own rhyme scheme, rhyming in alternating lines. The couplet summarizes the preceding twelve lines. Sonnet 73 appears to contain multiple parallels to death and the person speaking in the poem gives the impression that he is near death and reflecting back upon life.
The first quatrain, "That time of the year thou mayst behold me/ When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang/ Upon those boughs which shake against the cold/ Bare ruin choirs where late the sweet bird sang." He seems to be comparing his life the unspecified season, which could either be autumn or winter. If a person were to look at only this quatrain, Shakespeare seems to describe autumn, with images of yellow leaves and a place where a bird sang. However, if the whole sonnet is looked at Shakespeare seems to describe the effects of winter. Shakespeare reinforces the confusion of season with the rearrangement of the natural sequence of events. He says, none before few in describing the leaves hanging, and reminds us of summer with the image of the bird. This serves as a reminder of the encroaching winter. The transposition of "none" and "few" could also imply that a second look to the landscape, as with death. Upon, another glance, death is not here but coming. This quatrain appears to arrest the very process invoked. The winter is never-ending.
In the second quatrain, "In me thou seest the twilight of such day/ As after sunset fadeth in the west/ Which by and by black nigh doth steal away/ Death\'s second self, which seals upon rest." Shakespeare seems to say death comes like night, dark and quiet, like a thief, stealing when we sleep. Meaning, death will come, without question. He plays upon the sun setting, which in some cultures was a god dying every evening (and he would be reborn every morning). The sun setting could also be regarded as the sun going to sleep, which plays on the last line of the quatrain, "Death\'s second self, which seals upon rest." This line talks of the eternal sleep, or death. This quatrain suggests a night without the possibility of day, "seals upon rest."
In the third quatrain, "In me the glowing of such fire/ That on the ashes of his youth doth lie/ As the deathbed whereon it must expire/ Consuming with that which it was nourished by." He seems to compare his life to fire, burning bright in youth, when energy and ideas bound forth, but eventually it all turns to ashes, fragments of the passing youth, essentially death. He also makes implications of lying upon the ashes, his deathbed, of days gone by, days when he was young and full of energy. The fire proposes finality, the non-cyclical process that night and the seasons are part of, which Shakespeare has worked towards in the poem.
The final couplet, "This thou percev\'st which makes thy love more strong/ To love that well which thou must leave ere long," says the thought of death makes love more intense. This refers to as idea in the third quatrain, "Consumed with that which it was nourished by." Death consumes the emotions, like a blazing fire, turning all to ashes, after the fuel runs out.
Shakespeare\'s Sonnet 73 reveals through symbols of nature the idea of dying. The poem also unites all the symbols through a common theme, fire. The sun, a giant ball of fire, rules the day and the seasons, which directly relates to the image of fire. According to William Bowhan Piper, "Sonnet 73 entire reveals the poet in command of his natural materials, of the images that are relevant to the lesson toward which he is gradually leading us…[to a] some foundation for lasting truth," (p. 363) meaning that Shakespeare within Sonnet 73 describes death in the truest manner possible. Shakespeare in sonnet 73 gives death a face.
Blackmur, R.P. "Essay." Shakespearean Criticism. James E. Person and Sandra L. Williamson, Eds. 10 of 50.London:Gale Research Inc., 1990.
Piper, William Bowhan. "Essay." Shakespearean Criticism. James E. Person
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Sonnet 73, Sonnet 7, Sonnet 1, Sonnet, Shakespeares sonnets, Sonnet 33, Poetry analysis
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