Shakespeare Sonnet 73
Table of Contents
William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73 is intensely personal and marks the poet’s personal depression, under the ruinous effect of time, only to be relieved by the thought of his dear love. Along with despondency, it celebrates the consolatory effect of love.
Sonnet 73 Summary
First Quatrain (Lines 1-4)
You (the friend) may behold in me (the poet) that time of year when none or few yellow leaves hang upon those boughs which shake against the cold wintry wind. The sweet birds sang late on them but these are (now) as bare as ruined choirs (cathedrals).
The poet’s anticipation of his own decay: The poet speaks of the time when he will appear as pale and dry as the world of nature in a cold, biting winter. He compares himself to the leafless, barren branches of the trees that were erstwhile lovely and melodious.
N.B. The entire quatrain marks the poet’s profundity of depression at the perception of his failing health and strength and impending death.
Second Quatrain (Lines 5-8)
You may see in me the twilight of such a day as fade in the west after sunset and which black night, death’s second self, that seals up all in rest, takes away.
He will then look like the quickly fading! twilight of the day, as the sun approaches to set in the west. Like the dark night-time, engulfing daylight absolutely, death, too, will bring him to the utter oblivion of night.
N.B. The poet implies here the approach of death to him. His sense of depression seems to deepen. His mood is of gloom and melancholy.
Third Quatrain (Line 9-12)
You may see in me the glowing of such fire that, consumed with that by which it was nourished, lies on the ashes of its youth as the death-bed whereon it must expire.
The poet’s friend will note in him the mark of a quickly approaching end, like that of the fireplace which lies extinguished in the ashes of the logs that once gave light and heat.
N.B. The poet here implies that his lost youthful energy and vitality have well consumed him and drawn him to death. His tone here is deeply distressful and despondent
Concluding Couplet (Lines 13-14)
You perceive this, which makes you love stronger in order to love well that which you must leave ere long.
This will, however, as felt by the poet, lead the friend to love him more as one that is to pass away soon.
N.B. The couplet marks a total change in the tone. There is a happy transition from depression to consolation.
What is the Theme of Sonnet 73?
Sonnet 73 is the poet’s plaintive reflection on the decay of his vigour and manhood and anticipation of his death. He sadly imagines the time when he will cease to have his manly strength and power. He will then become as awful as the decadent state of nature after the end of spring. He fancies ruefully the state of the growing dusk and the dying hearth in his own body. In his gloomy mood, the poet is, however, inspired with his consciousness of his friend’s love, which is certain to grow with the growing decay of his body.
Sonnet 73 Line by Line Analysis
Lines 1-4 : That time of year-the wintry season. The poet, perhaps, refers to the winter of 1592-93. Thou-the poet’s beloved friend. Thou mast…..behold-the friend may perceive in the poet. N. B. “Mayst” indicates a strong possibility.
When yellow… few- when there are a very few yellow leaves or none at all. Yellow leaves-leaves grown gray with age, under the touch of time. The implication is also of the poet’s age. The yellow leaves’ is indicative of old age. Cf. Macbeth
” …..my way of life
Is fallen into the sear, the yellow leaf.”
Do hang…those boughs- are seen on the branches of the trees. The state of decadence is emphasized. There is a total decay in the world of nature.
Shake……the cold-tremble in the fierce wintry wind.
When yellow……etc. The description here is of a severe winter, probably the winter of 1592-93.
Ruin’d- in a state of utter decadence.
Choirs- large cathedrals.
Bare ruin’d choirs- the empty cathedrals in a state of utter ruins. The branches of the trees look as desolate and decadent as the big empty cathedrals which are in a state of utter ruins.
N.B. The imagery, suggested here, is vivid and reminiscent of the roofless shells of the monastic churches which could be found all over England in the later part of the sixteenth century. Several figures of the speech, such as personification, the figures of metaphor and polysyndeton are well used.
Late- only recently, in spring.
The sweet birds- lovely birds.
Where late…..sang- the birds used to sit upon those boughs and sing sweetly a few days before.
N.B. The devastation caused by winter, is aptly brought out with all its poignancy and severity. This is made more moving by implying a contrast with the liveliness of spring. The poet, of course, refers to his own age and the physical decay that overpowers him. His tone is distinctly despondent
Lines 5-8 : The twilight-the time when the sun is just setting in the western sky.
After sunset fadeth- alter the setting of the sun, the light fades away.
In me thou…..etc. – The poet passes on to another imagery to describe his personal pale and awful state. The picture here is of the time just after the dying day through the western horizon. The poet, too, bears in him the last flickers of life.
By and by- gradually. This is a vivid description of the gradual end of daylight. Black night- dark night causing blackness all over.
Which by and by…..etc. – The previous imagery is developed. The darkness of the night gradually envelops the whole place and the light of the day is soon to pass away. Similarly, the darkness of death gradually surrounds the poet, and his life will pass away ere long.
Death second self- night is the image of death. It is as dark as death. Cf. Shelley’s To Night:
“Thy brother Death came, and cried
Wouldst thou me’?”
This sort of comparison between sleep and death is common in Shakespeare. Cf. Hamlet
“To die: to sleep;
No more and by a sleep to say we end.”
Seals up- covers, ends, consumes.
That seals up all in rest- death brings to complete rest and peace all human activities and aspirations. There is an irony here.
N.B. The sonnet which is particularly rich in the poet’s imagery bears out a happy instance of his command over vivid, warm images
Lines 9-12 : The glowing of such fire- the spark of the embers.
Ashes of his youth- the remains of the poet’s youthful passions. The ashes of the log only remain, when it is burnt out. The ashes of the poet’s youthful desire remain after the end of his youth.
That on….lie – the embers are dying out, consumed by that which fed and gave them brilliance. The poet’s youth once gave him warmth and radiance. But now out of his youth has come the decadence of his age.
N.B. The poet’s tone is reflective and pensive, while his imagery is apt and pointed. This is common in the most affecting sonnets dealing with his mood of depression and frustration. Cf. Sonnet 30
“I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear times waste”
Lines 13-14 : This thow perceivst- the friend will perceive in the poet this shadow of death, this mark of decay.
Which- this shadow of mark.
Makes thy…..strong- enhances the intensity of the friend’s love for the poet. To love….well- the friend feels himself inclined to love more sincerely.
Which… leave – the friend will soon be separated from the poet because of the latter’s impending death.
This thou……etc. – The poet finds consolation in his mood of utter dejection and depression from the thought of his friend’s love. His sense of loss is gone and mood of depression, removed. Cf.
“But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.”
N.B. The concluding couplet is ennobled by the poet’s conviction of the increasing love of his friend for him. The inspiring effect of this love is emphasized here as in the Sonnet 29.
“For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.”
The poet’s tone here is idealistic and optimistic.