Sonnet 73


Although at first glance this sonnet appears to be about death, it is, like the majority of Shakespeare’s poetry, about love. As is typical in his work Shakespeare has kept to the traditional sonnet form of 14 lines, all in iambic pentameter, and is arranged in three quatrains with a closing couplet. Its rhyme scheme is ab ab cd cd ef ef and gg.


The most powerful imagery within the sonnet is that which describes the passing of time, giving the poem an almost palpable aura of pathos. From the outset, Shakespeare mixes metaphor within this imagery, and while the illustration is of a tree in winter, the reader is in no doubt that the tree is the poet himself.


‘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’.


The poet uses caesura as well as enjambment at this point to reinforce the images, the commas after none and few creating powerful pauses, while Upon follows so naturally after hang as a single breath. The final imagery within this quatrain is that of the deserted choir, abandoned by even the birds, perhaps a metaphor for the poets’ feeling of imminent abandonment by the poems intended recipient.


The second quatrain continues in the same vein, as does the third, concentrating on imagery that reinforces the theme of times passage. Within the second quatrain, the image invoked is that of days passing:


‘In me thou see’st the twilight of such day’


While the third quatrain shortens the time to a bare moment with:


‘In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire’.


At all times the reading is personal, Shakespeare telling the recipient what he sees. Death is a constant within the poem, brought to mind with the bare ruin’d choirs (a possible allusion to the destruction of the monasteries) of the first quatrain, the black night of the second, and the death-bed and ashes of the third. Even sleep is referred to as death, as in Death’s second self.


The voice throughout is as at best melancholy, though the final couplet is surprisingly upbeat, and constitutes the poems turn. Shakespeare finishes with the lines:


‘This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong


To love that well that thou must leave ere long.’


This implies that the lover has accepted the loss that is too come, and instead of running away from it has embraced it and ultimately accepted it.