Sonnet 73 is part of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. Moreover, this sonnet is part of the Fair Youth sequence, a series of poems (from sonnets 1 to 126) that are addressed to an unnamed young man. The Fair Youth sequence has strong romantic language that portrays intense imagery. Particularly, Sonnet 73 focuses on old age and is addressed to a friend (the unnamed young man).
Moreover, Sonnet 73 is a Shakespearean sonnet. This means that the poem has three quatrains and a final rhyming couplet. It has an ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme and it is composed in iambic pentameter. The main theme in Sonnet 73 is the process of aging and how the lyrical voice feels about it. Most of the poem is introspective with a pensive tone, but, the final couplet, addresses the unnamed young man directly.
Sonnet 73 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.
In the first stanza, the lyrical voice constructs a metaphor in order to characterize the nature of old age. Throughout these first lines, the lyrical voice relates old age to a particular “time of the year”. First, old age is portrayed as autumn, where “yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang”. The lyrical voice suggests that aging is similar to the moment of the year when the leaves have almost completely fallen, the weather is cold, and the birds left their branches. This metaphor emphasizes the harshness and emptiness of old age. This can be read, especially, when the lyrical voice says that “boughs […] shake against the cold” and “Bare ruin’d choirs”. Sonnet 73 portrays the lyrical voice’s anxieties towards aging, and, in this particular stanza, the lyrical voice seems to be implying that autumn is the particular time of the year when death occurs. Moreover, the lyrical voice compares his aging process to nature, and, particularly, to autumn.
In me thou seest 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.
In the second stanza, the lyrical voice compares the process of aging to the twilight. As the lyrical voice feels troubled about aging, he/she uses another metaphor to describe how he/she feels towards old age. The lyrical voice says that old age is similar to the twilight, as it can be seen in him/her (“In me thou seest the twilight of such day”). Then, a particular scenario is described, where the sun fades (“As after sunset fadeth in the west”) and night approaches (“Which by and by black night doth take away”). This metaphor emphasizes the gradual fading of youth, as the twilight shifts to night “by and by”. Notice that, in the final line, death is directly related to this particular time of the day (“Death’s second self”) and it is described as the one that brings eternal rest (“seals up all in the rest”). As in the first stanza, these lines portray aging as the end of a cycle. In the previous stanza, this cycle is represented by the different natural seasons, and in this stanza the cycle is represented by the moments of the day.
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
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
In the third stanza, the lyrical voice compares him/herself to ashes. The lyrical voice mentions that there are remains of fire in him/her (“In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire/That on the ashes of his youth doth lie”). This fire represents youth, and, according to the lyrical voice, it will soon be consumed. Again, this metaphor shows the lyrical voice’s troubled thoughts about aging. Notice the lyrical voice’s emphasis on the consummation of this fire: “As the death-bed wereon it must expire/Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by”.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
In the final couplet, the lyrical voice defines a purpose. The lyrical voice notices that his/her love for his/her significant other grows stronger, as he/she ages, and despite of the old age. The couplet addresses this young unnamed man from the Fair Youth sequence (“thou”). The lyrical voice tells this young man to strengthen his love and to understand everything that he/she has said throughout the stanzas (“This thou perceives, which makes thy love more strong”). The possibility of dying, the old age, emphasizes the need to love even more than before (“To love that well”), taking into account that he or the loved one could soon part from the world.
About William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was baptized in 1564 and died in 1616. He was an English poet, playwright, and actor. He is known as the greatest writer of the English language and as the most exceptional dramatist of all times. Moreover, William Shakespeare is often referred as England’s National Poet, and his works include 38 plays, 154 sonnets, 2 long poems, and other texts and collaborations. Between 1585 and 1592, William Shakespeare started a successful career in London as an actor and writer. Also, he was a part-owner of a company called Lord Chamberlain’s Men. During those years, Shakespeare wrote most of his famous work. His first plays were mostly comedies, but his later works were tragedies, including Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, as his most remarkable plays. William Shakespeare wrote tragedies until 1608, and, after that, he wrote tragicomedies and collaborations with other writers. In 1613, when he was 49 years of age, William Shakespeare retired to Stratford. He died three years later in 1616.
Most of his plays were published during his lifetime. However, they were printed in a variety of qualities and with several variations. Nevertheless, in 1623, John Heminges and Henry Condell, who were Shakespeare’s friends and colleagues, published a more precise text known as the First Folio. The First Folio is a collected edition of Shakespeare’s dramatic works that includes most of the plays recognized as written by Shakespeare. It has a preface with a poem written by Ben Jonson.