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Sonnet 73

July 19, 2013

73

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 ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
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.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

–Shakespeare 1609

COMMENTARY: In terms of technique, this is amazing. Notice the three part structure leading up to the couplet. The first four lines are the length of a season, the next four the length of a day, the next four the length of a fire. Time contracts and is “consumed” as the poem progresses. Secondly, notice how the grammatical subject of the poem is “thou,” but the “thou” is hidden away in the “me.” It weaves into, and disappears into the metaphorical profusion of the speaker’s self-reflections. “Thou” enters “me.” It’s sexy.

Of the three metaphors, the one that is by far the most virtuosic and confounding is the third. The fire lies on the ashes of its youth consumed by that which it was nourished by. The ashes are the fire’s youth because, before they were ashes, they were wood. (This reminds me of a Bill Knott line “the snow falls into its past.”)” Consumed” is the verb used to describe the action of a fire on wood and is here reversed to describe the action of the ashes on the fire.

As I say, in terms of technique, this is amazing. As a love poem, there is something hard and knotty about it, particularly in the last couplet. “This thou percievest that makes thy love more strong/ To love thus well what thou must leave ere long.” Something guilt-trippy and blackmailish about this injunction, no? The speaker’s getting older, his young flame is cooling down. But, surely, surely age and lack of virility must heighten the passion!

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From → Love Poems

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