Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Sonnet 73

We’ve been doing the sonnets lately, and I happened to see a reference to #73 today on Twitter.  So, why not?

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 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 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.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.


Honestly I’ve never even looked at this one until now, so any analysis here is off the top of my head.  Disclaimer, I might be totally incorrect!

When we talked about “forty winters” we saw that Shakespeare deliberately chose certain seasons to paint the picture he wants.  So, what season is he talking about the openly lines? Brilliantly he doesn’t just say it, he describes it: “that time of year when a few yellow leaves are left on the trees, whose branches shake in the cold wind.”  Sounds like autumn to me.  What’s more, it puts you right there.  Who hasn’t woken up one cold fall morning to exactly that feeling? 

There are times (particularly for those of us here in foliage heavy New England) where you can look forward to fall – the changing colors, the coming holidays, the start of school, seeing friends you haven’t seen in months.  But on more mornings than not, you’re most likely thinking “Blah, summer’s over and pretty soon it’s going to be winter.”

This sonnet is fairly depressing in that respect.  The poet is telling the “fair youth”, “This is how you see me – as a man in the autumn of my life.”  Someone who is going to die one day. 

The whole sonnet is like that, actually.  “I remind you of sunsets, and the coming darkness of night.  In me you see the ashes that remain of what was once the fire of youth.”

The whole thing sounds pretty self serving, like the poet was having a bad day.  It’s not like he’s saying “You called me old” or even “I can see on your face how you think of me.”  Everything the poet says about “this is what you think” is really, “this is what I think you think.”  In other words, “This is what I think of myself and I’m projecting that onto you.  I am upset about my own age and wasted youth.”

If there is an optimistic bit here, it comes in the last two lines:  “You see in me what it means to get old, it makes you appreciate your own youth more because you know that you too will have to give it up someday.”

What I find unusual, and I’m sure my experts will enlighten me on this one, is that there’s no reference to the relationship between the two men.   The poet never says why the youth would see him any differently than any other individual.  At first I thought that the love reference in the second to last line referred to the love of the youth for the poet, but in context it does not, it refers to a love on one’s fleeting youth.

…and you know what?  As I read that it looks like it could well refer to the poet.  “Your feelings for me are stronger because you realize now that I’m not going to be around forever.” 


That’s enough from me, for now.   Let’s see if this one gets as much chatter as the iambic pentameter one :)

1 comment:

catkins said...

I like your reading. But what is really interesting about Sonnet 73 is that it is only half a poem, the other half being Sonnet 74. The two Sonnets make up a double sonnet pair, one of several in the sonnet sequence (there is actually one triple sonnet also). Here is Sonnet 74:

But be contented when that fell arest,
With out all bayle shall carry me away,
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memoriall still with thee shall stay.
When thou revewest this, thou doest revew,
The very part was consecrate to thee,
The earth can have but earth, which is his due,
My spirit is thine the better part of me,
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The pray of wormes, my body being dead,
The coward conquest of a wretches knife,
To base of thee to be remembred,
The worth of that, is that which it containes,
And that is this, and this with thee remaines.

Here you do get more about the relationship. "Don't worry about my impending death, I am not so worthy a thing. What is truly worthy is this poem which memorializes our relationship, and it will be everlasting." Of course, it says much more than this, and in a much more beautiful way. As you have said before, paraphrasing does not do the poetry justice. There is something so sinister about the worm and and the "coward conquest." The self-abnegation and the claim of immortality are both standard sonneteering stock, but especially in combination with the preceding sonnet, there is something haunting in the way Shakespeare uses them.