A Critical Analysis Of Shakespeare's 73rd Sonnet

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Shakespeare’s 73rd Sonnet, “That time of year thou mayst in me behold,” deals with nature and the natural decline of the human body. Despite the subject matter, the sonnet is optimistic; addressed to the sweet youth, the poem argues that the boy’s affection must be strong since he knows about his lover’s impending death yet continues to love him. The author compares himself to the seasons, a sunset, and the last embers of a fire in the first, second, and third quatrains, respectively. Common threads of nature and self-exploration run through the sonnet.
In keeping with the common thread of nature, the first quatrain explores aging through the lens of seasons. The “yellow leaves” or “none” at all follow the natural progression of trees in the winter months, from late fall when the leaves yellow, to winter when the leaves fall to the ground. A tree’s “bare” branches are also mentioned, again evoking winter. The seasons are portrayed as internal states rather than external conditions. In this way,
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Love, as in many of the remaining one hundred twenty five poems to his youthful lover, is a theme. Affection is seen directly as with the word “love,” but is also evoked indirectly through the use of imagery. A fire, for example, is reminiscent of passion and desire. The theme of youth and aging is seen in every quatrain. In the first quatrain, time passes from when leaves yellow to when they fall off the tree. In the second, passage of time is evident between “twilight” and “rest” (complete darkness). The time over which this change occurs is extended with qualifying phrases like “Death's second self.” In the third quatrain, aging is depicted as a fire slowly burning out. Self-exploration is another theme of the poem. Instead of looking outside himself, the author looks inside himself to the “leaves” and the trees of the soul. Similarly, the fire is depicted as “in[side]”
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