Close reading: sonnet 73 ‘That time of year thou may’st in me behold’

Subject: Famous Person
Pages: 4
Word count: 1095
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William Shakespeare’s 73rd sonnet, ‘that time of year thou may’st in me behold’, expresses a mournful tone as the narrator lingers upon the faded days of his youth.  In the title of the sonnet; which also serves as the first line of the poem; the narrator likens his condition to a certain season of the year. The title is ambiguous as the narrator does not explain which of the four seasons he is referring to thus probing the reader to read into the poem to be able to establish the season. Various stylistic features such as; imagery, rhyme, figurative devices and sound devices; have been employed in the poem to help bring out the poems main themes. This paper seeks to explain how these features have been used to contribute to the main theme of the poem.

William Shakespeare is believed to have written the sonnet in the 16th century. The themes of love and death which are greatly depicted in the sonnet were inspired by the humanist views in the era of English Renaissance which occurred in this century. Rather than stressing on strict adherence to religion, the humanists centered on secular subjects such as beauty, age, love and even death. The sonnet is centered on the aging and proximity to death of the narrator and also highlights on his being near death making his lover love them even more. Through the themes depicted in the poem it is evident that the writing of the sonnet was greatly influenced by the events of the historical period in which it was written (De La Fuente).

In the poem, the narrator uses metaphors to draw a vivid description of their current situation. He likens his life to the autumn season where the branches of trees have lost most of their leaves and he compares the draining of his youth and strength to the twilight that precedes darkness and to a glowing fire about to go off. The narrator also uses the shaking of branches in the cold to describe the trembling of his own limbs (Andrew 7). Through these metaphors the narrator explains the mortality of human beings and that stages of the human life are just like the seasons of the year. The narrator also explains that his lover also sees these signs of aging that portray his impending death just like the smoldering glow and that this makes them cherish him more as there is not much time left for them to spend together (De La Fuente) .

The sentences in the sonnet are long; each quatrain is made of a single sentence. As the sonnet is narrative, the sentences are filled with imagery describing the narrator’s situation. Each sentence begins with the narrator making a reference to himself, ‘thou mayst in me behold’ in the 1st sentence and “In me thou seest” in the 5th and 9th sentence. Short lines are used in the poem to allow for pausing after each line so that the reader can be able to take in the message on each individual line and form a mental picture of what is described in the poem. Additionally, the pauses after each line in the poem bring out the mournful tone of the poem and set the poem at a slow pace. The sonnet also follows a regular rhyme scheme which can be described as, ‘ababcdcdefefgg’. This rhyme emphasizes particular words that have been used by the narrator; such as fire and expire; to symbolize death (De La Fuente).

The most recurring image in the sonnet is of the narrator’s deteriorating health, their fading of strength and the inevitability of their imminent death.  In each quatrain, the narrator uses a different metaphor to describe his fast approaching death due to old age. The narrator likens himself to a tree in autumn, sunset at the end the day and to a dying fire. All these depict an image of the narrator being at the final stages of life and contribute to the main theme of the sonnet which is the mortality of human beings. The sonnet also shows great relation between human life and nature, just as seasons change in time and light gives way to darkness so are human beings growing older with each passing day and drawing closer to death each day (De La Fuente).

Love is another main theme portrayed in the sonnet as although the narrator feels sad about his aging body and loss of youthful body strength, he gets solace from his companion who he knows will cherish and love him more even in his old age. The narrator believes that physical aging cannot destroy the love that he and his lover share. Also the narrator explains that although humans are mortal, they can still live on in the memories of their loved ones. Thus the sonnet encourages humans to focus on spending more time with their loved ones and instead of cowering to impending death, they should focus on showing love and making memories (Andrew 8).

The narrator plays an important role in the construction of the narrative perspective as the sonnet is based on the narrator’s experiences and views in reference to their age. The narrator describes his perception of old age which forms the baseline for the narrative in the sonnet. According to the narrator, old age inferences proximity to death thus in the narration he compares his old age with sunset, which is followed by black night; in this case referring to death. The narrator recalls how he was just recently youthful and strong and that he is now no longer young. Additionally, the narrator introduces the theme of love when he refers to his certainty of his lovers love even in his old age. Thus the narrator’s main role is to bring out the main themes in the sonnet.

Conclusion

The sonnet paints a picture of human’s mortal nature and explains that just like the seasons change from spring to winter and as a new day dawns and dusks, human life is time bound. The narrator remembers being young just recently and now his physical strength and youthfulness has already deserted him. The narrator also gives a message of love hope when he expresses that he is certain his lover will value him even more now and that even after his death he will still be remembered. In conclusion, the sonnet expresses a very important message that although death is inevitable people should cherish their loved ones and enjoy responsibly the days of their youth as everything eventually has an end.

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  1. Andrew, Jane. “Endings and Beginnings: Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73.” Undergraduate Review, vol. 1, no. 1, 1986, pp.5-8,  http://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/rev/vol1/iss1/4. Accessed 25 March 2017.
  2. De La Fuente ,Jessica. Analysis of William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73. Prezi, 3 March. 2014, https://prezi.com/882islfbs3qx/analysis-of-william-shakespeares-sonnet-73/. Accessed 25 March 2017.
  3. Poplawski, Paul. English literature in context. Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  4. Shakespeare, William. Shake-speares Sonnets, neuer before imprinted... By G. Eld for TT, 1926.
  5. Spacey, Andrew. Analysis of Sonnet 73 by William Shakespeare. Letter Pile, 2 Nov.2016, https://letterpile.com/poetry/Analysis-Of-Sonnet-73-By-William-Shakespeare. Accessed 25 March 2017.
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