Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sonnet 73 - William Shakespeare

Home Post and Index

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 death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
   This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
   To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

As it is deep Autumn here in Canberra, the reflective time of the year, it seems appropriate to look at the sonnet 73 … one of a number of sonnets concerning aging. If Shakespeare wrote this in 1600 he would have been 36 years old – not old by our standards – but life expectancy was much lower in his day.

 A structure … abab cdcd efef gg … with the first twelve lines devoted to 3 related metaphors. The three quatrains have a relationship to each other and a natural development … equated to natural aging … so the assumption is of an old man in gradual decline.

Autumn –equated to senior years …with a trembling of the coming winter and where tree branches are seen as bare ruined choirs

The dying day (twilight) … equated to personal decline – the taking of life by black (k)night - and the allusion to sleep as death … death’s second self

Fireside -  and dying embers … seen as a personal death-bed … as well as the death of youth already experienced.

The quatrains move from the wide autumn, to the day, to the confines of the fireside and to ashes of the fire.

Looking at the first line of each quatrain … the personification is clearly stated … in me behold/in me thou see’st/in me thou see’st

Then we come to that marvelous line 12 where the whole process of life is defined …
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by

Fire is equated to time … time naturally nourishes life and then in due course time will take away that which it has nourished. The burning process equated to the living process.

This an example of well thought-out sonnet design … three separate views on aging ending in the decline to focal point of close personal contact at a fireside … and the rhyming couplet stating that if one understands the aging process and how quickly the fire can consume then make the most of life … or should I say … make each spark-filled second brilliant to behold.

Note … choir can also relate to part of the church building … and the ruined choirs could give imagery to the many ruined abbeys and churches which were left to decay after Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries.

Choir … from the Macquarie dictionary …
1. a company of singers, especially an organised group employed in church service.2. any company or band, or a division of one: string choir.3. Architecture
a.       that part of a church used by the singers.
b.      (in a medieval cruciform church) the body of the church which extends from the crossing to the east, or altar, end.
c.       (in cathedrals, etc.) the area between the nave and the main altar.
4. Theology any of the nine orders of the celestial hierarchy.
verb (t)
5. to perform (a piece of music) in chorus.
verb (i)
6. to sing in chorus:* As they talked into the early morning, the frogs choired on, encouraged by the moon. -- ROSS FITZGERALD, 1987
For those with a creative interest … use a similar design to develop your own sonnet … for example … consider beauty in place of age
Quatrain 1 = world beauty
Q2 = local beauty
Q3 = personal beauty
Couplet … if beauty in the eye of the beholder be … then let beauty always walk with thee!

No comments:

Post a Comment