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Shakespeare Sonnet 73: "That time of year thou mayst in me behold"

Updated on December 12, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source

Introduction: The Battle of the Block

This much anthologized Shakespeare Sonnet 73 is often interpreted only as a speaker describing the aging process of his body. But this complex sonnet actually works on two levels: one describes the body's aging while the other once again bemoans the writer's curse of blocking.

This sonnet does, in fact, appear in the series of sonnets dedicated to the speaker's muse, his talent, his poems. It is not likely that he would simply abandon that theme to focus solely on the mundane subject of an aging physical body.

This speaker is too clever and too strongly dedicated to writing unique poems to fall so low as to create a drama simply about a physical function. Thus, the speaker once again creates a unique view of how it feels to experience the worse curse of any writer.

Reading of Sonnet 73

First Quatrain: "That time of year thou mayst in me behold"

In the first quatrain of Shakespeare Sonnet 73, the speaker addresses his belovèd sonnet, remarking that it may see that the strength of his talent is shaking again through another period of writer's block.

The speaker compares his blocked talent to a tree in autumn losing its leaves: "yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang." The tree in summer stood tall as its leaves began to unfurl and deepen into summer leaves of sturdy green. Now as writer's block falls onto the poets shoulders, his leaves have turned yellow with lack of ink.

Personifying his compositions, the speaker's poems' literary hair has thinned against the on-set of that dreaded curse for writers, and the few strands they possess left are turning gray through disuse. The gray hair that once was brown/black is likened to yellow leaves that once were green.

And like the tree’s branches trembling in the cold breezes of winter coming on, the speaker's penchant for verse seems to shiver in the cold weather brought on by his lack of poetic inspiration.

The speaker's poetry is becoming "[b]are ruin’d choirs," though it used to be filled with beautiful expression akin to the songs of "sweet birds."

As the dreaded writer's block overtakes the speaker's ability to create his little dramas, he must use all of his resources to stave off that invader which makes him perceive himself and his creations as that tree moving into autumn—its best, productive days in the past spring and summer seasons.

Second Quatrain: "In me thou see'st the twilight of such day"

After comparing this recent, onset of writer's block to a tree in late autumn, the speaker then compares it to a day.

The blocking has caused him to feel that he is in the "twilight of [that] day," the time when the sun "fadeth in the west."

When the speaker's full inspiration and full flowing writing is in progress, he feels that the time of day is noon, when the sun is highest and the ability to see is keenest.

The blocked ability to continue his creations causes him to feel that he is experiencing that part of the day that is becoming dark.

The speaker expresses metaphorically the approaching of night time for the day as the time when soon everything sleeps. The days gives way to "black night." And black night bring on "Death’s second self," or sleep.

While the speaker does not wish to sleep, he wishes to be able to write his poems, he knows that it is likely that he will have to sleep in order to gain some strength to fight the blocking that is occurring.

Third Quatrain: "In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire"

In the third quatrain, the speaker again introduces a new metaphor: this time he compares his seemingly ebbing ability to compose to a fire that, "on the ashes of his youth doth lie."

The times when he was freely and productively composing represents youth that once burned brightly.

However, during these times of blocking, it seem that the speaker's flame may be dwindling, and the very things that feeds his youthful, vibrant flame are being consumed by the low-burning fire of writer's block.

The Couplet: "This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong"

Nevertheless, the speaker knows that his belovèd muse that accompanies his talent is still affording him love and that love is becoming even stronger as he continues to battle the fatigue brought on by that dreaded writer's curse.

The speaker credits his fine talent, his inspiring muse, and his strong ability to compose with the capability of continuing.

By personifying those creative entities, the speaker can thus perceive that his love is well protected and growing even stronger—despite the fact that it may in future seem to abandon him again.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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