Sonnet 73 by William Shakespeare is one of his most famous works because it investigates wisdom imparted from a man who is enjoying the last of his youth to a younger generation. There is an eerie beauty in recognizing the death of one’s vigor and the imagery Shakespeare creates to explain his loss is equally noteable.
Shakespeare begins Sonnet 73 by mentioning that he resembles autumn, “That time of year thou mayst in me behold/ When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang”, which is a symbol for the approaching end to something in particular. It is interesting that Shakespeare should mention the stage of autumn he uses to represent his own state, whether it be early fall characterized by yellow leaves, or late fall, in which no leaves are longer attached to their original sources, or in the middle, is not relevant; it is as if Shakespeare is saying that not matter how poorly or well he disguises his approaching end to beauty and vigor, it is nonetheless present.
Next, Sonnet 73 goes on to say “In me thou seest the twilight of such day”, or that the audience only sees a shadow of his past passion or youth, characterized by twilight or a time in which light has become dimmed. This is supported by Sonnet 73’s next line, “As after sunset fadeth in the west,”, for the setting of Shakespeare’s sun is metaphorical for his prime. “Which by and by black night doth take away” is the line which follows, explaining that time has already begun to take a toll upon his youth, time being kin to death, as mentioning in the following line “Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.”.
However, Sonnet 73 notes that Shakespeare’s vigor has not yet been completely extinguished. He comments “In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire/ That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,” or that his past self is still visible, though it is growing fainter and weaker, like embers from a fire. He elaborates further upon the relationship between time and death when Sonnet 73 goes on to say “As the death-bed whereon it must expire,/ Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.”. In these lines, Shakespeare explains that his youth is laying on it’s death bed and though time had once filled him with experience and passion, it inevitably folded to death. Thus, the force which had once fueled his strength, time, has not progressed so far, into old age, that it has become his downfall.
The ending of Sonnet 73 is rather bitter sweet. It closes with “This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,/To love that well which thou must leave ere long.” or a final word of commentary to what we can now assume is a young listener. Shakespeare writes that his own dying youth will be source of inspiration for the younger generation to take full advantage of their own age. However, the final line serves a reminder that younger men and women will also eventually suffer the same fate as he.
While some critics argue that Sonnet 73 is a bit disproportionate in impact, as the beginning quatrain contains the most vibrant imagery and intriguing context, and that the final lines are a bit anti-climatic in comparison, it may be significant to note that this supposed decay of boldness would then be a metaphor for the sonnet’s thesis. Thus, if such accusations of disproportion are true, they only further elaborate upon Shakespeare’s skill as a poet.