Love, Not Life, Lasts Forever In William Shakespeare? s Sonnet “ 73,” the speaker invokes a series of metaphors to characterize the nature of his old age. The structure of the sonnet also contributes to the meaning of the poem. In the first quatrain, there is the final season of a year; then, in the second quatrain, only the final hours of a day; and then, in the third quatrain, the final minutes of a fire, before the couplet resolves the argument. The metaphors begin in the first quatrain and continue throughout the sonnet, as one by one they are destroyed, just like the life that is being spoken about. This poem is not simply a procession of interchangeable metaphors; it is the story of the speaker slowly realizing the finality of his life and his impermanence in time. Through the use of the structure of “ Sonnet 73” and the metaphors that describe the speaker? s death, Shakespeare conveys that while life may be short, if one can love during that lifetime, that love can live forever.
In the first quatrain, the speaker tells his beloved that his age is like a “ time of year,” by employing the metaphor of late autumn, which emphasizes the harshness and emptiness of old age. The speaker continues this feeling of old age with the metaphors, “ when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang upon the boughs which shake against the cold” (lines 2-3). Those metaphors clearly indicate that winter, which usually symbolizes loneliness and desolation, is coming. The leaves that are falling off the branches symbolize the old man? s loss of hair, and the boughs shaking against the cold symbolize the frailty of his limbs, both of which are signs of old age and nearing death. The speaker also uses a metaphor in autumn? s “ bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang” (4) to convey a feeling of old age. The speaker compares autumn, void of the songs of the birds of spring, to his life, which is now void of life? s sweet songs as well as the same vitality that the birds possess.
In the second quatrain, the metaphor shifts, when the speaker says that his age is like late twilight, “ as after sunset fadeth in the west” (6). This is the time in which the day dies, the same way, the sun is setting on the speaker? s life. This idea of the death of day is reinforced as the speaker further describes twilight, “ which by and by black night doth take away” (7). This metaphor emphasizes not the chill of old age, but the gradual fading of the light of youth, as evening takes away the light of day. However, like the season of autumn, the twilight of a day is a metaphor for the passing of time. Each morning and afternoon, when the day is young, life is full of possibilities. Eventually, twilight approaches, and the day or life is done. “ Death’s second self that seals up all in rest” (8). Night will come, only to be followed by sleep, or “ Death? s second self.” However, in both the first and second quatrains, the speaker fails to confront the full extent of his problem. Both the metaphor of autumn and the metaphor of twilight imply cycles, whereas old age and death is final. Winter follows autumn, but spring will follow winter, and after the twilight fades, dawn will also come again. The human life, however, is not a cycle; birth will not follow death as the metaphors in the first two quatrains imply.
In the third quatrain, the speaker resigns himself to his fate. The speaker compares himself to the glowing remnants of a fire, which lies on the ashes of the logs that once enabled it to burn. When the speaker says, ” that on the ashes of his youth doth lie” (10), he uses the dying fire as a metaphor for the death of his passion for life. It seems that the speaker? s life is only defined by his youth. Now, the speaker compares the bed of ashes to his own deathbed. “ As the deathbed whereon it must expire” (11), no longer can the flame dance and play, instead it must lie still and die as if it were on its deathbed. The ashes will eventually snuff out the fire, “ consumed with that which it was nourished by” (12). Once the fire is extinguished, it can never be lit again, like the death that the speaker has come to realize is not like a renewing cycle, but instead a final state.
The couplet of this sonnet renews the speaker’s plea for his beloved? s love, urging one “ to love that well which thou must leave ere long” (14). In contrast to his life, the love between the speaker and his beloved will survive death. In the couplet, the speaker tells his beloved that their love must be strengthened by the knowledge that they will soon be parted from one another by death. The rhyme couplet suggests the love between the speaker and his lover will defeat death by living forever.
William Shakespeare’s “ Sonnet 73” is a sonnet that examines the fears and anxieties that surround growing old and dying. Shakespeare uses metaphors to illustrate old age and, finally, death. The season of autumn is used as a metaphor for the passing of time. The seasons of spring and summer, times of blooming flowers, vibrant colors, and long, hot days, are gone. Fall is the season in which all that once bloomed has withered, and died. Like the season of fall, the twilight of a day is also a metaphor for the passing of time. Each new day can be seen as a life itself. Each morning and afternoon, when the day is young, is a life full of possibilities and opportunities. Then twilight approaches and the day is done, followed by sleep, and in this case, death. The last metaphor is more final, and a reminder that all things must end. He compares a flame dancing on the “ ashes of his youth” to that of a person lying on his deathbed, where both must expire. Shakespeare uses the season of autumn, the coming of night, and the extinguishing of a flame as metaphors for old age and death. The speaker uses the last two lines to suggest that we should love and cherish life while we can, because through our love, we can continue to live forever.