William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 73”: An Interpretative Explication
‘Sonnet 73” is one of the most celebrated and renowned works of literature in the world. It is not surprising that over the years, Shakespeare’s masterpieces are considered unsurpassed and unparalleled throughout the world’s history (Moore). His works have moved and influenced a lot of readers and critics that these masterpieces became eternal subjects and topics in the academe. His works remain studied and explored in all generations after his death, which also made him one of the most celebrated and respected icons in the world of literature.
His biographies have been written with utmost admiration and adoration of his impacts and significance for the poetics and romantics; he is truly an author and poet of uniqueness and impeccable character. The 154 sonnets that he wrote have been treated as a standard by numerous poets and literary artists, but one which made a difference and stood out among the rest is Sonnet 73—a prose which has moved countless hearts and has inspired a lot of poet’s minds through the unsullied expression of Shakespeare about death and dying.
As William Shakespeare experienced the anxiety, apprehension, fear as well as uncertainty in death, Sonnet 73 reflects his thoughts on.
Overview of Sonnet 73
Sonnet 73 is one of the best reviewed and studied poems of Shakespeare. It possesses an intriguing and interesting tone about a loved one and old agedness which both hook and maintain the interest of the readers. Shakespeare has been known for creating many powerful literary works, not just sonnets but also plays. Sonnet 73 is just one of those masterpieces which reflect the creative and very playful imagination of its author. Years of several recognitions and credit have given Shakespeare’s works an impression of unparalleled importance and significance.
Sonnet 73, which delves into the twilight of a man’s life, is a dramatic and moving prose which emphasizes on the realities of deterioration and death. It also speaks about love and how love can end as the life of humans end as well. It presents very powerful descriptions and predictions of objects and themes which characterize the gloominess as well as the grandness and splendor of a person’s golden years. Sonnet 73, unlike any other poem ever written, mixes both the magnificence and dread of coming to old age and facing death. Indeed, Sonnet 73 is another work of art which challenges William Shakespeare’s skill in allusion, but nonetheless proves that he is a master of such art.
Theme and Focus of Sonnet 73
Reading Sonnet 73 for the first time, it can be gleaned that the words and the general meaning may seem profound and a little hard to comprehend at first. However, upon examining the sonnet line by line, it can be inferred that the sonnet discusses simple concepts such as old agedness, death, and the twilight of one’s life. The symbolisms Shakespeare employed, such as the time of year when yellow leaves fall, the twilight of the day, the black night, ashes, and the deathbed, all signify an idea which tells about the time of a man’s life when everything seems to come to an end. In addition, these symbols somehow reflect how Shakespeare sees his own age as he expressed the poem in the first person perspective, making it appear as if the author is the one addressing the message to a loved one or to the world in general. These symbolisms and personal messages are reflected in these stanzas,
“That time of year thou mayst in me behold / when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang […] Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest / in me thou seest the glowing of such fire / that on the ashes of his youth doth lie / as the deathbed whereon it must expire”. (Lines 1-2 and 8-11)
Death can be considered as one of the most tragic, painful, uncertain, and frightful experiences that human beings can ever encounter. In this sonnet, Shakespeare appears to express how such a real life occurrence envelopes the consciousness of an individual. Shakespeare playfully and emotionally portrayed a man nearing death, as manifested by his old-agedness. Due to the melancholic tone of expression used by the speaker, it appears evident that the death was seen as a vague yet poignant and frightening experience at the same time. The cause of the author’s fear may be interpreted as leaving a loved one behind and leaving the beautiful things in the world only life can offer. This idea can be well observed in these lines,
“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 […] That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, As the deathbed whereon it must expire / Consumed with that which it was nourished by / This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong, / To love that well which thou must leave ere long.” (Lines 6-8 and 10-14)
In these lines, the speaker’s perception of death appears to be a very powerful, profound, and eerie force like the black night which can conquer his soul and take him away from the one he loves.
One very observable symbolism used in the sonnet is the depiction of death as “sleep’s” brother. This portrayal may somehow give readers a hint to how the speaker considers death as a usually unexpected and unperceived phenomenon which can just strike an individual and take everything he has presently (Two Bears 2). This is also the same depiction used in the concept of fading youth as it is associated with death. In carefully looking at Shakespeare’s usage of words and metaphors, it may appear that his perception of death is somewhat permanent (Two Bears 2). He sees death as something which makes humans expire and causes the wonderful things in life to be blown by the wind like gray ashes. The meaning of death also appears to equate to the life lived by a person (2). Shakespeare, in several ways, seems to imply that once a person achieves full wisdom of life, goes through all the adventures and gleeful days of youth, and survives all the challenges and obstacles of life, he or she is facing death already.
Shakespeare’s portrayal and expression of death and old age can be observed in real life situations. His use of themes like death and old-age are very common life instances that all people would experience. Thus, considering these themes, it may explain why this sonnet has been very influential during the time it was written and made for the public to access. It may also appear that the usage of themes and concepts which are very familiar to the people, as well as the ideas to which people can easily relate to, can affect its impact and influence to the readers.
Aside from the themes of death and old age, Shakespeare also focused on the allusion which explains the gap between the outside image and the internal state of a person’s mind (Two Bears 1). The outside image may show the deterioration and decline of health and youth, while the internal state of mind may depict the denial and the fear of death. Shakespeare explains that this gap can be bridged if an individual would expect and anticipate old age and death (1). The sense of abandonment and loneliness is said to be inexorable when youth fadesl thus, Shakespeare wrote each line in such a way that people who read them may eventually realize that the fear of old age and death comes from the questions, the uncertainty, and the ambiguity which come with it. Hence, the allusion in Sonnet 73 aims to connect the reality of old age and death to a person’s perception and mental image of it.
Critical Responses to Sonnet 73
Many may have admired Sonnet 73 considering that it is a work of one of the world’s finest literary artists. The metaphors, similes, and symbolisms may all contribute to the overall power and impact of the poem to its readers; however, it can never be denied that all works of art draw some critical responses. Looking critically into the overall emotion expressed by Shakespeare in Sonnet 73, it can be gleaned that the outlook is more about self-pity (Berryman qtd. in Mabillard). Most critics have perceived this to be a very negative and non-attractive emotion to present due to the perceived impression that being old and nearing death is a very pitiful situation to be in. A lot of lines in the sonnet portray very hopeless and unpromising situations:
“In me thou seest 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 seest the glowing of such fire / That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, / As the deathbed whereon it must expire / Consumed with that which it was nourished by.” (Lines 5-12)
These lines all express the hopeless loss of all the beautiful gifts and treasures that life brings. This was deemed to be an idea that does not help in uplifting the spirits and thoughts of readers (Berryman qtd. in Mabillard).
However, considering the structure and the organization of the sonnet, some critics have also recognized and praised Shakespeare’s successful portrayal of an unsuccessful lover and a person to be pitied through the logical description of old age as an inescapable time of life (Ransom qtd. in Mabillard). Critics have also complimented the choice of Shakespeare not to duplicate his previous styles and techniques, thus, continuously reinventing and improving his style of writing and source of inspiration.
Also, a lot of critics have noted that in several ways, Shakespeare tends to mix and combine incompatible concepts such as death and love. Some critics have observed this choice of concepts as rather confusing and misleading (Ransom, qtd. in Mabillard).
Yet, despite the negative and the uplifting criticism to Shakespeare’s work in the Sonnet 73, it still appears that it has made a significant influence to a lot of people over the years, based on the fact that it is still being studied and explored by the modern generation of today. Indeed, no one can really evaluate one’s art based on the external structure but rather, on the unseen impacts and effects it creates on people.
Truly, an artist’s personality, beliefs, and perceptions in life inevitably manifest through his or her works. This reality has been observed among artists since time immemorial. An aspect of the artist’s life shall always show and reflect in his creative works. It can never be assumed that all artists just invent and make up masterpieces without bases from their personal lives. In the case of Sonnet 73, it appears evident that it reflects some realities about Shakespeare’s life. The themes about death and old age literally reflects Shakespeare’s life during the time he wrote the sonnet since he was at that time and age where death seemed to be in sight (Mabillard). Thus, this implies that the emotions about hopelessness and pitying oneself come from Shakespeare’s own feelings and outlook towards his own old agedness. This sonnet may have received several negative responses, but reality holds true that every literary work is simply a product of one’s creativity and imagination and must not be judged according to the standards which aim for better comprehension and clarity. Hence, considering Sonnet 73 which tells about the anxiety, apprehension, fear, as well as the uncertainty felt towards death, it can be inferred that it reflects the author’s personal experiences and struggles about the said concepts. All the anxiety, apprehension, fear, and uncertainty felt towards death appear to spring from Shakespeare’s old agedness himself.
Mabillard, Amanda. “An Analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73.” Shakespeare Online. (29 July 2003). (12 March 2009). <http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/73detail.html>.
Moore, R. Ed. Penny Satories. “William Shakespeare: Shakespeare: An Introduction.” eNotes: William Shakespeare. Seattle: Enotes.com, Inc. (October 2002). (26 February 2009). <http://www.enotes.com/william-shakespeare/shakespeare-an-introduction>.
Shakespeare, William. “Sonnets William Shakespeare: Original Text Sonnet 73.” No Fear Shakespeare: Sonnets. 04 February 2009. Spark Notes. 26 February 2009 <http://nfs.sparknotes.com/sonnets/sonnet_73.html>.
Two Bears, Dolores. “Poetry Explication: William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73.” Arts and Humanities. William Shakespeare. Helium .com. (n.d.). (02 March 2009). <http://www.helium.com/items/496409-poetry-explication-william-shakespeares-sonnet-73?page=2>.
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