An interpretation of Shakespeare’s sonnet 73 and the deeper meaning of its metaphors

Term Paper, 2002

11 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Form and structure

3. Interpretation of sonnet 73 in general

4. The Special meaning of the metaphors

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Shakespeare, the greatest English poet of all times, has created an unbelievable variety of works. Included in these works are his 154 sonnets which were written between 1592 and 1598, and later published in 1609 by Thomas Thorpe. The first 126 sonnets are addressed to a young male friend with initials W.H. whose identity has not ever been made entirely clear. His following sonnets refer to an unknown “Dark Woman”.

In my partly descriptive and partly argumentative paper I want to write neither about the English sonnet-form and its origins, the differences to the Italian style, nor about Shakespeare’s life. On the contrary, I want to go into detail on only sonnet 73. I chose this sonnet of the young man-friend group because of its theme, which every human being has to deal with. For these reasons I was interested in interpreting sonnet 73.

In this sonnet Shakespeare advises his young friend to appreciate and even to love the time he has left in his life, because of the limitation death sets to it. Shakespeare takes on the role of an advisor, because he is the one who possesses more life experience, and he wants to pass on the knowledge that he has gained from the experiences in his life. First he compares himself to a bare tree freezing in the cold, secondly to a day which will be devoured by the dark night, and finally to a fire going to be extinguished upon its own ashes.

The sonnet provokes many questions:

Did Shakespeare really believe he was going to die soon? Was he actually referring to his own death? What effect did he want to produce by saying so? Does he consider his situation equal with the situation of his metaphors which are all placed near death or the end? Or is this sonnet just advice to his young friend?

I will interpret this sonnet first by presenting an overview on its well-ordered form and structure, afterwards I will analyse in turn the metaphors to solve the raised questions.

I found many good and apt secondary literary sources about this poem, the most useful books for my work on this paper proving to be Helen Vendler’s “The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets” and Katharine M. Wilson’s “Shakespeare’s Sugared Sonnets”, not necessarily because I agreed with them on all points, but because their points of view were the most interesting and profound.

2. Form and structure

Sonnet 73 is written in typical Shakespearean or English sonnet form. It consists of three quatrains and one couplet at the end, altogether 14 lines written in iambic pentameter with a regular rhyme scheme. The rhyme pattern of this sonnet is:

a b a b / c d c d / e f e f / g g.

G. Hammond states that sonnet 73 with its 4:4:4:2 pattern is an example of the archetypal sonnet structure of Shakespearean style (The Reader and Shakespeare’s Young man Sonnets 81).

The structure and, especially, punctuation of the sonnet provide an outline for the imagery of the poem. Breaks in the flow of the text help to contain the three different metaphors. Each quartet and the last couplet is ended by a full stop, indicating that a complete idea, such as a metaphor, has been brought to conclusion.

Other literary devices help to unify the different metaphors and the message found in the last couplet. Assonance and consonance help to set the tone of the sonnet as well as support the metaphorical images. The long vowels and consonants create a feeling of thoughtfulness, regret, and mourning for the fading subjects of the metaphors. Also notable is the alliteration in lines:

1- That time…thou.. and mayst in me

7- by and by black

8- Death’s second self that seals,

but especially his extraordinary usage of the “T” in line 1 and in the final couplet:

“This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,

to love that well, which thou must leave ere long.”

The end couplet is set apart from the precedent metaphors by the use of this short “T” in contrast to the previously mentioned style implying a change in tone and meaning.

3. Interpretation of sonnet 73 in general

Each quartet refers to a certain metaphor- considerably all end in death or rather in a fading. This is confirmed by the setting of the colon after the quartets. In the first metaphor Shakespeare compares himself to a tree which is holding only few leaves and freezing because of the coming of the cold and the death-bringing winter. Furthermore he mentions the “bare ruined choirs” where once birds were singing. But there can only be found a vague conjunction which relates these choirs with the first three lines which are about the tree: Usually the birds sit in the trees, but in this case they are mentioned in the same line with the “bare ruined choirs”. Line 4 does not focus on the tree but on the “sweet birds”, in other words, this line is not wholly integrated in the flow of the poem. Therefore I disagree with Wright who’s unconvincing argument states that the image of the old tree-man with his church-balcony on which birds are singing comes to the mind of the reader (The Structure of Shakespeare’s Sonnets 194). At any rate there is no hint in the poem which demands linking these lines.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


An interpretation of Shakespeare’s sonnet 73 and the deeper meaning of its metaphors
University of Freiburg  (Englisches Seminar)
Einführung in die englische und amerikanische Literaturwissenschaft
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
445 KB
Shakespeare’s, Einführung, Literaturwissenschaft
Quote paper
Christian Dunke (Author), 2002, An interpretation of Shakespeare’s sonnet 73 and the deeper meaning of its metaphors, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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