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`That time of year thou may`st in me behold` by william shakespeare

The Cycles of Life in Shakespeare 's Sonnet LXXIII

In the hands of a skilled sonneteer , words convey much more than their immediate literal meaning . Nowhere is this more evident than in the works of William Shakespeare , the quintessential wordsmith who could express a world of emotion in only fourteen lines . In his Sonnet LXXIII (Shakespeare 1762 , the immortal bard beautifully employs the literary devices of rhyme , metaphor , and visual imagery to write about his own mortality in a manner both appealing and effective

That mortality is represented in the classic rhyme

scheme of the English sonnet , and Shakespeare was so gifted at composing this form of poetry that the genre is alternatively known as the Shakespearean sonnet . The English sonnet is an expression of emotion composed of three quatrains or four-line stanzas , followed by a couplet or two-line stanza . The quatrains often embody a problem , whereas the couplet usually identifies a solution . Sonnet LXXIII epitomizes this arrangement , using each of the three quatrains to establish a different metaphor for impending death , with the last two lines expressing a different but related thought that can be loosely interpreted as a solution

Within this format , the rhyme scheme for the quatrains is abab , with a new letter of the alphabet used to designate a new rhyme . In this scheme , the last syllable of the last word in the first line (a ) rhymes with the last syllable of the last word in the third line (also a The last syllable of the last word in the second line (b ) rhymes with the last syllable of the last word in the fourth line (also b . In the first quatrain , the word behold ' rhymes with cold ' and the word hang ' rhymes with sang ' In the second quatrain , the word day rhymes with away ' and the word west ' rhymes with rest ' In the third quatrain , the word fire ' rhymes with expire ' and the word lie ' rhymes with by

Following these three quatrains is a couplet using the rhyme scheme of aa . In this arrangement , the last syllable of the last word in the first line is strong (a , and it rhymes with the last syllable of the last word in the second line , long (also a . The couplet has its own rhyme scheme independent of the one used in the quatrains , as it expresses a different sentiment

Exploiting this versification to its fullest , Shakespeare uses each of the three quatrains to express a different , progressively more specific metaphor . In the first quatrain , he uses the climatic season of early winter as a symbol for his advancing age . Age is often compared to the cycles of the season , with such phrase as summer-winter romance ' to describe a relationship between a youthful person and an elderly partner and autumn of life ' used to mean late middle age or early old age In a temporal sense , this first metaphor is the broadest one

In the second quatrain , Shakespeare narrows the time frame of his metaphor by likening old age to the twilight hours of the day , when the approach of nightfall , a metaphor of death , is most evident . Twilight is another common metaphor for a time somewhere between upper middle age and death , and elderly persons are often referred to as being in the twilight ' of their lives . In the context of the other two quatrains the second one uses a period of time that is broader than the third one but narrower than the first

In the third quatrain , Shakespeare tightens this perspective by comparing himself to a fire that is fated to consume itself entirely and die . By this point in the sonnet , he has systematically gone from the general to the specific , associating himself first with a time of year then with a time of day , and finally with one explicit natural element In doing so , he has effectively drawn a parallel between the waning time frames and the inevitable dwindling of his own life span

Of course , Shakespeare sets up these metaphors in a way that conveys the meaning not only to the minds of the readers but also to their senses . In the age-as-winter metaphor , he refers the reader to the annual time when yellow leaves , or , or few , do hang / Upon those boughs which shake against the cold ' and these words summon up images of the sparse foliage of a tree in winter , its branches being battered and shaken by icy winds . In the metaphor of the second quatrain , the words twilight of the day ' after sunset fadeth in the west ' and black night ' all instantly evoke the sights seen each day immediately before complete darkness descends . These are fitting allusions to death , commonly perceived in terms of blackness or the absence of light The fire metaphor in the third quatrain uses the words glowing expire ' consumed ' and nourished ' to describe the energy of a fire , which is destined to burn itself out , just as human life energy does . The phrase that on the ashes of his youth doth lie ' uses personification to give human form to the element of fire , just as the word death-bed ' does

Shakespeare aligns himself with these metaphors in an ly manner as the first line of each quatrain contains a self-reference . In the first line of the first quatrain , thou mayst in me behold ' directs the reader to that aspect of winter that most resembles his age . In the second quatrain , this sentiment is restated in another self-reference In me thou seest ' and the third quatrain opens with the same four words . Even the concluding couplet contains another reiteration to this alternate way of looking at the author in its This thou perceiv 'st ' opening . This repetition establishes a poetic balance and rhythm , urging the reader to invoke the three metaphors and perceive Shakespeare in terms of those symbols

In the manner of most sonnets , this one uses the concluding couplet to offer a solution to the problem explored in the preceding quatrains . As the problem is inevitable death , for which there is no true remedy there is only a solution of sorts . By This thou perceiv 'st , which makes thy love more strong / To love that well , which thou must leave ere long ' Shakespeare is saying that our recognition of the inexorable progression toward death makes us cherish life--and especially the life of an elderly person-- all the more . Things that are fleeting become more precious to us than those that are enduring . Knowing that death must come sooner rather than later , we embrace life even more tightly

This is a weighty subject to tackle in any format , much more so within the scope of a poem that is only fourteen lines long . Lesser would probably not fare as well in such a writing venture as England 's most famous playwright , poet , and sonneteer . However , William Shakespeare proves that it can be not only accomplished but also mastered with a good deal of beauty and imagery . Sometimes a few effective metaphors speak louder and better than many volumes of prose . Works Cited

Shakespeare , William . The Riverside Shakespeare . Ed . G . Blakemore Evans , et al

Boston : Houghton Mifflin , 1974



Sonnet LXXIII ...

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