Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73: Structure, Symbolism, and Imagery

William Shakespeare is an English writer from 16th century widely recognized for his poetry and plays. He set the standard not only for English literature and but the theater as well. Although his work is centuries old people continue to quote and analyze his work observing the beauty, essence, and quality that he brings to this art. He is most known for his plays such as Romeo and Juliet but Shakespeare also created a new form of poetry, the Sonnet. He wrote on a variety of topics and themes. This ranges from tragedies and comedies to romance. However, his work also alludes to the beauty of nature and his surroundings. This is can be seen specifically in Sonnet 73. Sonnet 73 proves to be a poem that is elegantly written, describing the beauty of a winter day. By examining the structure, symbolism, and imagery of this piece, one can better understand why Shakespeare remains one of the best writers of all time.

Shakespeare wrote poetry, creating what we know as the Sonnet. The sonnet brought structure, organization, and a scheme to poetry that remains consistent. As observed in Sonnet 73, all Shakespearean sonnets consist of 14 lines and rhyming couplets abab, cdcd, ee. The letters represent the rhyme scheme in the poem, as the last word rhymes with the last word in the alternating line. Line one ends with “behold”, which rhymes with the third line “cold”. This rhyming structure remains consistent throughout. It allows the poem to flow, having a pattern that makes this enjoyable to read out loud. The organization of the poem and word usage gives this poem beauty that captures the imagination of the reader. In this way, the reader is held by the quality of work, the unique sounds and images that the words create.

The imagery observed in this poem can be seen in the first two lines: “That time of year thou mayst in me behold/When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang”(1-2). From the beginning the reader is drawn in by the images. This is seen when Shakespeare first indicates the “time of year” that “beholds” one’s sight (1). The word “beholds” tells the reader a lot about the scene. This includes the beauty that is captured by the author and expressed through nature and the environment. It also indicates the direction of this poem, as the reader is beheld by the scenery which is described in 14 short lines. The reader learns more about the scenery that Shakespeare finds beautiful. It is the end of autumn or beginning of winter as leafs has changed colors and some trees are bare. Other words that create the scene of nature, beauty, and imagery include “the twilight”(5), “sunset fadeth”(6), “black night”(7) and “glowing of such fire”(8). These are words that create images for the reader, as Shakespeare develops the scene that captures him.

The image of winter, cold, and falling leafs relate to nature and also the symbolism these images represent. This includes the symbol of death. It is expressed through the imagery observed throughout the sonnet. Not only does Shakespeare mention death directly, he connects winter to the concept of death and dying.  Although the reader is introduced to a setting sun and beauty of the cold, this beauty soon fades. “Which by and by black night doth take away/Death’s second self, that seals up all the rest”(7-8). By the middle of the sonnet the audience is introduced to the symbolism of death that is found not only in nature but also the changing seasons. Other words he uses to symbolize death include, “ashes”(10), “death-bed”(11), and “expire” (11). Death is an excellent symbol and representation of winter. It represents the loss of sunlight, warm days, and blooming flowers.  However, the symbolism of death expressed in this poem is neither negative nor bad. Instead, death is used as a symbolism for life and rebirth. This is because winter is always followed by spring which brings life and color back to nature. In line 12, Shakespeare explains that death is “consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by”. This represents the cycle of life and death that is seen through the changing of seasons.

Sonnet 73 is a poem that captures the attention, using imagery, symbolism, and organization to represent the beauty of nature. While many people find beauty in the summer or spring time, Shakespeare found beauty in the cold of winter. The first lines of the sonnet draw in the reader through literary expression that takes the audience through a maze of images and symbols that come with winter. Starting off with the beauty of nature, to the death of winter, Shakespeare ends this poem by expressing his love for these surroundings. The love is expressed not only through his admiration for the winter season, but also through the last lines of this poem. “This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong/To love that well which thou must leave ere long” (13-14). Analyzing this poem, it becomes clear that Shakespeare was not only talented but artistic, moving the reader through the beauty of nature, images, and feelings that come with it.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, W. “Poems and Poets.” Sonnet LXXIII that time of year thou mayst in me behold. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 19 Feb 2014. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174366&gt;.

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About Russia Robinson

I am an independent freelance writer and free thinker. I strive to use my writing talents to benefit the greater good of society, one word, one sentence, one page at a time. Originally from Richmond, California I attended San Francisco State University receiving a BA in English Creative Writing and American Literature in 2004. After this I attended post graduate studies in 2008 at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University in Technical Writing. With an academic background in English, I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. This can be seen in my career background in education and mental health. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher for the state of Georgia. I also worked in social services including juvenile mental health treatment services and counseling. As a result, I understand the diversity of problems people face in their everyday lives. With words put together like so, I promote equality and a healthy society for all people regardless of individual differences. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I push to educate others about various issues that affect people. I also do this creatively through short stories, poems, pictures, and a novel in progress. My hobbies and interest are reading and learning. I enjoy all things art and all things nature. From camping and astronomy to photography and cooking, I enjoy sighting seeing and socializing just as much as I enjoy curling in bed with a good book or binge watching TV.
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