Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Life's Falling Leaves

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Shakespeare's Sonnet 73

Though it remains unclear whether yellow leaves still cling to the boughs in Sonnet 73, the meaning of these yellow leaves is not ambiguous. Just as the leaves fall from the trees every autumn, the years of our lives pass slowly by, like individual falling leaves. Shakespeare's conceit throughout Sonnet 73 employs autumn to paint a poignant picture of the inevitable fading of life. Just as each season must fade into the next, so must our lives fade into seasons or phases, until we eventually return to the earth.


Though Bernhard Frank describes the imagery of seasonal change and sunset in Sonnet 73 as "cliche," even for Shakespeare's Elizabethan period, the imagery perfectly captures the tone and thoughts, which the speaker is trying to convey. Autumn, sunsets, and a dying fire perfectly capture the fading existence of the speaker. Though his life was rich with meaning, as illustrated through "Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang," the speaker recognizes his impending death (3). Death does not infuse the Sonnet with a foreboding tone, as the imagery captures universal nature of death. Just as the sun sets or the autumn leaves fall, so must mankind continue into the next phase of existence or death. The imagery of Sonnet 73 is strikingly similar to Sonnet 97, as they both represent the passing of time through seasons. Though seasons perfectly capture the passage of time, I can understand my friend, Bernhard, when he claims that this imagery has been exhausted, especially considering he relies so heavily upon it in both Sonnet 73 and 97.  Bernhard Frank's Sonnet 73 Analysis


The last two lines of Sonnet 73 illuminate the meaning of the speaker's reflections and connects it back to the speaker's audience, addressed in the first line of the Sonnet. In line 1 of the Sonnet the speaker addresses someone, and desires that they recognize how the naturalistic metaphors embody the life of the speaker. In the couplet the speaker acknowledges that the person addressed loves the speaker despite the knowledge that the speaker will soon die. This truly is a test of the strength of that love, as it is most difficult to love someone or something, which will not endure the test of time or seasons. It is in the couplet that the speaker intertwines the imagery of death and love into one, and once again we recognize that Shakespeare is the master at unveiling the meaning of life. Death does not weaken the strength of love, as love endures all the seasons. 

Animating Death

Shakespeare's sonnet is brought to life in a simple animated video, which captures the simplicity of the imagery in Sonnet 73. The simplicity of the animation in the video mirrors the simplicity of Shakespeare's metaphors of seasonal change, sunset, and fire, yet the impact of the Sonnet is not reduced. The Sonnet's couplet succeeds in transforming the somewhat ordinary imagery of Sonnet 73 into a complex representation of love and death. While love and death are ordinarily perceived as binaries, these binaries are reconciled into one in the couplet. Just as the juxtaposition in line 13, "Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by," is reconciled. It is through the couplet that the contrasting imagery of the Sonnet is reunited. 

Shakespeare once again proves that he is the master of the English language. Though it may seem that the imagery in Sonnet 73 clashes with one another, Shakespeare craftily reveals in the couplet and the reader is compelled to read the Sonnet once again, recognizing the genius of the Sonnet's imagery. 


  1. I like that you discuss love and the seasons, enduring through the hardships of each season of life and therefore enduring through life, but can be affected by death. It brings a good imagery present to make a point of love's unending nature and strength.

  2. Ah, this is a wonderful post. I loved how you related the leaves to death and love and how its hard to love something that might fade. Heartbreaking.

  3. As I read sonnet 73, I never thought that it was cliché! I think that on a brief reading one might have that impression, but an in-depth reading proves otherwise.