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The notion of old age is explored in Sonnet 73, one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. There’s a metaphor in every one of the three quatrains.
Sonnet 73 is a Shakespearean or English sonnet. Three quatrains are followed by a concluding rhyming couplet. The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang
The speaker metaphorically addresses old age as that time of the year, in essence, Autumn. It is the time when the leaves turn yellow and fall off the branches, just like the hair turn gray and a person’s stamina diminishes. The branches shaking against the cold are bare of their leaves now and the whole thing appears like the ruins of the choir where the sweet birds used to sing. It is much like old age when youth has faded and what remains are the ruins of a young zealous person.
In me thou see’st 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
Now, the speaker refers to their own self as the twilight of an Autumn day, which can be interpreted that he or she is now turning old and bidding farewell to youth. The black night seizes all the light and every soul succumbs to sleep. Here, sleep is compared to being death’s second self, so it is a pause in life until a person awakes. However, that is not the case for death, where a soul is perpetually put to rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire, That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, As the deathbed whereon it must expire, Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
The speaker tells how the glowing fire in him is slowly but surely burning his youth and turning it into ashes. That fire will finally extinguish on his deathbed once all is turned to ash. The cycle of life can be understood as the fire, where each day a person grows older moving from one phase to the next until he finally departs the world.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong, To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
The last two lines leave a very strong message, the message to love while you live. The thought of losing someone, or yourself dying before you can fully profess your love should make you love stronger.
Aging and death are inseparable aspects of life and the sonnet inspires the readers to appreciate life before it’s too late. It inspires one to love passionately because tomorrow is not promised.