Metaphors for Death in Shakespeare's Sonnet 73
William Shakespeare's "Sonnet 73: That Time of Year Thou Mayest in Me Behold" is a sonnet that examines the fears and anxieties that surround growing old and dying -- a topic that resonates within us all. Shakespeare's use of metaphor to illustrate decay and passing are striking, and sets a somber tone throughout. He uses the season of Fall, the coming of night, and the burning out of a flame as metaphors for old age and death, and then uses the last two lines to suggest that we should love and cherish life while we can.
The first four lines of the sonnet reflect the changing of seasons, and the oncoming of Fall:
That time of year thou mayest in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
The season of Fall has often been used as a metaphor for the passing of time. The seasons of Spring and Summer -- the time of blooming flowers, vibrant colors, and long, hot days -- are gone. Fall is the season in which all that has bloomed has withered, and turned gray and yellow. Shakespeare could not have started this melancholy sonnet with a better metaphor.
Shakespeare uses lines five through eight of the sonnet to describe the closing of a day, and the onset of night:
In me thou seest 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.