Describe the imagery in Shakespeare's Sonnet 73.

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What is especially striking about Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 is that each quatrain contains a metaphor within a metaphor. For example, in the first quatrain he compares his time of life to early winter when the trees have lost almost all their leaves, and then he compares the bare branches of these trees with the places in churches where choir members sing, with the birds being implicitly compared to singers in a church choir. And in this same quatrain he uses a poetic conceit that the bare boughs are shaking because of the cold when in fact they only appear to be shaking from the cold but cannot really feel cold and can only be shaking because of the wind. It is a dazzling display of imagery. Mainly the quatrain compares late middle-age to winter and compares the bare branches of the trees in winter to choir lofts in churches.

In some of Shakespeare's sonnets he uses only one simile or metaphor, which usually makes the image stand out vividly. For instance, in Sonnet 29, which begins with "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes," he brightens the dominant tone of depression with the wonderful image:

And then my state

(Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate...

The alliteration of "S" sounds in the last quoted line ("sullen," "sings," "hymns," "heaven's") enhances the image of a bird soaring and singing.

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In terms of imagery in Shakespeare's Sonnet 73, there are several examples.

First of all, imagery is a description with words that creates a vivid image in the reader's mind. Imagery can be presented in the form of similes, metaphors, allusions, etc. Often sensory details are used.

...imagery includes the "mental pictures" that readers experience with a passage of literature.

The second line of the sonnet shows imagery that makes one envision autumn, not just with the color of the leaves, but the dwindling number or absence of them:

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang...

The next line appears to use personification, describing tree limbs that seem to "shiver" with the cold. Only people (and perhaps animals) shiver with the cold—not trees.

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold...

The following line is a metaphor, comparing the tree limbs to "choir" lofts where choirs (birds) used to sing:

Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang...

This next line brings to mind the image of colors of the sky during a sunset:

As after sunset fadeth in the west

As the poem progresses, another metaphor is used as the life within the speaker is compared to a "glowing" fire:

In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire

These lines provide imagery—in reading the entire poem, and paying special attention to the images within, the reader can better understand the true message (the theme) within the poet's words.

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Describe the imagery in Shakespeare's Sonnet 73.

The first four lines compare the end of the narrator's life to the last days of autumn:

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 ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

Yellow leaves, signs of past bloom, signify decay. The tree will soon have no leaves left to hang; it will be completely bare, or absent of fruit. This absence indicates that the narrator is nearing death, which is a "cold" and "bare" state. "The sweet birds sang" is in past tense, signifying that all sense of merriment has departed.

The next four lines reduce the event of death to a day. Shakespeare uses time to chart the narrator's progress from old age, or the autumn years ("That time of year thou mayst in me behold / When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang") to the day on which he dies:

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.

"In me thou seest" parallels "thou mayst in me behold" in the first line. The narrator's dying body personifies transience, and makes the passing of time tangible to the reader/listener. "Black night" (death) "[takes] away" sunset (old age). Shakespeare characterizes "black night," or the time in which we sleep ("seals up all in rest") as "Death's second self." There is a sense, then, of death simply being a long sleep.

The next four lines direct attention to the spirit, or passion, of the narrator which is extinguished by death:

In me thou seest the glowing of such fire

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie

As the death-bed whereon it must expire,

Consumed with that which it was nourished by.

Once again, there is an emphasis on what the reader/listener can see within the dying figure. So much of his experience of death relies on her attention and sympathy. "The glowing of such fire" indicates a light that remains beyond what has expired ("the ashes of his youth"). The use of the adjective "such" can have two meanings: it can indicate the magnitude or intensity of the fire, or it can point to there being something mysterious or inexplicable about its source.

The fire "must expire," or die out, "consumed with that which it was nourished by." It is unclear what the narrator is indicating as a source of nourishment. It could be the love of the listener/reader. It could be his own sense of mortality. It could be the passion and desire he once felt. It could be all of these things.

The last two lines, as with most of Shakespeare's sonnets, help us understand the point of the poem:

This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

In seeing both "the twilight" and "the glowing of such fire" in the narrator, his lover is better able to understand the ephemeral nature of existence, which makes love so necessary and important. It is especially meaningful to love when one understands that the object of that love will one day be gone.

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