What does "Death's second self" mean in line 8 of Shakespeare's Sonnet 73?

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"Death's second self" in line 8 of Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 refers to the night, symbolizing the twilight of life in preparation for death. The phrase is part of the poem's imagery, linking death and sleep in the Elizabethan context. However, some interpret the sonnet as a reflection on self-love and the sadness of the mind's brilliance fading over time, suggesting that death appreciates a well-used mind.

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I have long disagreed with the common interpretation of this sonnet. Although I agree that the images of night, bare trees, etc., are symbols for the passing of time, and that "Death's second self" could simply be a reference to this, I cannot help to think that this poem is about self-love, not the love of another. It is about the sadness of knowing that even the most brilliant of minds can wither and slow down with the passing of time.

Consider these lines as a whole:

"Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st 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 nourish'd by."

Death has two states: Its approach and its presence. A mind also only has two states: Thinking and the inability to think. Thinking - his driving life force - marked the speaker’s life. Age slows the mind and even 'death' can appreciate a well-used one.

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"Death's second self" refers to night, and is just a continuation of the idea began in that quatrain at line 5:

"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."

Death and sleep were rather interconnected to the Elizabethans, and Shakespeare uses that motif often in his writing (Hamlet discourses a great deal about death and sleep in his famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy).

The speaker of the sonnet is reminding whoever he is speaking to that his looks, his body, are aging, and he is entering the twilight (darkness) of life in preparation for death.

Check the links below for more information about the sonnets.  The link to "themes" is especially good and actually discusses sonnet 73 specifically.  Good luck! :)

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