Reading Between the Lines of 73

William Shakespeare, author of hundreds of sonnets and dozens of plays

William Shakespeare for sure is not famous for the titles of his poetry works. At first sight, one could say “Sonnet 49” and “Sonnet 113” are different by just a few digits placed in a specific order. However, each one of the English poet’s sonnets is carrying a different message, a different lesson. Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 73” is the author’s comparison of human life to nature’s. In the 14-lined poem, a story about nature’s “last hours” before it is completely “consumed…by” (12) winter, makes the narrator and main character to realize that death is inevitable and one better grasp every moment, and enjoy it before their last hour. The theme of the poem is being supported by numerous literary devices; sound devices, such as alliteration, constant rhyme and rhythm pattern, euphony and cacophony, as well as various examples of symbolism and metaphors throughout the whole poem, are the author’s tools to argue that “you only live once”.

Shakespeare’s sonnet consists of 14 lines and is following a strict rhyme pattern: ABABCDCDEFEFGG (just like every other sonnet). The author connects the rhymes with two other sound devices: euphony and cacophony. The use of euphonious sounds at the end of most lines is creating a melodic structure: “day” (7) and “away” (9). However, the English poet uses specific euphonious sounds in specific words to support the sad and maybe melancholic mood of the poem: “hang” (2) and “sang” (4), “behold” (1) and “cold” (4). Nevertheless, the poem is containing quite a few cacophonous words as well. The use of “west” (6) and “rest” (8), is supporting the symbol of death, and alone “strong” (13) is enhancing the author’s idea of strengthening one’s love. Alongside the sounds, Shakespeare uses specific letters as well; there are quite a few examples of alliteration throughout the poem. To support the feeling of death coming soon, “by and by black” (7) was used to describe the night. Another alliteration to describe once more the dark hours is “Death’s second self, that seals” (8). All of these sound devices support the theme and mood of the poem: death is coming.

William Shakespeare is known as an author that puts a lot of imagery and other stylistic devices in his poems. In “Sonnet 73”, however, the main literary devices used are symbolism and metaphors. It is easy to say that in general the whole sonnet is simply a symbol of death being inevitable, but this symbol is supported with many others. Autumn is expressed as “that time of year thou mayst in me behold / when yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang” (1 and 2). The “bare ruined choirs” (4) are presenting the leafless “boughs which shake against the cold” (3). Other words and phrases in the text also symbolize the coming of death, the soon end; “the twilight of such day” (5) and “sunset fadeth in the west” (6) are not only symbolizing death but are also metaphors of the end of a day, even the end in general. Later in the poem, the author used “fire” (9) as a metaphor of one’s life and “deathbed” (11) as the end of it. A metaphor explained in the poem itself is “black night” (7): “Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest” (8).

These and many other examples of literary devices are all supporting “Sonnet 73”’s theme. Death is inevitable, so one should enjoy life the most before it reaches its “twilight” (5).