Shakespeare's Sonnets 18, 73, 97
Poets have often looked to nature for inspiration and as a vehicle for self-expression. Throughout his lifetime, William Shakespeare is known to have written 154 sonnets, which cover various topics such as love, mortality, and the passage of time. Of these sonnets, sonnet numbers 18, 73, and 97 incorporate seasonal symbols that allow Shakespeare to express his love, the passage of time and its effect on him, and serve as a metaphor for the intense desolation he feels when he is away from the person he loves.
Sonnet 18, more commonly known by its opening line of "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day," utilizes seasonal symbols as a measure of beauty. In this sonnet, Shakespeare considers nature to be beautiful, however, he points out its cyclical nature and argues that his beloved's beauty, unlike nature's, is constant. He begins, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?/Thou art more lovely and temperate:/Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May/And summer's lease hath all too short a date," which point to a measurement of time (line 1-4). Through these lines, Shakespeare comments on the length of a summer day, and the entire summer itself, which he believes his beloved's beauty outlasts. Shakespeare proceeds to comment on actual summer days, noting how temperatures rise and fall, and how intermittent clouds can dim the world, yet despite these solar changes, his beloved's beauty remains constant. He explains, "Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,/And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;/And every fair from fair sometime declines,/By chance or nature's changing...
While Shakespeare continues to use seasonal symbolism into the poem's third quatrain, there is a marked change in tone as the poem nears the end. In the previous two quatrains, Shakespeare uses seasonal symbolism to comment on the temperamental disposition of nature, however, in the third quatrain, he argues that unlike summer, his beloved's beauty is eternal, not only because he believes it to be, but also because he has immortalized it in writing, and as long as people are alive, his works will live on. Shakespeare contends, "thy eternal summer shall not fade/Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;/Nor shall Death brag though wander'st in his shade,/When in eternal lines to time thou growest" (9-12). By using seasonal symbolism to describe his beloved's beauty, Shakespeare is able to make his love for this unnamed woman relatable to others and allow them to better understand his deep emotional connection to her.
Seasonal symbolism in Sonnet 73, "That time of year thou mayest in me behold," is used to illustrate the passage of time and the effect that it has had on the narrator. In the sonnet, the narrator states that the passage of time has manifested itself in him like the changing of seasons. Shakespeare writes, "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" (1-4). Through this description, the narrator creates parallels between his age and autumn, in which he insinuates that just like the leaves changing and falling from trees in autumn lead to bare trees in desolate winter, he too is changing, possibly losing some of his senses, and slowly creeping towards death. The…
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