Sonnets for Advent 19: Sonnet 73

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Autumn leaves (‘or few, or none’), ruined abbeys, the anxiety of age, and a longing to be cherished are all evoked through the musicality of Sonnet 73. Shakespeare’s sonnets are not all equally lyrical. This one is in part characterised by its sibillance (‘Death’s second self that seals up all in rest’) and in part by its strong, dissonant vowel sounds, ‘Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. I love, too, its long vowels, ‘fire’, ‘lie’, ‘expire’ – all words which don’t have hard consonant endings and can therefore last as long as the speaker likes.

Sonnet 73 is here read by Sam Lesser, one of our Shakespeare Aloud actors.

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.
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.
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.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

Find out more about Shakespeare’s Sonnets via our free on-line course

Listen to the same sonnet being read by a student at the University of Tubingen by clicking here.

You might like to treat yourself to The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s own, exclusive edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, edited by our Honorary President, Professor Stanley Wells C.B.E., and beautifully printed by Oxford University Press. Find out more by clicking here.

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson

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