“When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang / Upon those boughs which shake against the cold”: Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73


Dear Readers,

I know it’s only been five months since I posted a Shakespeare poem, but what’s fall without the most famous fall sonnet of them all? Admittedly it’s a bit gloomy, but I hope your autumn views (still spectacular here) make up for it.

Sonnet 73

William Shakespeare

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.
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,
Consum’d 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.

A view from my neighborhood.

A view from my neighborhood.

“This is the barrenness / of harvest or pestilence.”

Better late than never, right? It’s been three days since All Souls Day, but I’m still mulling over Louise Glück’s creepy and just-right poem, “All Hallows.

Image Hay Bales On Freshly Harvested Fields" Courtesy of Franky242/ freedigitalphotos.net

Image Hay Bales On Freshly Harvested Fields” Courtesy of Franky242/ freedigitalphotos.net

I like that the particular line I’ve quoted in the post’s title captures the dichotomy of the end of fall (well, at least here it feels like the end of fall, even if there are technically six more weeks until winter) — it’s difficult to discern, sometimes, whether it feels like the ground underfoot is dying or bursting with life.

Just now the first stanza of the poem, which begins, “Even now this landscape is assembling.” suggests to me a painting, I think a Monet, of the gathered hay covered in lavender snow. Come to think of it, I can bring to mind several summer and spring paintings, and not a few decked with snow, but I’m having a difficult time coming up with a fall painting (if you have one you like, let me know!). Maybe that’s because, as the first line suggests, autumn “is assembling” itself for winter; it’s a flux-state, not even, really, itself.