All-knowing, all-seeing Sitemeter tells me that someone arrived at my blog today via Google, using the search string “tidbits about sonnet 73.” They found a place where I mention 73, but no tidbits.
So I thought I’d go find some tidbits and post them.
The sonnets’ glories are not from books, and rather from instinct than from thought. Here is 73, in the original spelling and pointing (one error corrected, one spelling altered for clarity):
That time of yeeare thou maist in me behold,
When yellow leaues, or none, or few doe hange
Vpon those boughes that shake against the could,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where later the sweet birds sang.
In me thou sest the twi-light of such day,
As after Sun-set fadeth in the West,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second selfe that seals vp all in rest.
In me though seest that glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lye,
As the death bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed by that which it was nurrisht by.
This thou perceu’st, which makes thy loue more strong,
To loue that well, which thou must leaue ere long.
The fundamental emotion here is self-pity. Not an attractive emotion. What renders it pathetic, in the good instead of the bad sense, is the sinister diminution of the time concept, quatrain by quatrain. We have first a year, and then the final season of it; then only a day, and the final stretch of it; then just a fire, built for part of a day, and the final minutes of it; then — entirely deprived of life, in prospect, and even more a merely objective “that,” like a third-person corpse! — the poet. The imagery begins and continues as a visual — yellow, sunset, glowing — and one by one these are destroyed; but also in the first quatrain one heard sound, which disappears there; and from the couplet imagery of every kind is excluded, as if the sense were indeed dead, and only abstract, posthumous statement is possible. A year seems short enough; yet ironically the day, and then the fire, makes it in retrospect seem long, and the final immediate triumph of the poet’s imagination is that in the last line about the year, line 4, an immense vista is indeed invoked — that of the desolate monasteries strewn over England, sacked in Harry’s reign, where “late” — not so long ago! a terrible foreglance into the tiny coming times of the poem — the choirs of monks lifted their little and brief voices, in ignorance of what was coming — as the poet would be doing now, except that this poem knows. Instinct is here, after all, a kind of thought. This is one of the best poems in English.