Acceptance of Loss of Time in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73 and Keats’s When I have Fears that I May Cease to Be
Time spent fearing the passage of time wastes the very thing that one dreads losing. Both Shakespeare’s "Sonnet 73" and Keats’s "When I have Fears that I May Cease to Be" reveal the irrationality of this fear and explore different interpretations of this theme: to Keats death equates an inability to reach his potential, to accomplish what he desires; to Shakespeare death (represented in the metaphors of autumn, twilight, and ashes) will separate him from earthly, physical love. Through various rhetorical strategies and content of sub-themes, these authors ultimately address their struggle with mortality and time; their sonnets support the idea that to fear loss and death is a waste of precious time.
By telescoping the various metaphors of autumn, twilight, and ashes in "Sonnet 73, " Shakespeare portrays the ending of time. His systematic representation of familiar concepts as symbols of time passage and models of life creates three individual paralleled sonnets that join at the poem’s conclusion to form a collaborated theme (Bloom 12).
Shakespeare begins with the broad season of autumns and gets progressively more specific as he discusses twilight, a smaller frame of reference, and eventually ashes, the one nonlinear metaphor that is the most specific of the three (Vendler 335). The first quatrain is devoted to the depiction of autumn as an ending season. These four lines are characterized by a tone of loss, emptiness, and nostalgia for the spring that represents the poet’s youth. The "boughs which shake against the cold" that were once covered in green leaves stand alone and practically empty in the cold autumn air. Their "yellow leaves, or none, or few," are symbolic of the emptiness of death that accompanies the fleeting moments of life. The empty boughs are "Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang," symbolic of the happier time of the past and the inevitable death of the future.
The second quatrain is an extended metaphor comparing time passing and twilight. "In me thou see’th the twilight of such day..." The twilight, which occurs when the personified "black night doth take away" the sunset, suggests fleeting time as a thief who "robs the speaker of life" (Vendler 335). Helen Vendler explains that "...the day would still be here if black night did not gradually take away the light and seal all up" (335). The speaker seems to fear the passage of time because it is taking away his youth.
Shakespeare continues to use his extended metaphor to create a feeling that youth is getting farther and farther away; twilight is later in the day than its parallel form the first quatrain, autumn, is in the year. he second quatrain ends as twilight ends, with night and sleep, but Shakespeare’s word choice here is almost more important than the line’s actual meaning. He uses the phrase "Death’s second self" o...