William Shakespeare is one of the greatest playwrights of all time. It is also important, however, to remember and to study his sonnets. The sonnets are separated into two groups, 1-126 and 127-54. All of them are love poems of some sort, whether addressed to a young man or the infamous “Dark Lady.” It is important to compare and analyze the sonnets, and to see the similarities between them. The purpose of this essay is to compare sonnets 64 and 73, and show that although it is easy to come to the conclusion that they are sorrowful in tone and negative in orientation, they are truly positive and life affirming. These two have been chosen because they are similar in this and other respects. Before discussing the similarities, however, it is necessary to briefly describe what each sonnet is about.
Sonnet 64 is a cry against the inevitable arrival of all that wears down even the most firm powers that exist in the world. The speaker stresses that even the most sturdy monuments are bound to the ravages of time: “When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced/ The rich, proud cost of outworn buried age,/ When sometime lofty towers I see down-raz’d/ and brass eternal slave to mortal rage;” and so on. It is clear that the speaker finds time an enemy, capable of eroding any efforts to persevere. Time is also the enemy to the desire to be with a loved one forever.
In this sonnet, the speaker finds himself at the mercy of his opponent, without any means of facing Time with any success. He almost abandons the love that he feels because he knows that it will eventually fall victim to time. There is no difference between the love that is felt by the speaker and the other durable things in the world, such as the “kingdom of the shore”, and the “firm soil.” But even these things will erode over time. The only option the speaker has is to mourn what he will one day lose.
The seventy-third sonnet is also about the response of the speaker to the fact that Time detracts from the endurance of man and his response to the things that make him feel loved. Shakespeare starts with a discussion of the process by which the things that surround man first start to erode and fall as a result of the passing of time. The speaker is equating himself to autumn and the twilight of day. He finds himself lying on the ashes of his youth, and a victim to the passage of time. He cannot sustain the love that he feels, and is consumed by both time and love, as they once sustained him. The speaker is arguing that the fate of man is to be consumed by the very things that are his life-blood: love and time. “In me thou seest the glowing of such fire/ That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,/ As the deathbed whereupon it must expire/ Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
The similarities between these two poems are evident. Basically, they are both about the speaker’s sense of helplessness and loss in the face of the passage of time. The theme of loss, and the recurrent theme of impotence when faced with passing time and its effects, is evident in both poems. However, these are not necessarily sad or defeatist poems. The speaker does not submit to the passage of time by saying that he will not be able to feel or love or even live anymore. He is not depressed to the point of being unable to do anything.
Rather, the speaker feels that man must continue to love, and to live, despite the fact that life will end, and love will eventually subside as time takes over the human spirit. Although “Time will come and take my love away,” the speaker is not saying that man must simply not love at all. He is saying that man must eventually give in to the effects of time, but that in the time that does exist for man, it is possible to love, and to sustain oneself with that love.
These poems, which sound sad or even lacking in spirit, are actually affirmative of the desire toward love and life: “This thou perceivest, which makes my love more strong,/ to love that well, which thou must leave ere long.” Both of these sonnets can be interpreted as encouraging the reader to grasp the fact that love can be sweeter and more enduring if the individual realizes that time will eventually take that love away. It is even possible to claim that, because all love will end, man should state his love early, and live that love to the fullest extent possible. In this sense, each of these poems can be understood to be positive, and life affirming.
At first reading, it is easy to come to the conclusion that the poems are sorrowful in tone and negative. However, after closer analysis, it is obvious that the speaker is ultimately celebrating life, and urging the embrace of all aspects of it, whether they result in suffering or pleasure. The tone is sorrowful when the speaker comes face to face with the inevitable, but the fact remains that the inevitable outcome, which is loss, and the passage of time, is part of what makes the intensity of love, and the quality of life, so memorable and so pleasurable.