The point is, we're all quite familiar with the old cliché, thank you very much. So why read another poem about how we should love everyone we love super hard because eventually they're going to croak (and so are we, for that matter)? Because it's Shakespeare, that's why.
And Shakespeare has a nasty habit (okay, an awesome habit) of taking a cliché and turning it on its head. If you take Sonnet 73 on the whole, it's a poem about how death makes us love all the more, because we know that love will one day be gone. But if you read the first twelve lines, the poem is almost entirely about how stinkin' awful it is to grow old and crusty and, well, die. Ah, but that's just it. In fact, the sheer inevitability and awfulness of death is what makes us love all the stronger. So yes, we should live free and love hard and all that cheesy, roll-your-eyes jazz. But somehow, when Big Willy says it, we're all ears.
This classic sonnet comes to us from Shakespeare's collection of—count 'em—154 sonnets. In 1609, all those sonnets were smushed together in a book and published to instant success. And by instant success, we mean no one read them until way after ol' Shakey died, and even then they weren't that popular.
Luckily, over time, these tiny nuggets of swoony verse started to get their due. And Shmoop thinks it's safe to say that by now, these are some of the most famous love poems ever written. Maybe that's because they speak to and redefine so many of the clichés we have come to associate with love. Or maybe it's because when it comes to writing, Shakespeare sure knew how to put quill to parchment. Either way, we Shmoopers are grateful the world over to have Sonnet 73 to stick in our Valentine's Day cards. As long as the recipient doesn't mind a little death imagery with their candy hearts.
Why Should I Care?
Have you ever had one of those moments where you sat down to contemplate one of the Big Questions Of Life—you know, something like Time or Life or Death or Love? But, not only did you sit down to contemplate it, you also sat down to write about it. Maybe you were planning on writing a blog post, or sending out an email to a close friend. Maybe you weren't writing by choice; maybe you had to write a personal essay for class, or for one of your college applications, and you decided to tackle one of those weighty topics. Maybe you weren't writing something on paper at all, but instead were making a video, or composing a song.
Really, the specifics of how you tried to wrestle with the big questions don't matter much. What does matter is that the moment you actually hunkered down and tried to come to grips with one of these issues, you probably felt that…everything you wanted to say had already been said? Like, every single human being who has ever lived has had to deal with exactly those same issues; what could you possibly hope to add to the conversation?
Well, you know what? You'd still feel that same sense of anxiety in that situation if you were William Shakespeare. And that's exactly what makes Sonnet 73 so amazing. In it, we see the artistry of a man who, when confronted with the problem of saying something new about Life, Death, Time, and Love decides to tackles it head-on—by inventing not just one, but—count 'em—three big shiny metaphors to illustrate his ideas. And then he even throws in that couplet at the end, which sums up everything that has come before. On top of that, he introduces a twist that takes the poem in a new and meaningful direction.
And don't forget that this isn't the only sonnet where Shakespeare shows off his amazing skills. This is poem 73 out of a 154-poem sequence in which he wows us over and over again. We'd definitely call this guy the hardest working man in show business—except he makes it look so easy. But don't let that discourage you. We think the best lesson to be drawn from Shakespeare's work is that, no matter what medium you're working with, there is always going to be something new you can add to the most important conversation we can have—the one that's been going on since the human race began. As we see it, where there's a will there's a way—and we don't just mean where there's Will Shakespeare.