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Analysis: Form and Meter

Shakespearean Sonnet

Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 is…a Shakespearean sonnet. Easy peasy, right?

Sonnet Is as Sonnet Does

For those of you not up on the sonnet scoop, Shmoop's here to help. A sonnet's just a fancy term for a 14-line poem written in iambic pentameter with a rhyme scheme. If a sonnet's Shakespearean, that usually means that it has a particular way of organizing its ideas and rhymes across those fourteen lines. His brand of sonnet falls into four major sections, rhyming ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. The first three sections are known as quatrains 1-3, and the last section is known as the couplet. Because of this organization, the Shakespearean sonnet lends itself most naturally to the poet working out a different idea in each of the three quatrains and then summing everything up in the couplet.

Usually—as in Sonnet 73—the three different ideas in the quatrains are actually all variations of one central theme; in our poem, the central theme is aging. This theme gets expressed with one metaphor (autumn leaves) in quatrain 1, another metaphor (twilight) in quatrain 2, and a third metaphor (dwindling fire) in quatrain 3. But in the couplet, he shakes things up a bit by introducing the theme of love (fitting for a sonnet, don't you think?).

Shakespeare Shakes Things Up

Meter-wise, this one's all over the iambic pentameter:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold

Of course, it would be pretty boring to have every single line of your poem follow the same rhythm. And Shakespeare was never one to be boring. So he mixes things up here, by messing with his meter. Check out line 13, for example:

This thou perceiv'st which makes thy love more strong.That first foot there? That's called a trochee, and it's the exact opposite of an iamb. He's adding emphasis to this, which helps highlight the thematic connection between love and aging in the poem.Of course, to really get a sense of the full range of Shakespeare's rhythmical effects, try reading the poem to yourself a few times out loud (you could even try to memorize it). You'll probably find bits of cool language rhythms coming back into your thoughts when you least expect it.

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