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Sonnet 73 Theme of Time

Not to be Captain Obvious or anything, but Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 emphasizes that time is divided into the past, the present, and the future. We know—we just blew your minds. But seriously, just check out how carefully each of the poem's three quatrains make sure to include each of these three periods of time. All three begin in the present, but then portray this present as a decayed version of a healthier past. Each quatrain also gives hints about the very different future that is coming. But what about the couplet? If you take a close look, you'll notice that the past is missing. What's up with that, Big Willy?

Questions About Time

  1. Each of the sonnet's quatrains paints a picture of (a) the past, (b) the present, and (c) the future. The thing is, they don't all put this information in the same order.
  2. How does the presentation of these different timeframes change from quatrain to quatrain, and what effect (if any) does this have on your understanding of the poem and its emotional force?
  3. Why do you think the couplet doesn't contain any reference to the past? 
  4. Shakespeare puts the word "time" in a very prominent position in his poem—it's the second word—but then it never appears again. Why do you think he chose to do things this way? Why not give more screen time to… time?
  5. In the second line of the poem, when Shakespeare is telling you what "time of year it is," he changes his mind twice, going from "yellow leaves" to "none" to "few." Which of these three possible times of year do you think is the true one? What effect do you think Shakespeare wanted to get out of making the metaphorical time of year unclear?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The couplet doesn't contain any reference to the past because it's all about accepting what you've lost and what you've got left, and—all right, already—getting on with life.

The couplet doesn't contain any reference to the past because the speaker is in denial about how much he has lost.

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