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Symbol Analysis

In quatrain 2, Shakespeare introduces a whole new set of imagery, this time based on the fading sunset at the end of a day. What makes this imagery interesting is that Shakespeare makes it clear that the sun has already set, but there's still some light hanging on. This strikes us at Shmoop as a pretty interesting metaphor for the speaker's position in life: somewhere in middle age, with youth behind him, but not yet old either.

  • Lines 5-8: Like quatrain 1, quatrain 2 floods our minds with a lot of different imagery. This time it's mostly sight imagery, based on the way the sky looks at sunset. Also, like in quatrain 1, this rich sensory material isn't just painting pretty pictures for their own sake. Instead, it's all doing double duty as part of a conceit for the speaker's process of growing old. The sun that has already set probably stands for the speaker's lost youth, while the "twilight" (5) that still remains stands for the fire of energy that is still burning inside him. Clearly, he's not a total old fogey. Still, though, the closing images of this quatrain, which refer to the onset of "black night," which line 8 explicitly compares to "Death," make it much more eerie and depressing than quatrain 1. 
  • Line 5: By now it should be clear that what quatrain 2 is doing is treating roughly the same ideas as quatrain 1 (though with a slightly more negative spin), but using completely different imagery. One of the interesting ways Shakespeare signals this link between the two quatrains is with a verbal echo at the beginning of line 5, which reminds us of line 1. Line 5 uses the word "seest" and line 1 uses the phrase "mayst […] behold." These two words are actually pretty much synonyms, and they both are connected to the words "thou" and "in me." This repetition of the same idea, but with a slight variation, is exactly what the structure of poem as a whole is all about. We're going to see another (even closer) echo of this idea of "seeing" in line 9, at the beginning of quatrain 3.
  • Line 7: In this line, to illustrate the slow, repetitive process of "night" stealing every last bit of sunlight, Shakespeare uses the device of alliteration on the letter B: "By and by black night doth take away." Do you think the fact that this alliteration stops halfway through the line could be a way of acting out the idea of the light being "take[n] away"?

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