Colin Burrow (ed.), The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems
pg 526 pg 527 73
- 1That time of year thou mayst in me behold
- Editor’s Note2When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
- Editor’s Note3Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
- Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus4Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
- 5In me thou seest the twilight of such day
- Editor’s Note6As after sunset fadeth in the west,
- Editor’s Note7Which by and by black night doth take away,
- Editor’s Note8Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
- 9In me thou seest the glowing of such fire
- 10That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
- 11As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
- Editor’s Note12Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
- 13 This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
- Editor’s Note14 To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.
2 or none, or few Some editors remove Q's comma in order to produce a straight choice ('either none or few'). Q's punctuation creates the effect of a searching eye, which sees first no leaves and then a few reminders of past luxuriance.
3 against in anticipation of; also perhaps 'in opposition to'
4 Bare ruined choirs] malone; Bare rn'wd quiers q; Bare ruin'd quires benson; Barren'd of quires capell
4 Bare ruined choirs Malone's emendation of Q's 'Bare ruin'd quires' is substantively a modernization of Benson's 'Bare ruin'd quires'. Choirs refers to 'That part of a church appropriated to the singers; spec, the part eastward of the nave, in which the services are performed' (OED 2a), The comparison depends primarily on the fact that singing once went on both in the trees and in the choirs, but may be reinforced by the visual similarity between the silhouette of a bare tree and of the ruined framework of Gothic tracery. Q's 'quiers' may also distantly suggest 'quires' of paper, a sense activated both by yellow leaves in l. 2 (cf. 17.9) and by the disparaging remarks on Shakespeare's own works with which the previous sonnet ends. The passage invites comparison with Cymbeline 3.3.42–3: 'Our cage | We make a choir, as doth the prisoned bird'.
4 where late the sweet birds sang The phrase applies simultaneously to the trees (once filled with birds) and to the ruined choirs, once filled with a singing choir. It is also possible that, on the narrower timescale implied by late (recently), birds used to sing on the ruins. The effect is of both recent and longer-term abandonment.
6 fadeth The subject is such day, but as sunset also fades in the west day may seem for a moment to be a hanging subject, left deprived of the activity of a verb,
7 Which The antecedent is twilight, but a reader might for a moment see day, and even west, as possible alternatives. This grammatical uncertainty widens the sway of night, which seems at once to absorb twilight, the day, sunset, and even perhaps the west.
8 Death's second self is a conventional representation of sleep.
seals up (a) encloses, as in a coffin, and marks with a seal to prevent unauthorized opening; (b) 'seels up' as a falconer stitches up the eyes of a hawk, as in Macbeth 3.2.47–8: 'Come, seeling night, | Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day'.
12 Consumed with choked by (ash). Cf. 1.5 7. The third quatrain eases the poem towards total darkness: autumn, then twilight, then the final stages of a day as a fire is allowed to choke itself in ash.
14 that the poet; also life
leave forgo; the sense 'depart from' is also in play