That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love
To love that well which thou must leave ere
The most famous of Shakespeare’s sonnets,this one has some of the finest visual imagery one comes across in Shakespeare’s sonnets.”when yellow leaves or none or few , do hang/Upon those boughs which shake against the cold”-this is the time of autumn when the trees are bare and shake against the cold”-a reference to the age of the poet when he passes through the stage of old age and is waiting for the sunset of his life . The “season” metaphor of the year corresponds to the poet’s lifetime with its various stages and then slowly the poem switches to the “day” metaphor in which the poet’s life is compared to the different stages of the day(that time of day instead of that time of year).The poet is now talking about the twilight of the day and the black night which takes away the twilight.Finally the poem switches to “the moment” when the fire glows on the ashes of his youth on the death-bed “where it must expire,consumed by that which it was nourished by”. A progression in time from the year,to the day and finally to the moment.
The dominance of the visual elements can be felt in the use of the words :”behold”,”yellow”,”seest”,”twilight”,”fadeth”,”black night”,”glowing”,”perceiv’st”. The image of the autumn – yellow leaves,bare boughs, birdless trees,the boughs shaking against the cold, bare ruined choirs of trees where the birds sang not long ago is a recurrent one in Shakespeare’s plays as well as poems. The sonnet is structured as 3 quatrains and two lines,each of the quatrain dealing with a different division of time-the first one with a year of time,the second one with the day ,the third one with the moment.
Spiders infest the sky.
They are palms, you say,
hung in a web of light.
Garlands beheading the body
and everybody dressed in white.
Who are we ghosts of?
Upset like water
I dive for my favourite tree
which is no longer there
though they’ve let its roots remain.
© 1976, Adil Jussawalla
From: Missing Person
Publisher: Clearing House, Mumbai, 1976
1. In the first one is a beautiful image of the palm trees (which appear to you as soon as you land in the airport) ,their fronds against the setting sun looking like spiders hung in a web of light.
2. The second one has two lovely images :Garlands beheading the body meaning the heavy garlands have almost covered the head of the diseased .”Everybody dressed in white:who are we ghosts of ?” referring to the custom of the near and dear ones wearing white clothes in the funeral
3. The third one has a beautiful image “upset like water” the poet “dives” for my favourite tree. Apparently in the gloom of the funeral the poet is upset like “water”,like the stillness of the waters touched by a falling leaf. The favourite tree is no longer there,although its roots still exist. “the roots still exist” refers to the poet’s own roots in his own childhood days spent here before his exile .
(Translated from Hindi)
Father sits on other side of the table. Two moons shine in the courtyard — one red and the other yellow.
I run to reach there.
Brother sits on this side of the table.
Father has returned to this ruined house twelve years after his death. I know that the place where we are doesn’t exist.
He was not transparent before he died.
For twelve years we searched for him in the hills. He never searched for us.
He neither ate nor talked – nor was.
He has returned to his old house as if it had never been destroyed and he had never died.
I ran towards him. He towards me.
Brother vanished. Having felt father’s presence, he comes down the sky-path.
Father has already returned by the same path.
“Two moons shine in the courtyard-one red and the other yellow”. The moon of now and the moon of then– when father was not transparent. The place we are in does not exist and father has returned to this house as if it had never been destroyed and as if he had never died.Having felt father’s presence ,brother comes down the sky-path. But father has already returned by the same path.
The poem is all about return –return from the red moon of then to the yellow moon of now,from transparency to opacity ,from existence to non-existence and non-existence to existence.From the other side of the table to this side of the table.