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.