To submit requests for assistance, or provide feedback regarding accessibility, please contact


Discussion With Marie Howe: William Shakespeare

Billy Collins

Lesson time 8:58 min

Billy and Marie discuss how the speaker in William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 73” uses metaphor to bid a final farewell to his beloved.

Billy Collins
Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry
In his first-ever online class, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins teaches you how to find joy, humor, and humanity in reading and writing poetry.
Get Started


[MUSIC PLAYING] - "That time of year, thou mayst in me behold. When yellow leaves, or none, or a few, do hang upon those boughs which shake against the cold, bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. In me though see'st the twilight of such day as after sunset faded 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 a death-bed whereon it must expire, consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by. This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong, to love that well which thou must leave ere long." - It's beautiful. And this really brings in metaphor, too-- "bare ruin'd choirs," "this time of year, thou mayst in me behold." - Yeah. - You know, it begins by comparing himself to a certain time of year. - Right. - Autumn, close to winter-- almost winter, no snow. - "Yellow leaves, or none, or a few, do hang." So the first four-- there is usually, in a Shakespeare sonnet, there are three quatrains. And then there's the couplet. So just to break it down, in the first quatrain, he's-- well, he's aging. And he's nearer to death than his beloved, let's say. So in the first four lines, he is part of the year. He is the latter part of the year, the fall or early winter. And in the second part, he's the latter part of a day. - Yeah. - So first is the year and a season. The next is a time of day. And then he kind of runs out of diurnal things, then he turns to fire. So he is a, as we would say, a dying fire-- the fire kind of in embers. And then, the couplet says, this-- the whole sonnet, what I just said-- you understand, you "perceiv'st." And then there's this kind of trick. He says, "which makes thy love more strong." - Yeah. - Well, why would-- if he describes himself as fading, and decrepit, and ancient, and it's embers, and the leaves or the trees are bare-- why would you love that more? And it's kind of a, huh? That's paradoxical. And then he gives the killer, "To love that well which thou must leave ere long." - "Thou must leave ere long." Who's leaving who? - Oh, he's leaving. - Yeah, I know. But, "thou must leave ere long." - Oh, "To love that well which thou"-- OK, she has to leave. She's leaving him, but-- - But he is the one who's really leaving. He turns it-- he turns that funny thing twice. - Right. That she's leaving. - "Thou must leave ere long." Well, of course she will leave him, but he's the one who's actually-- - Leaving. - And she's gonna stay. - She is remaining. - Right there. - There's a little-- actually, a Korean poem that says when a couple has loved that strongly, and when the one dies, the one left behind is truly dead. - Of course. - Yeah. Not the dead, they're gone. - So "To love that well." That's an interesting pronoun. "To love that well, which thou must leave ere long." Wh...

Let imagination lead the way

Known for his wit and wisdom, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins is one of America’s most beloved contemporary poets. In his MasterClass, Billy teaches you to appreciate the emotional pull of poetry. Learn his approach to exploring subjects, incorporating humor, and finding your voice. Discover the profound in the everyday, and let poetry lead you to the unexpected.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Loved the relaxed, easy going style of telling the reader about poetry

I watched the videos but haven't worked through the work book yet. So, I'll keeping working with this class, do the exercises, and likely re-watch the videos. I did, however, write about 4 drafts of poems while going through the video lessons alone. I am very inspired to continue.

That was a lot deeper than I had expected. The help with writer's block was especially valuable to me.

It gave a lot of tips and advice and insight on what to do meticulously to write well and better.


Douglas S.

I always love to hear anything about Shakespeare who is my favourite poet and this discussion demonstrated how Shakespeare is in a league of his own in the way he uses metaphor, images, sound and language to create a vivid visual scene to reflect the emotional substance of a deeply felt experience that any reader can relate to.

Diomidis M.

ΚΑΘΕ ΠΛΑΣΜΑ ΔΙΝΕΙ ΑΓΩΝΑ Κοίτα πως κυλούν τα χρόνια,¬¬ κάθε πλάσμα δίνει αγώνα σαν διαγράφει την πορεία του. Δειλινά βαλσαμωμένα στης ανάγκης τον πυθμένα - κατακάθι χρόνου ανίατου. Κι ο θάνατος παραφροσύνη· ξωπίσω του αφήνει μια χούφτα παρελθόν που σβήνει ανάμεσα στα πλήθη και μοιάζει παραμύθι στα μάτια των παιδιών. Πνεύμα και κορμί εξίσου, στο κατώφλι της αβύσσου, στέκει ο χρόνος τ’ αποχαιρετά. Στου μυαλού τον πολιούχο, θησαυρός οι μνήμες πού’ χω μα συγχρόνως λάκκος μ’ ερπετά. Το χάσμα μέσα μου εντείνεις, σε ξέφωτα της μνήμης θα σ’ αντικρύζω πια κι η απώλεια μας διαμορφώνει, βαρύ σφυρί, αμόνι και δυνατή φωτιά. Χρόνε γίνηκες τυφώνας, σκόρπισες το παρελθόν μας κι ολοένα ξεθυμαίνει ο νους και στ’ ονείρου την ανταύγεια βυθιστήκανε καράβια φορτωμένα τόσους θησαυρούς. Συνειρμικά θα τους ξεβράσει, στου νου τ’ ακροθαλάσσι, σαν κύμα η μουσική κι ο στίχος μες στο πάφλασμά της θα μοιάζει κωπηλάτης σε ρότα μυστική… Διομήδης Μεσημβρινός

Matthew C.

I don't comment very often. But it is shocking to me that these two students of poetry overlook that this poem is written to a man, not a woman. This isn't an interpretive choice. Shakespeare's sonnets 1-125 are to a man; the remaining sonnets (125-152) are addressed to a woman, a "Dark Lady." I'd be surprised to find that these two are unaware of this. If its intentional I'd be interested in the explanation for such a choice.

Fred G.

I loved the care and attention they put into the discussion of this sonnet. It made me more aware of the sounds and structure of the poem. I liked the order in the writing exercises. After the iambic exercise my head was attuned to that rhythm and ready to write the sonnet. Sonnets are so fun. At first I thought it was daunting. But a few hours later there's a sparkling new sonnet. It makes me want to write more of these.

A fellow student

When a couple who had loved so long and one dies the one living had also died because he has suffered loss of life his spouse. Eloquently put.

Antonio Michael D.

Sound. Meter. Meaning. Life. What an honour to hear them think through the poem. Sweet music.

Kuya M.

To be taken on this guided tour through Shakespeare's sonnet by these two poetry sages was a great teaching in how to be intimate with words on the page. Billie's reading, alone, opened up that intimacy but the talk of metaphors and word reverberations and the meter and the rhyming connections deepened my very limited poetic intelligence.

Susan A.

Would anyone have a link, or the name of the Korean poem Mr. Collins refers to “that when a couple that has loved that strongly, and one dies, the one left behind is truly dead.” Thank you.


Again too short. Would like to have heard more discussion of the turn and how to go about making a turn.

Tauna S.

I was really looking forward to this. One of my favorite poems. Love their dialogue about this poem.