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.
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[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.

Collins offers an accessible path to reading and writing poetry. The task seems doable when it's broken down into friendly pieces. The class has given me ideas about how to approach poetry writing as well as channels through which I can teach poetry writing to high school students.

I am a teacher and wanted to hear some tips from Billy Collins and how he teaches poetry. He does mention a few tips that I can share. Thanks.

Similar to a cooking class where the chef starts with cookware and cuts a sheet of paper with a chef's knife before actually cooking anything. Here we get the essentials up front and the actual poems appear later on. I thought at first that he was less energetic than I would have wanted, but the content of the class is compelling enough to make me listen without the need for commercial flair.

I have learned how to stoke the fire of creativity so that I can step out and create work that is unique and different. I have also learned about how to create my own unique voice by tapping into who I am. This was a great masterclass and Billy Collins is quite the personality. Very understated but deeply intelligent, knowledgeable, and insightful.


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.

Mary J.

Some thoughts on the last line. You discuss the use of the word "that" meaning the relationship or the person who is loved, but it can also be an adverb (as in "you love me to that extent because this relationship is coming to a close"). As for who is leaving, it does seem to say the beloved is leaving; perhaps what she is doing is leaving the poet behind because his life is ending and hers goes on.

Kasy L.

I enjoyed this critical analysis and discussion of Shakespeare's "Sonnet 73," a piece I had never read. Thanks for giving me some new literature to think about!

Graeme R.

I wish that the poem could be displayed alongside or superimposed. I kept wanting to look at it as they talked.

Graeme R.

I don't expect impassioned declamation, but Billy's reading lacks every element of feeling to me.

A fellow student

Something I encourage my students to practice is looking for the meter break and thinking about its purpose. Sonnets are manageable bits of poetry that serve as a great starting point for students who are leery of poetry in general.

John S.

This segment was not as interesting for me; I was familiar with most of the content. However I had forgotten about the term, "volta," which of course is the sonnet's turn. It's always a pleasure to return to Shakespeare's work.