From Billy Collins's MasterClass

Discussion With Marie Howe: William Shakespeare

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

Topics include: Discussion With Marie Howe: William Shakespeare


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

Topics include: Discussion With Marie Howe: William Shakespeare

Billy Collins

Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry

Learn More


[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.

I enjoyed this class. I've always liked Billy Collins' poetry reading on the Prairie Home Companion. Among my favorites are: The Lanyard, The Revenant and another that I forget the name of but it has Buddha helping to shovel the driveway and serving hot chocolate at the end. Love that one!

I'm far from finished. I LOVE Billy Collins' poetry.. his voice calls to me... so far I enjoy him talking to 'ME" had to 'break for awhile'... but .

I will continue to re-read & re-listen to this class...just now scouring the used book stores for Billy's Books....Thanks for this Master Class

Now I have a better understanding how to read poetry, what to look for in it and what not.


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.

A fellow student

It's a treat just to hear professional poets read poetry well. I wish they would have gone a bit more into what a "volta" is.

Brian Carey C.

With all due respect (bc I am so much enjoying this series) methinks it be a tad careless to take "thou" in the poem for female. I prefer the less conventional sense for the poem's meaning; particularly as there are studies to suggest Shakespeare was, in fact, homosexual.


Regarding the 'That' in the last line: in the UK we use 'that' to mean 'so' in a quantitive sense - as in, 'I didn't know you were that good.' This is especially common in the Midlands, where Shakespeare was from. 'To love so well (as that)...'

Martina N.

"Margaret are you grieving over golden grove unleaving... it is the blight man was born for, it is Margaret you mourn for"

Martina N.

I believe the "That" in the last couplet refers to the love between them. The fullness of the love between them is what she will lose, as he moves beyond the veil of death. The quatrains bring us a sense of the time-running-out-- so first the season, then the time of day, then just the moments, as we age we focus in closer and can't do as much, til we are on our deathbed. But the loss is also hers, when he dies, because of the relational fullness they have shared.

Jody L.

Great line-by-line and even word-by-word analysis, while not losing sight of the overall meaning.