An analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnet XCVII


My absence from you has been like a winter; you are the pleasure of the fleeting year!

How cold and frozen I have been, what dark days I’ve seen.

December’s bareness was everywhere.

Yet our time apart was like summer, or the teaming growth of autumn, like the wanton burden of the prime, like empty wombs after “their lords’ decease.”

But this abundance seemed to me naught but the naïve hope of orphans and unborn fruit, for summer and its joys wait on (wait for; attend on) you; and, when you are away, even the birds are silent.

Or, if they do sing, they are so lacking in enthusiasm and joy that the leaves turn pale, fearing that winter is near.

The main poetic devices used by this poem are: Figurative language, personification, parallelism, and alliteration.

The central theme of the poem is that the speaker’s lover is so dear to him, that when they are apart, despite all of the wonderful things that may be happening around him, the speaker feels as if it is winter; even the singing of birds is bleak and dismal.

In the first quatrain, the speaker’s use of exclamations mirrors his joy at being reunited with his lover. The speaker uses alliteration and parallel structure to emphasize his pain at their absence. The speaker likens his feelings of sorrow to the “freezings,” “ dark days,” of “ December’s bareness.” In the second quatrain, the speaker creates a contrast between what was going on around him and the emotions he felt; for everyone else, it was “summer’s time,” “the teaming autumn, rich with increase.” Around him there is a celebration of “widow’d wombs”—the birth of new life. But for the speaker, this was merely “the hope of orphans”—futile, naive, and fruitless. The speaker personifies “summer’s pleasures” saying that they “wait on (his love)” indicating that he finds joy only in his lover. This can be interpreted as “summer’s pleasures server you” as well, suggesting that his love has control over summertime. In the final couplet, the speaker moves from his own specific feelings to a statement about the world in general . When his lover is absent, the birds sing “with so dull a cheer,/that leaves pale, dreading the winter’s near”; his lover is so wonderful that without him/her nature itself fears the coming winter.

The first stanza begins as the speaker has been reunited with the speaker, and reflects back on their time apart, comparing it to the winter. The second quatrain presents a contrast between the speaker’s own feelings and the budding life around him, remarking on the teeming life of summer and autumn all around him during his absence. The third quatrain returns to the speaker’s own feelings of sorrow and longing as he expresses his belief that summer pleasures lie only in his love. The speaker uses enjambment during every stanza after the first; this accelerates the reading of the poem, mirroring the speaker’s intense desire to be reunited with his love quickly .