Internet Shakespeare Editions


Bare, ruined choirs . . .

Tintern Abbey today.

However personal some of the sonnets are, Shakespeare certainly intensified the drama in some of them by creating a poetic persona rather different from his actual life.

In one of the most famous of those on the passage of time he writes as one on the very brink of death:

That time of year thou may'st 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 sang.

(Sonnet 73)

Shakespeare would have been only 44 when the Sonnets were published, and it is probable that this poem was written a good ten years earlier.

"Bare ruined choirs" recalls the ruins of the monasteries after they were dissolved by Henry VIII; here, "choir" refers to the place where the choir sang rather than the choristers (the birds) themselves.