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Analysis of Sonnet 97
How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!-
What old December's bareness everywhere!
And yet this time remov'd was summer's time,-
The teeming autumn big with rich increase
Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime,
Like widow'd wombs after their lords' decease:
Yet this abundant issue seem'd to me
But hope of orphans, and unfather'd fruit;
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And thou away the very birds are mute:
Or if they sing, 'tis with so dull a cheer
That leaves look pale, dreading the winter's near.
What a beginning to a great sonnet. This sonnet, understood quite will in the first quatrain, presents a few difficulties throughout the second and third quatrains. This is obviously addressed to a loved one, more specifically a woman who Shakespeare loved. 5: 'This period of separation from you was due to summer', where "summer's time" signifies his youth, moreover, his sexual prime. 6: 'Overflowing autumn [his middle age] is rich with children produced from luxuriant [or frolicsome] experiences of my youth'. Line 8 closes this quatrain with a more happy than mournful meaning, for the widowed reveres the child even more after the father's death. In line 9, I read "abundant issue" as 'topic of general debate or concern', referring to the "lords' decease" in line 8, but it could also mean a person capable of bearing many children, either the addressee or the woman of his prime, or even Shakespeare himself. If the first, then it is addressed to more than one person and is a result of his absence--he is not able to produce children, only obtain orphans. But if the second, it modifies his hope for orphans. If Shakespeare is the "abundant issue" then this is a fine reading; however, if the "abundant issue" is the child of the widow, this poses a problem because it faults logic to say that the mother is widowed "Yet" her child is an orphan.
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