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It is possible to understand it straight after the very first line “that time of year thou mayst in me behold” that does not mention yellow leaves yet. Also the first line tells us about the theme of the whole sonnet as autumn is the metaphor of an old age. The absence or the small number of leaves in the trees symbolizes health or beauty, which a person is deprived of when he is old: “When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang”. The cold wind, “shake against the cold”, conveys hard and sorrowful character of old age. The most controversial place in the sonnet is “bare ruined choirs”. It may be interpreted as the ruins of old monasteries. In the line “in me thou seest the twilight of such day” it is possible to trace the dying life and the youth as the day is the symbol of the life in the poetry. The phrase “black night” emphasizes the absoluteness of the night. This phrase is parallel to the phrase “twilight of… day”. The whole second quatrain represents the detailed metaphor, in which the old age and death are likened to the sunset and night. In the phrase “seals up all in rest” rest means calmness and motionless. The verb “glow” unites the ideas of the light and warmness and in the given case it may be understood as dumping fire. The phrase “glowing of such fire” is parallel to “twilight of such day”. “Ashes of his youth” is a metaphor, which reflects the old age that is likened to dumping fire and the beginning of burning that is likened to youth. “Death-bed” is a couch of bed.
The ending of the poem is unique and fascinating. “To love that well which thou must leave ere long” – the poet talks about his activity he does not want to leave and end. There is another interpretation of this ending: if “thy love” is the poet, the sentence can be interpreted in the following way: this makes me [poet] stronger as makes me love what I will have
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