That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth 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 the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed 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.
I'll never forget the Rector's Conference at St. Mary's Seminary during which our rector, musing on the relative emptiness of the seminary in the 90's compared to its peak-filled capacity of the 50's and 60's quoted this sonnet, especially the verse:
bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
When I came upon this picture of cassocks hanging on the line to dry, I thought of that rector's conference and Shakespeare's sonnet. I suppose the rector looked at so many empty pews in chapel and thought back to younger days when no seat could be spared.
Though the rector was thinking primarily about the death or passing of an age in the church, this sonnet surely gives us pause to consider our own mortality. And more than the verse about singing birds, its last two verses have sustained me and given me much to pray about at funerals and during times of other losses:
this thou perceiv'st which makes thy love more strong
to love that well, which thou must leave ere long.
Thanks Fr. Leavitt, thanks William Shakespeare.