[Line 1]* – ‘that time of year’ being late autumn or early winter.
[Line 2]* – Compare the line to Macbeth (5.3.23) “my way of life/is fall’n into the sere, the yellow leaf”.
[Line 4]* – ‘Bare ruin’d choirs’ is a reference to the remains of a church or, more specifically, a chancel, stripped of its roof and exposed to the elements. The choirs formerly rang with the sounds of ‘sweet birds’. Some argue that lines 3 and 4 should be read without pause — the ‘yellow leaves’ shake against the ‘cold/Bare ruin’d choirs’ . If we assume the adjective ‘cold’ modifies ‘Bare ruin’d choirs’, then the image becomes more concrete — those boughs are sweeping against the ruins of the church. Some editors, however, choose to insert ‘like’ into the opening of line 4, thus changing the passage to mean ‘the boughs of the yellow leaves shake against the cold like the jagged arches of the choir stand exposed to the cold’. Noted 18th-century scholar George Steevens commented that this image “was probably suggested to Shakespeare by our desolated monasteries. The resemblance between the vaulting of a Gothic isle [sic] and an avenue of trees whose upper branches meet and form an arch overhead, is too striking not to be acknowledged. When the roof of the one is shattered, and the boughs of the other leafless, the comparison becomes more solemn and picturesque” (Smith 148).
[Line 7]* – ‘black night’ is a metaphor for death itself. As ‘black night’ closes in around the remaining light of the day, so too does death close in around the poet.
[Line 8]* – ‘Death’s second self’ i.e. ‘black night’ or ‘sleep’. Macbeth refers to sleep as ‘The death of each day’s life’ (2.2.49).
[Line 12]* – ‘that’ i.e. the poet’s desires.
[Line 13]* -…
After the sun sets in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Which is soon extinguished by black night,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
The image of death that envelops all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
In me you can see the glowing embers
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
That lie upon the ashes remaining from the flame of my youth,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
As on a death bed where it (youth) must finally die
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
Consumed by that which once fed it.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
This you sense, and it makes your love more determined
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
Causing you to love that which you must give up before long.