The poet begins a new sequence of sonnets, written in his absence from the youth during the summer and autumn months, although the first image in Sonnet 97 is of winter. The previous positions of the young man and the poet are now reversed, and it is the poet who apologizes for repudiating the relationship by associating with other friends.
Clearly a lapse in the poet's fortitude, as well as his judgment, is indicated since he wishes to renew the relationship that the youth callously dismissed. There is a nostalgic tone in the poet's reminiscence: "How like a winter hath my absence been / From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!" Images of different seasons, which are evoked principally for contrast, reflect such mood shifts, from gaiety to despair. For example, autumn is characterized as "teeming" — meaning bountiful — with "rich increase" of the harvest. But "teeming" also means "pregnant," so that although trees are bearing fruit, nevertheless the poet feels barren because he and the youth are separated. This archaic meaning of "teeming" as pregnant also explains the poet's use of the phrases "widowed wombs," "abundant issue," and "orphans and unfathered fruit" — all images connected with childbearing.
When the friend is away, then whatever the true season, it is like barren winter for the poet. Even summer becomes winter, "For summer and his pleasures wait on thee, / And, thou away, the very birds are mute." The image of winter, symbolizing both physical and emotional "freezings," unites the sonnet, which begins and ends with the poet lamenting being alone.