William Shakespeare's 18th Sonnet:
Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?
William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's preeminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon" (or simply "The Bard"). His surviving works consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language, and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.
*How is this Sonnet explained?
In the first line the speaker introduces the comparison of his beloved to a summer’s day. The speaker then builds on this comparison when he writes, “Thou art more lovely and more temperate” (2) because he is describing his beloved in a way that could also describe summer. When he describes “rough winds [that] do shake the darling buds of May,” (3) he is using rough winds as a metaphor for capricious chance and change, and he implies that his beloved does not suffer from these winds as summer does.
The speaker anthropomorphizes the sky, or “heaven,” (5) by using the metaphor of an “eye” (5) for the sun so that the comparison between a person and a season becomes vivid. By assigning heaven an “eye,” the speaker invokes the image of his beloved’s eyes. Similarly, in the next line when the speaker mentions that summer’s “gold complexion” is often “dimmed,” (6) he is attempting to compare another human attribute of his beloved with some trait of summer.
When the speaker assures his beloved that her “eternal summer shall not fade,” (9) he is using summer as a metaphor for her beauty. Using the word “fade” facilitates the comparison of the abstract notion of a summer’s day to the concrete person of the beloved because fading is a quality of light. Similarly, when the speaker writes of the beloved entering the “shade” (10) of death, he is expanding on the use of the metaphor and reinforcing the poem’s primary conceit. When the speaker boasts that his beloved will not suffer the same fate as a summer’s day because he has committed her to “eternal lines,” (12) he adds the theme of poetry itself to a sonnet that had previously been a love poem.
The couplet concludes the sonnet by tying together the themes of love and poetry. In it the speaker starkly contrasts the life spans of his poem and his beloved’s memory to the fleeting nature of a summer’s day. He boasts that, unlike a summer’s day, his poetry and the memory of his beloved will last “so long as men can breathe or eyes can see” (13). This last comparison provides a stark contrast to the time period, “a summer’s day,” (1) introduced at the beginning and exalts poetry along with the beloved.
- Nature (Summer)
- Comparison between the beloved and summer
The rhyme scheme in this poem is abab, cdcd, gg.
*Figures of speech:
- Personification: e.g. "Nor shall death brag thou wand' rest in his shade," Here, death is given the ability to "brag" and to "wander" and to provide shade. Obviously, the actual state of death can do none of these things. Death, at its most factual definition, is the absence of life.
The tone of sonnet 18 is less ambiguous. It shows a real faith in the power of art to bestow eternity and attract love.