Sonnet 18

Sonnet 18

by William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

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Shakespeare’s famous sonnet is 14 lines, in iambic pentameter, with an ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG rhyme scheme. He compares his love to a summer’s day and decides – after listing many of the negative qualities of summertime – that his love is better.

In Line 1, we get one of the most famous lines in all of English literature.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

The Speaker states the topic question. The answer to his question is yes, he will make that comparison. The comparison is worth making, in theory, because most people enjoy summertime. Countless songs have been written about the greatness of summertime. If the Speaker’s love can be compared to summertime, and come out ahead, then woo boy, what a love. That is a major victory. Or is it?

What are the negatives of summertime?

  • It’s not temperate
  • Rough winds in May
  • It does not last long enough
  • Sometimes…. too hot
  • Sometimes… cloudy
  • Not… forever

One wonders if the Speaker does not like the summer much and is using the occasion of this comparison to point out summer’s negative traits.

In line 9, the Speaker switches from a discussion of summer’s negative traits to a discussion of his love’s positive traits. Unlike summer, the Speaker’s loveliness is eternal.

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

The Speaker explains that his love’s beauty will not lessen and that his love’s beauty will not die. Why? He gives the answer beginning in Line 12.

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:

The Speaker says he is immortalizing his love in “eternal lines.” In lines 13 and 14, the Speaker lays out the parameters of that eternity.

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

We are a few hundred years on from the time this was written and men still read the poem and give life to the Speaker’s love. One need not be humble to be accurate.

The poem is simple in its descriptions. However, there is also something somewhat perplexing about it. The Speaker does not actually describe his love at all. No talk of eyes, hair, skin, lips, fairness, kindness, intelligence… nothing specific. The love interest almost seems to be self-directed inasmuch as the Speaker seems certain of the immortality of his own written work.

i.e. “You will live as long as the poem lives because you are the poem.”

Who is William Shakespeare?

William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s greatest dramatist. He is often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon” (or simply “the Bard”). His extant works, including collaborations, consist of some 39 plays154 sonnets, three long narrative poems, and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. They also continue to be studied and reinterpreted.

Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-AvonWarwickshire. At the age of 18, he married Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children: Susanna and twins Hamnet and Judith. Sometime between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part-owner of a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men. At age 49 (around 1613), he appears to have retired to Stratford, where he died three years later. Few records of Shakespeare’s private life survive; this has stimulated considerable speculation about such matters as his physical appearancehis sexualityhis religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others.

Shakespeare produced most of his known works between 1589 and 1613. His early plays were primarily comedies and histories and are regarded as some of the best work produced in these genres. He then wrote mainly tragedies until 1608, among them HamletRomeo and JulietOthelloKing Lear, and Macbeth, all considered to be among the finest works in the English language. In the last phase of his life, he wrote tragicomedies (also known as romances) and collaborated with other playwrights.

Many of Shakespeare’s plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy in his lifetime. However, in 1623, two fellow actors and friends of Shakespeare’s, John Heminges and Henry Condell, published a more definitive text known as the First Folio, a posthumous collected edition of Shakespeare’s dramatic works that included all but two of his plays. The volume was prefaced with a poem by Ben Jonson, in which Jonson presciently hailed Shakespeare in a now-famous quote as “not of an age, but for all time”

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