Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 is a captivating love story of a young man fascinated by the beauty of his mistress and affectionately comparing her to nature. The first stanza, ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ opens the poem with an indication of a young man deeply in love (Shakespeare 1). He envisions her as a beautiful creature and even wonders whether her beauty can be compared to any summer season.
This love sonnet falls under the lyric genre with the author expressing deep emotional feelings for his mistress throughout the poem. The first stanza gives an assumption to the reader that the poet is not sure of what is more beautiful, a beautiful summer day or his mistress.
However, the air is cleared in the preceding stanzas that see the poet overcome by flamboyant feelings and admits that his lover is even lovelier than the summer itself (Shakespeare 2). The poem embeds an image of an undying and unending kind of beauty as visualized by the poet.
The poet adopts a thematic structure technique to express to his lover’s beauty. Whilst the first stanza acts as an eye opener of the poet’s attempt to compare his lover with summer, he goes on to state why his lover is better. Stanzas 1-6 give a solid reason as to why his lover cannot be compared with summer. Though summer appears to be beautiful in nature, it is not constant and can be very disappointing if solely relied upon. It also does not last long as his lover’s beauty would.
The stanzas give detailed answers to his rhetorical question posed at the beginning of the poem. The poet’s praises and awe are well expressed in these stanzas by revealing all the beauty qualities seized by his mistress. Her beauty is constant and can neither be shaken by strong winds nor can it become unpredictable like the hot sun. It does not also waiver in the eyes of the beholder like the clouds swallows the summer hence losing its beauty.
Stanzas 7-14 indicates the unending beauty to which he says cannot be claimed by anything, not even a natural calamity such as death. Although he admits that ‘Every fair from fair sometime decline’, he makes his mistress’s beauty an exception by claiming that her youthful nature will never fade (Shakespeare 7). Interestingly, the author takes a different twist in the ending when he no longer compares the beauty to the summer, but rather to the immortality of his poems (Shakespeare 14).
The poem is characterized by an affectionate mood portrayed by the poet throughout the poem. The tone adopted by the poet in the poem is that of a romantic intimacy of a young man intrigued by a woman’s beauty. The mood and the tone therefore play a major role to describe the setting of the poem.
It is obvious that the poet is sitting in a field on a warm summer day (Shakespeare 1). Though the weather seems ideal, it is breezy with rough winds ‘shaking the buds of May’ (Shakespeare 3). This is an indication that the poet is sitting under a tree enjoying the scenery on a hot afternoon. The poet enjoys the unpredictable weather till the clouds swallows the sun and as he states, ‘By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d’, nature always seems to take its course during sunset and sunrise (Shakespeare 8).
The poet uses metaphor and personification to bring life to his poem. He uses figurative speech to presume change, fate and immortality. He speaks of how he will internally save his lover’s beauty from fading from the face of the earth (Shakespeare 12). The use of ‘summer’ as metaphor is used to mean the life of the mistress that should be saved from fate. Fate in this case is portrayed by use of scorching sun and rough winds.
The poet has personified death, rough winds and has even gone further to label the buds as ‘darling’ (Shakespeare 3). Death has been described as a supervisor of ‘its shade’ which is a metaphor of ‘after life’ (Shakespeare 11). All this actions are related to human beings. ‘Eternal lines to lines though growest’ (Shakespeare 12) is a praise to the poet’s poems which he says will last forever so long as ‘men can breathe or eyes can see’, a metaphor symbolizing ‘poet lovers’ will be there to read them (Shakespeare 13).
He views beauty as an art which cannot diminish despite all the hurdles in life. However, the beauty does not apply to everything but only to images that appeals more to the eyes of the beholder than nature itself. That kind of beauty is immortal and surpasses all tribulations caused by nature itself.
The poet is fascinated by his mistress’s beauty such that he cannot imagine that very beauty fading from his eyes. He argues in an expressive manner that the beauty is constant and unlike a ‘summer day’, is not affected by any changes or fate at all. He however, seem to be praising his poem as characterized at the end of the poem where he only compares the everlasting beauty to his poem. His conclusion indicates that the beauty can only end only when the poem cease to exist.
Shakespeare, William. “Shakespeare Sonnet 18.” Shakespeare Sonnets. 1564.
www.albionmisch.com/inspiration/shallicompare.html. 17th August 2011.