Sonnet 18 by 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.

Line by Line Explanation

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

This is taken usually to mean ‘What if I were to compare thee etc?’ The stock comparisons of the loved one to all the beauteous things in nature hover in the background throughout.

Thou art more lovely and more temperate

The youth’s beauty is more perfect than the beauty of a summer day. More temperate – more gentle, more restrained, whereas the summer’s day might have violent excesses in store, such as are about to be described.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May

May was a summer month in Shakespeare’s time, because the calendar in use lagged behind the true sidereal calendar by at least a fortnight darling buds of May – the beautiful, much loved buds of the early summer; favourite flowers.

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date

Legal terminology. The summer holds a lease on part of the year, but the lease is too short, and has an early termination (date).

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines

Sometime = on occasion, sometimes; the eye of heaven = the sun.

And often is his gold complexion dimmed

His gold complexion = his (the sun’ s) golden face. It would be dimmed by clouds on overcast days generally.

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

All beautiful things (every fair) occasionally become inferior in comparison with their essential previous state of beauty (from fair). They all decline from perfection

By chance, or nature’ s changing course untrimmed

By chance accidents, or by the fluctuating tides of nature, which are not subject to control, nature’ s changing course untrimmed. untrimmed – this refers to the ballast (trimming) on a ship which keeps it stable.

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st

Nor shall it (your eternal summer) lose its hold on that beauty which you so richly possess. ow’ st = ownest, possess. By metonymy we understand ‘nor shall you lose any of your beauty’.

Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

Nor will death claim you for his own,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’ st

in eternal lines = in the undying lines of my verse. Perhaps with a reference to progeny, and lines of descent to time thou grow’ st – you keep pace with time, you grow as time grows.

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see

For as long as humans live and breathe upon the earth, for as long as there are seeing eyes on the earth.

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

That is how long these verses will live, celebrating you, and continually renewing your life.

Summary

The poet does not feel inclined to compare his friend’s beauty to the beauty of a day in summer season. He believes that his friend his more mild, calm and beautiful than the beauty acquired by a day of summer. The beauty which we witness in a summer’s day is very short lived. The good and beautiful flowers are shaken away and broken down by wild winds, hence, their beauty is short lived.

During summer the sun is sometimes very hot and dazzles very brightly, but sometimes when its rays are covered by clouds, its shine becomes dim. Every beautiful thing in this world looses its beauty and charm, either suddenly or in due course of time.

But the beauty of his friend is eternal and thus will never become less. It is immortal it will neither fade nor decline. The poet is confident that his friend’s beauty would not be taken away even after death. It is eternal and permanent.It would increase with the passage of time. He says that he has immortalized his friend’s beauty through this sonnet, and as long as this sonnet would be read by people, his friend’s beauty would remain alive.

Analysis

Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets in all. The first 126 sonnets are addressed to his friend W.H., while the other 26 sonnets are conventional exercises inverse. The present sonnet is No. 66. The poet points out that every beautiful thing in nature is sure to decline either abruptly or in due course of nature’s time.

But the intellectual and spiritual beauty of his friend W.H. is eternal as it cannot be diminished by the passing of time like other objects. It, on the other hand,will grow permanent because it has been immortalized through this sonnet. So long as this written literature remains, and people read this poem, the beauty of his friend will survive unlike other objects of beauty.

The sonnet is addressed to W.H. This young man may have been Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton or Sir Philip Sidney’s nephew, William Herbert, Third Earl of Pembroke.1.4.6

Theme

The theme of this sonnets, as of the other 153 addressed to W.H. is the permanence and supremacy of love. This is a recurring theme in other sonnets of Shakespeare. The poet gives an assurance of poetic immortality, love and friendship. So long as the written word remains and this poem is read in future,the beauty of his friend, and the poets’ love for his friend would remain alive in the heart, eyes and mind of the readers. It proves the power of written words, which would prove mighter than the law of nature.

Style

This sonnet has been composed in the format of English Sonnet, popularly known as the Shakespearean Sonnet. It has three quartrains of four lines each and a two lines couplet at the end. Two characteristics of Shakespeare standout. The first is known as cantabolic. This refers to the work of someone whose ear is unerring. He is intent upon making his verse as melodious, in the simplest and most obvious sense of the word, as possible and there is scarcely a line, which is out of rhyme, rhythm or tune.

The second characteristic that this sonnet displays is a mystery of every possible rhetorical device. It avoids the monotony. On the whole the style is very wholesome and powerful. It catches the attention of the reader and makes him believe to be true whatever he reads.

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