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In lines 5-8 of sonnet 18 by shakespeare, what does "complexion"...

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abbybb | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 23, 2012 at 4:55 AM via web

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In lines 5-8 of sonnet 18 by shakespeare, what does "complexion" symbolizes?

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;

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saransnyh | Student , Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted September 23, 2012 at 6:17 AM (Answer #1)

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Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, 
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;

  • Here comes the major personification of nature. Put simply, the speaker’s saying sometimes the sun is too hot, and other times you can’t even see it at all (hidden, we assume, by clouds).
  • But instead of being boring, he calls the sun the "eye of heaven," refers to it using the word "his," and gives it a "complexion," which generally means refers to the skin of the face.
  • Check out how much more information about the summer we’re getting than we are about the beloved. Indeed, the speaker is carefully describing the summer individually, and even in human terms, while he only describes "thee" in one line and only relative to the summer.
  • "Complexion," in particular, is especially interesting, as it brings back the whole "humours" theme we saw in "temperate."
  • "Complexion" used to be used to describe someone’s health, specifically with regard to their balance of humours. Thus, we see here again that the speaker is combining descriptions of external weather phenomena with internal balance.

And every fair from fair sometime declines, 
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

  • With these lines, the speaker gets even broader in his philosophy, declaring that everything beautiful must eventually fade away and lose its charm, either by chance or by the natural flow of time. Kind of like teen pop stars.
  • Now what exactly does "untrimm’d" refer to?
  • We might read it as what happens to "fair" or beautiful things. By that reading, things that are beautiful eventually lose their trimmings, or their decorations, and thus fade from beauty.
  • On the other hand, "untrimm’d" is also a term from sailing, as you "trim," or adjust, the sails to take advantage of the wind. This gives "untrimm’d" a completely opposite meaning; instead of "made ugly and plain by natural changes," it means "unchanged in the face of nature’s natural changes."
  • Here, then, we are subtly prepped for the turn we’re about to see in…

 

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