Sonnet 18 Summary

The Poem (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

This fourteen-line poem begins with a straightforward question in the first person, addressed to the object of the poet’s attention: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” After a direct answer, “Thou art more lovely and more temperate,” the next seven lines of the poem develop the comparison with a series of objections to a summer day.

William Shakespeare develops the “temperate” elements of his comparison first, leaving the “lovely” qualities for later consideration. His first criticism of summer is that in May rough winds shake the “darling” buds. This objection might seem trivial until one remembers that the poet is invoking a sense of the harmony implicit in classical concepts of order and form which writers of the Renaissance emulated. His use of the term “darling” extends the harmonious concept to include the vision of an orderly universe embracing its creations and processes with affection.

Such terms apply only to the ideal universe, however. In nature’s corrupt state, after Adam’s fall, all sublunary (earthly) forms and events fail to adhere to their primal harmony. Hence, rough winds shake the May buds and, as the next line indicates, summer is too short. Sometimes the sun is too hot; at other times the day becomes cloudy.

In lines 7 and 8, the poet summarizes his objections to the summer day by asserting that everything that is fair will be “untrimmed,” either by chance or by a...

(The entire section is 453 words.)