What is a summary of Sonnet 18?

Expert Answers info

Jay Gilbert, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Lecturer

bookB.A. from University of Oxford

bookM.A. from University of Oxford

bookPh.D. from University of Leicester


calendarEducator since 2017

write2,217 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

In this sonnet, structured according to the Shakespearean (rather than the Petrarchan) rhyme scheme, the speaker questions whether he should compare his lover "to a summer's day." He decides, however, that the comparison would be ill-fitting, because his lover is both "more lovely and more temperate."

The speaker goes on to identify various elements which make summer less lovely than the subject of the poem. Summer can be subject to "rough winds," and "summer's lease" is short. Sometimes the sun ("the eye of heaven") can be too hot in summer; likewise, the sun is "often...dimm'd." Everything that is "fair from fair sometime declines" with the passage of nature.

By contrast, the speaker says, the "eternal summer" of his beloved "shall not fade." He declares that unlike summer, which passes away into autumn as a natural consequence of time moving on, his beloved will never wander in the "shade" of death. Instead, the "eternal lines" of the poem will live on beyond either its author or its subject. "So long as men can breathe or eyes can see," the subject of the poem will live because the poem itself will endure. As such, his lover is entirely unlike summer, which can only last for a brief space.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial



habuy2k | Student

In this poem, Shakespeare is comparing his friend to a summer's day.  He knows that the summer is unpredictable and often loses it's luster behind the clouds of the day.  It also has winds that are abusive and is temperate in that the good of summer comes and goes meaning sometimes it can be too hot or not hot enough.

In the end, the poet realizes that relationships are ever changing and drifting from one reality to another.  Hence, though his friend, may compare to a summer's day, his love and friendship shall endure through the changes that come with life. No matter how we look at those we purport to love and no matter their flaws, it is those flaws that make up life and often give us our identities.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial
kc4u | Student

Sonnet 18 marks a shift in the Fair Friend group as the modus of immortalization shifts from the one through biological procreation to another idea--poetic immortality-- to textualize the beauty of the beloved so that it lives on even after the end of the person's life.

In the first quatrain, Shakespeare says he cannot compare the beauty of his friend to that of a 'Summer's day' as it is located very much within the flux of time--the inconsistency of sunlight and the sweet buds being abused by the harsh winds adds to the blemish of the day. It is more intemperate and less lovely than the loved one. Any analogy between the immortal (potentially) beauty of the beloved and the ephemeral beauty of nature is to turn the loved one into a mere mortal as all beautiful things decay in natural course over a certain period of time. For the comparison to stand tall, it has to be an 'eternal summer'.

Thus the poet decides to engraft the friend's beauty on to the eternal lines to time--the lines of his poetry so that death cannot drag him to his shadowy land of oblivion. The sonnet ends on a confident note with the couplet as it declares that these poetical lines would go on to establish the immortality of the friend, surviving as long as the humankind survives upon earth.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial