Explain why the comparison of the poet’s love to a summer’s day is not appropriate in "Sonnet 18."

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Shakespeare's famous Sonnet 18, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" begins with a false comparison, and the poem goes on to indicate why the comparison of the beloved to a summer's day is inappropriate. Ultimately, the speaker is expressing that his beloved and his love for her is superior to the summer's day.

The first stanza begins the sonnet as follows:

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; (1-4)
After asking the question in line 1, the speaker immediately resolves that he should not compare the beloved to a summer's day, or at least, if he does, he will find that she is superior to it. The second line explains that she is "more lovely and more temperate" than the summer. Further, in the summer, "rough winds do shake the darling buds of May," meaning that the summer takes some of the beauty from the springtime (clearly, a negative trait of summer). In line 4, the speaker suggests that the summer is too brief, and that beloved's loveliness has greater longevity. All of this means that a comparison to a summer's day does not do the beloved justice.
A similar idea is developed in stanza two. The speaker continues,
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; (5-8)
Here, he argues that summer can be too hot and explains why the summer is not so perfect. These are additional reasons the beloved is superior to the summer's day. This point becomes even more direct in stanza three:
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: (9-12)
The beloved's "eternal summer shall not fade," which means unlike summer, which must fade into fall, her beauty will continue throughout the year, and even throughout eternity. She will not "lose possession" of her beauty. She will not even lose her beauty in death because "in eternal lines," her beauty will be preserved. This means that the speaker is immortalizing her perfection in this poem.
The couplet that ends the poem reads as follows:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. (13-14)
Elaborating on the idea in line 12, the speaker continues to say that as long as men live and can read his poem, the speaker's beloved will have her beauty celebrated in this poem. The poem "gives life" to her, even after her death. Clearly, someone whose beauty and love can live on for centuries in a poem is superior to a summer's day with all of its flaws and its inevitable end.
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droxonian eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Sonnet 18, the speaker considers comparing his beloved to a summer's day, but ultimately decides that the comparison would not be apt because "thou art more lovely and more temperate." In toying with, and then dismissing, the comparison to a summer's day, the poet is interrogating an easy comparison common to romantic poetry and ultimately finding it lacking as a vehicle through which to truly convey his lover's beauty.

The key reasons for this, according to the poet, are twofold. First, his beloved is "more lovely and more temperate" than summer—unlike summer, which sometimes is "too hot," and whose "gold complexion" is sometimes "dimm'd," the beloved, it is implied, does not suffer from these drawbacks. Moreover, it is inappropriate to compare the beloved to a summer's day because summer, ultimately, does not last very long: "Summer's lease hath all too short a date." By comparison, the "eternal summer" of the beloved will be preserved forever, never falling victim to "shade," for one simple reason: the beloved's "summer" is immortalized in the poem. Because the poet has memorialized his beauty, the poem will "give life to" it for "so long as men can breathe or eyes can see."

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lmetcalf eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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If you think of a summer's day as beautiful and perfect, then the comparison seems like it will be very positive, especially when you consider that the speaker of the poem states in the second line that the person is "more lovely and more temperate."  That seems like a very high compliment.  What is odd about the poem then is that next six lines make mention of all of the negative things about summer.  Sometimes it is cloudy, hot, windy, and the season doesn't last long.  With that established, then the speaker explains that while all pretty things eventually fade and die, the person he is speaking of will not fade and die because his or her beauty will be captured forever within the lines of the poem.  I don't know if the comparison is inappropriate, but the poem does have a surprising intention as revealed in the last six lines of the poem. 

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