Explain why the comparison of the poet’s love to a summer’s day is not appropriate in "Sonnet 18."
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)
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)
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)
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. (13-14)
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."
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.