Compare and contrast Sonnet 18 and Sonnet 130.
In Sonnet 18, the speaker describes how the person he addresses is more sweet, temperate and fair than the beauty he sees in nature. He even notes how the sun is sometimes dim and how nature’s beauty is sporadic.
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
The speaker concludes that the beauty of the person he’s addressing is not so fleeting because it will live as long as there are people to read this sonnet. His beloved’s beauty last longer than nature because it is immortalized in verse. This lifts her to a goddess-like status.
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and gives life to thee.
In Sonnet 130, the speaker takes an oppositional or ironic approach. He notes how his beloved does not compare to the beauty he sees in nature. Music is more pleasing than her voice. Coral is more red than her lips. The speaker is chastising other poets who describe the one they love with exaggerations that are so over the top, they are “false comparisons.”
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think, my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
The two sonnets are similar in that they compare a loved one’s beauty to the beauty of nature. Sonnet 18 is effusive and traditional. Her beauty is more impressive than nature and is immortal through this verse. Sonnet 130 is ironic, satiric and literally more down to earth. While many poets have described loved ones with goddess-like qualities, the speaker in sonnet 130 is much more honest and practical. In fact, you could say that the speaker in sonnet 130 is challenging speakers in other poems, like the one in sonnet 18. It’s like he’s saying his loved one is just as rare and beautiful: he doesn’t need to make exaggerated comparisons to prove it. Shakespeare shows his versatility and/or the willingness to mock others and himself.
Sonnet 18 and Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare are similar in that the speaker in both poems describes the object of his affections through nature imagery. They are different in that the speaker in Sonnet 18 uses nature imagery to suggest that his lover is even finer or more beautiful than nature, whereas the speaker in Sonnet 130 uses these images to suggest that his mistress is less beautiful than the natural world.
In the first line of Sonnet 18, the speaker asks, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” signifying similarities between the speaker’s lover and the summer. After suggesting that this person is even more “lovely” than summer, he continues the comparison describing “rough winds” shaking the “darling buds of May.” The use of these images creates a picture of the unpleasantness and disruption that summer brings.
The speaker in Sonnet 130 uses natural elements and colors to describe physical appearance. The first line proclaims, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” Both summer and the sun are images of light and warmth, and the speaker uses these images in his descriptions in both poems. In the following lines, the speaker refers to coral and snow to describe his mistress’ physical form. He explains,
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun.
Images involving the sun and snow in this sonnet suggest movement through the seasons. In invoking the seasons, both of these poems also allude to natural cycles and the passage of time.
As a point of contrast, the speaker in Sonnet 18 focuses on praising and uplifting his subject, while the speaker in Sonnet 130 presents his mistress in an unfavorable light. Literary devices and nature imagery employed in Sonnet 18 serve to elevate the speaker’s lover and present him or her in high esteem. The speaker expresses his reverence and eternal devotion, explaining “thy eternal summer shall not fade,” again using nature imagery to praise his lover. He goes on to suggest that his lover will live on through the words of the poem, claiming,
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
The speaker in Sonnet 130 takes an unconventional approach to representing a lover in poetry. He uses references to nature not to draw favorable comparisons, but to highlight differences. For example, in describing multicolored roses, he explains that “no such roses see I in her cheeks,” suggesting a dull or flat complexion.
He further notes, “I grant I never saw a goddess go,” firmly tying his mistress to the earth, given that she only “treads on the ground.” However, heaven is referenced when the speaker professes his true affection. While his mistress is no goddess, the speaker’s love transcends the human world. Images and metaphors illustrate the shortcomings of his mistress, but despite all of her apparent flaws, the speaker still loves her.