Sonnet 18 Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Compare and contrast Sonnet 18 and Sonnet 130.  

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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...

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abigailarndt | Student

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.

sunessence | Student

Imagery in Sonnets 18 and 130 are very apparent in these two poems. Shakespeare uses metaphors and nature to express beauty. In Sonnet 18, Shakespeare asks if he should “compare thee to a summer’s day.” He praises his lover, writing how she is unrivalled against a summer’s day and he acknowledges that summer is a season of love and beauty through the imagery because it gives scenery for the readers. He says that anything beautiful, such “summer’s lease,” ends abruptly due to nature or chance. However, he knows that his lover’s “eternal summer shall not fade.” Shakespeare explains that she will grow with time in the “eternal lines” of the sonnet. With the purpose of preserving the woman’s beauty, Shakespeare writes that as long as “men can breathe or eyes can see,” his lover’s memory and beauty will never be forgotten. In Sonnet 130, imagery comes through insults of his mistress. The mistress is dull-eyed, “nothing like the sun.” Her dark lips are beat by the much brighter red of coral. Her chest is dark brown and her hairs are “black wires” on her head. She has no “roses” of color in her cheeks and the breath of his mistress reeks. He knows that she is human with flaws and loves her for being real compared to “any she belied with false compare.” In these two sonnets, imagery is used similarly because they are used to show how beautiful the women in the poem are. However, imagery in Sonnet 130 explains that beauty is not everything because his mistress is far from beautiful but he still loves her wile in Sonnet 18, his mistress is more beautiful than the most beautiful day of the year. In both sonnets, it is apparent that Shakespeare is an admirer of beauty, flaws that are not covered up, and nature.