What are the changes that happen to the summer sun according to "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day" (Sonnet 18)?

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In "Sonnet 18," Shakespeare debates comparing his beloved to a summer's day, but ultimately determines that this would be an inappropriate (and even unflattering) comparison. He makes this determination for several reasons, but specifically he outlines several things which happen to the summer sun and which will not happen to his lover—that is, things which make the summer sun less than perfect.

Describing the sun as "the eye of heaven," a metaphor, Shakespeare says that it sometimes shines too hot, which is not pleasant. He also notes that it is sometimes "dimmed"—presumably, indicating that the sun is sometimes hidden behind clouds—and that eventually it will "decline" from its peak, either in terms of the sun sinking at nightfall, or simply the sun giving way to more autumnal weather. In any event, Shakespeare is saying that the summer sun is not actually a pinnacle of unchanging beauty, because it can be too hot and can easily be overtaken by cloud. Apart from anything else, summer itself has too short a "lease" and is quickly over, whereas his beloved's beauty will last forever, immortalized in Shakespeare's verse.

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In Sonnet XVIII, Shakespeare writes that the summer sun can be too short, too hot, and sometimes it only shines dimly.

In this sonnet of Shakespeare's, which is written in the Petrarchan form, the first four lines interrelate in order to form an argument that the last few lines will answer. In these first lines, the poet states that comparing his beloved to a summer's day lends his love only a temporal nature. So, in his argument against the summer sun, the poet states that

  1. Summer does not last long enough since it "hath all too short a date."
  2. Often the sun is unbearably hot when it shines upon the earth: "sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines."
  3. The summer sun often loses its brilliance because of clouds and such: "and often is his gold complexion dimm'd . . ."

For these reasons, the poet decides to preserve his beloved's beauty, not in a comparison to the sun, but in the written verse: "when in eternal lines to time thou growest." As long as people live and read, the beloved's beauty will be preserved in the poet's verse.

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