What is an example of a metaphor in Sonnet 18?

An example of a metaphor in Sonnet 18 is the old horticultural method of grafting. This involved combining the branches of one plant with the body of another. The speaker is suggesting here that his beloved will be grafted onto time, thus enabling the beloved to live forever, immortalized in verse.

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A metaphor is a comparison that does not use the words "like" or "as." The overarching metaphor in this sonnet is that the speaker's beloved is better than the summer's day they are compared to. In likening the beloved to a summer's day in this novel way, in which the metaphor emphasizes differences rather than samenesses, the speaker is taking a fresh look at the worn-out cliché of comparing a lover to summer's beauties.

A specific metaphor or comparison within the extended metaphor of the beloved as superior to summer is the following:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines

In other words, the comparison of the beloved to a summer's day shows the beloved as better because sometimes the sun (the "eye of heaven") is too hot. This, implicitly, is never the case with the lover.

Likewise, the speaker notes that:

often is his gold complexion dimm'd

In this comparison, the personified sun is shown when he is hidden behind a cloud: summer days are not always beautiful, as the lover always is.

Further, the speaker states:

every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm'd;
This gets to the heart of the lover's superiority: unlike summer, the beloved's soul is not changeable.
Finally, the speaker notes that the beloved, unlike a summer's transitory day, is immortal because the speaker has written this sonnet, the words of which are "eternal."
In comparing a beloved to a summer's day, the poet is able to highlight the ability of art to confer immortality on a subject.
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The speaker of Sonnet 18 relies on the metaphor constructed in the first line to create an ongoing, extended metaphor that he returns to throughout the poem.

Initially, the speaker attempts to compare his beloved to a "summer's day," which begins the metaphorical comparison. This relies on the traditional connotations of seasonal representations in literature. While spring is often representative of new life and innocence, summer represents a time of full awakening and more mature experiences. The speaker struggles to find an apt metaphor to convey the beauty of his beloved. After all, the eye of summer is too hot, which is an imperfect comparison. And yet those innocent buds in spring are easily shaken, which fails to represent the strength of his beloved.

The speaker also realizes that seasons ultimately fade from one into the next and that beauty cannot last forever. He later returns to the metaphor originally constructed in the first line, asserting that the "eternal summer" of his beloved shall never fade. This person transcends the barriers and limitations of the natural world, and there is therefore no apt metaphor which can properly capture that type of beauty.

Turning to his own skills, the speaker finally recognizes that his beloved's beauty will be recognized eternally through the lines of this poem. In this way, he believes that he has defied the rules of natural limitations.

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The basic notion in Sonnet 18 is that the beloved cannot legitimately be compared to any features of the natural world, no matter how beautiful they may be. This is because the real beauty of the speaker's beloved cannot be captured in the here and now, in a world of constant change, but only in the immortal lines that Shakespeare has deigned to write about them. In that sense, thanks to the wonders of art, the beloved is able to transcend the everyday world in which we all live and which is subject to the ever-changing seasons.

Toward the end of the poem, the speaker alludes to the old horticultural practice of grafting, whereby the branches of one plant would be grafted onto the body of another, thus giving the branches a chance to live on.

When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st

In effect, what Shakespeare is doing here is to "graft" his beloved onto time and, by doing so, allow the beloved to live forever, immortalized in verse. Like all the various features of the natural world, the speaker's beloved will eventually decay and die. But having been grafted onto time by Shakespeare's unforgettable words, they will live on in the poem as it is read, enjoyed, and analyzed by successive generations.

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William Shakespeare's "Sonnet 18" is one extended metaphor in which the speaker compares his loved one to a summer day. He states that she is much more "temperate" than summer which has "rough winds." He also says she has a better complexion than the sun, which is "dimm'd away" or fades at times. In fact, summer will end at one point, to be replaced by harsher weather. The speaker tells his loved one that her "eternal summer shall not fade" as she ages because he will immortalize her in his poem. Here, Shakespeare crosses the boundary between poet and speaker, and lets us know that they are one (something that we can never assume to be true in a poem). Overall, the Bard uses the extended metaphor of summer to say that the speaker's love is beautiful.

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The main metaphor in the poem is the comparison of the speaker’s love to a summer day.

In the first line, the speaker notes that he is going to compare someone to a “summer’s day.”  This person, his lover, is quite a catch. In fact, she is lovelier than a summer’s day!  She has other advantages.

But thy eternal summer shall not fade

Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest

Her eternal sunshine—a metaphor for her beauty—will last forever, unlike a summer’s day, because she is so lovely.  Although everything that is fair has to decline, she will not.  She will be beautiful “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see.”

In this famous sonnet, we see the traditional practice of comparing one’s girl to something in nature.  Shakespeare often did this, and liked to make fun of it, but in this case we have a simple, straightforward metaphor that will really make a girl feel special.


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