What is the significance of comparison in Sonnet 18, "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day," by Shakespeare?

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Shakespeare is comparing the inspiration for his sonnet with the most perfect and beautiful of nature's creations, the summer's day. In the extended simile Shakespeare compares the object of his affections with the temporary appeal of the summer. He decides that 'summer's lease hath all too short a date:' meaning it is brief and transient, unlike the 'eternal summer' of his affections. He also observes that her beauty is preserved by his words - a feature typical of poets writing at the time whose verse was often used to immortalise their patrons - in the final rhyming couplet: So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this and this gives life to thee.
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The power of Sonnet 18 is how it uses the imagery of the natural world to help establish the feeling of love the speaker holds.  The opening line helps to establish a mood that creates a transcendent vision of love and affection.  This is continued throughout the sonnet, where the ability to unify the natural and objective order to things as well as the subjectively personal is evident.  The Sonnet accomplishes this harmonious union through the employment of imagery.  Such mental pictures can be seen in the descriptions that can be described in terms such as  "temperate" and "gold complexion."

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