What metaphors and symbols are used in sonnet 18 by Shakespeare? I thought about the summer as a symbol for youth.

Expert Answers
Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare is being quite clever here. Yes, summer is traditioinlly associated with youth, but look at what he's saying (metaphors and symbols are highlighted; explains follow):

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:

**First the speaker praises the lover, saying she is more lovely than the most pleaseant summer day, but soon the cool winds of autumn will fell the flowers...summer doesn't last long, nor does one's youth.

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;

**Fair skin was prized in Shakespeare's day.  The speaker anticipates the loss of this attribute through aging. 

But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee. 

**Finally, the speaker concludes that the beloved is blessed with 'eternal summer' in his eyes, and that even Death won't be able to take away the memory of their love. 


blacksheepunite eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My colleagues have answered this very well. I'd like to add a few comments.

Summer traditionally represents the time in life when we are fully blooming. Spring is the virtuous youth. The metaphor he is playing with is the traditional notion that we all live the seasons of man, and that we have the most promise in the spring and are at our hottest (ripest) in the summer. As my colleagues have pointed out, the metaphor breaks down: it is too hot in the summer, while she is temperate. He can't compare her to a rosebud either, because they are vulnerable and apt to be destroyed. These two metaphors refer to physical and spiritual qualities: the summer is the full realization of her beauty (and also, possibly, includes a sexual awakening); the spring speaks of virtue (buds=virgins) as well as promise. Just as the summer is too hot to work as a metaphor, there are problems with the use of the spring/bud metaphor: rough winds. The problem is that in nature, no virtue lasts forever, and every promise of perfection ends in destruction. So the nature metaphor is rejected. He also uses the metaphor of Death's shade to show the possibility that she could be eclipsed by death, that death could hide her or that she would fall into his shadow and be forgotten. The final metaphor compares the eternal spirit (or essence) of a person to the eternal power of the written word and, implicitly, the poet to a god: she lives forever in lines that he writes, after all.

sagetrieb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The speaker announces his first simile--a comparison-- in the first line:  Shall I compare thee to a summer's day--and then shows the ways in which his love is even lovelier than this comparison allows. When he says "thy eternal summer shall not fade," he uses a metaphor that suggests she will always be young to him, that she has a glow and vitality that will be everlasting. He personifies Death, claiming "he" will never claim his lover, that she will never die but always live (metaphorically) in his heart. He then says his poetry will give "life" to her, by "life" meaning she will remain immortal on the page, thus comparing physical life to the thoughts created by beautiful words of poetry.

lucarisso | Student

Why do you use "She" when talking about this sonnet? Everyone knows it was addressed to a boy! Why this prudery?

wiseguy91 | Student

Actually most you are right. Shakespeare  wanootropic righting to man or a woman but his bisexual wife

ananddhhddd | Student

nice answers ..

thanks all of you!!!

codruta | Student

I would like to make a correction to the answers you gave.  As you all know Shakespeare published 154 sonnets. The first 126 are adressed to "The fair Lord", thus to a MAN and not to a WOMAN!!! The dedication on the volume says: "To W.H." who critics speculate was either William Herbert Earl of Pembroke or Henry Wriothesley.