Give a commentary on  the poem "Sonnet 18" by William Shakespeare.  

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Shakespeare developed his own style of poetic sonnet. "Sonnet 18" is a perfect example of the Shakespearean sonnet.  The poem has fourteen lines with three quatrains and a couplet at the end. The rhyme scheme follows a set of pattern of  ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. In Shakepeare's sonnets, he changes his focus and tone in the ninth line of his poem. 

"Sonnet 18" is the first of Shakepeare's sonnets to express romantic love for a young man.  The "thee" in the poem is a"fair youth" that the poet deeply loves.  This sonnet begins as a true love poem; however, the focus changes to the eternal lines of the poem and its effect on the youth.

In the first quatrain, the poet asks a rhetorical question: Should he compare this young man to a summer's day? He intends on answering the question himself.  The man has the qualities of beauty and moderation. The summer day is also beautiful and the temperatures vary...but the day cannot compete with the man.

In the last two lines of the quatrain, the poet ridicules the summer day for the harsh wind that sometimes kills the spring blossoms; and the summertime does not last. Shakespeare employs personification when referring to the summer day's abilities:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date...

The second quatrain continues the theme of the inadequacies of the summer day in comparison to the young man's worth. The sun's beauty is  sometimes clouded over and dimmed.  Everything fades because of nature or fate.

Then, the poet changes to the young man and the poet's tribute to him.

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

In the final quatrain, the poet enlists a metaphor to compare the young man again to the season.  Unlike the summer, his days will not fade away nor will his beauty be lost. Death personified will not be able to brag about how he has conquered the man as he ages.

In the couplet, the poet provides the reason why death will have no victory here. As long as men are alive and able to read this poem, the young man will never die. The poem will stand "in memorial" for the man forever. 

The poem serves two purposes: one to proclaim the beauty of the young man and the poet's love for him; and, to somewhat arrogantly, establish that the poem will make the man live forever through its words.

This poem stands the test of time.  We are still reading it today.  It thoughts are lovely. It makes the reader want to see and know the young man who was the subject of Shakespeare's love.