Why is Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 so famous?

Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 is so famous, in part, because it addresses a very human fear: that someday we will die and likely be forgotten. The speaker of the poem insists that the beauty of his beloved will never truly die because he has immortalized her in text. He has declared her to be more beautiful than one of the most beautiful things, a summer day. But she will be constant, eternal, and it cannot be.

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Most sonnets are love poems; at least, we can say this about Shakespearean sonnets. So there must be something particular about this sonnet that makes it so memorable. Perhaps it is something about the fact that it was designed to be memorable: being memorable is actually its point.

In it, the speaker professes that, though "nature's changing course" means that beauty fades, the beauty of his beloved never will, because he has preserved it with his immortal words. She enjoys an "eternal summer" that will never fade, unlike the actual season of summer, the beauties of which will always fade to fall and then winter. The speaker tells her that "death" will never "brag" that she wanders "in his shade," personifying death but asserting that the speaker's own words will allow the beloved's beauty to enjoy an eternity free from death, as long as "men can breathe." She will possess a kind of life long after her body is gone, because of this little poem. It's a pretty powerful sentiment, is it not?

Not only does the speaker insist that his beloved is more beautiful and perfect than a summer's day—already a massive claim on its own—but he argues, persuasively, that she will never "dim" or "decline" as a result of natural changes. This speaks to one of humankind's greatest fears: that we will die and be forgotten. Shakespeare's speaker promises his lover that this will never happen to her, making the poem almost universally appealing.

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Firstly, Shakespeare's "Sonnet 18" is so famous because, outside of perhaps "to be or not to be," it has some of Shakespeare's most famous lines and phrases that most people have heard even without knowing the poem. For example "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" and "darling buds of May."

Secondly, is his answer to the question he poses in the first line of whether she deserves to be compared to a summer's day. His answer seems to be does summer deserve to be compared to the woman. Sometimes summer is too hot or windy. Other times the sun disappears behind the clouds. This woman, however, is always beautiful and will remain beautiful for the remainder of her life.

He immortalizes the woman through simple and clear but powerful language and metaphors that anybody can relate to. Summer, for example, isn't constant or reliable. As he states:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines

And often is his gold complexion dimm'd

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Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 18’ is a love poem, which directly initiates a comparison between the beloved’s beauty and a summer’s day. By crucially pointing out the mutability found in nature [“every fair from fair sometime declines”] the sonnet projects the eternal significance of Shakespearean verse [“when in eternal lines to time thou grow’st]. The sonnet is unique not only in its use of imagery and treatment of themes, but it also crucially points out how and why Shakespearean verse is unique. In this sonnet all lovers discover their own voice. The lover Shakespeare in ‘Sonnet 18’ understands the significance of love as a life-giving force and in the couplet he, therefore, proclaims:“So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

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Aside from the answer you have already received, the poem is beautiful.  It is a love poem which trips effortlessly off the tongue, and every single person on earth can relate to this subject.  Love is always a popular topic for poetry and music. The speaker attempts to convince the one he loves to what extent he loves her...

Perhaps the most romantic lines in the poem are:

But thy eternal summer shall not fade

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st;

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Where the speaker basically says that her beauty will never fade, nor shall death claim her and their love since both will be eternally alive and youthful in the lines of this poem that many eyes will read even after they have physically left this world. 

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Good question; I have a couple of possibilities. First of all, it is perfect "textbook" example of a Shakespearean sonnet--the sonnet form that uses three quatrains of iambic pentameter followed by a concluding couplet.

Secondly, the entended comparison of the poem (a young boy and a "summer's day") uses vivid imagery and unforgettable diction. Most people who are not poetry lovers will still recognize and remember the poem's first two lines:

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate . . . "

This particular sonnet has endured well for these reasons. It has become a part of our culture, from movie references in films like Dead Poets' Society to spawning a band called the "Darling Buds."

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