Summary

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 209

One of Shakespeare's most famous sonnets, "Sonnet 18" is one of the first 126 sonnets in the cycle, all of which are addressed to an unknown figure known by scholars as the Fair Youth. In this poem, the speaker asks whether he should compare his beloved to a summer's day....

(The entire section contains 662 words.)

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One of Shakespeare's most famous sonnets, "Sonnet 18" is one of the first 126 sonnets in the cycle, all of which are addressed to an unknown figure known by scholars as the Fair Youth. In this poem, the speaker asks whether he should compare his beloved to a summer's day. Ultimately, however, he rejects the comparison, and goes on to explain that this is because his beloved is "more lovely" and also because summer lasts only a brief time.

The speaker goes on to identify other things about summer which might be disliked, such as the fact that the sun sometimes shines too hot, and sometimes the "gold complexion" of the sun is "dimm'd" by bad weather. Eventually, too, the "fair" of summer will decline.

By comparison, the speaker says that the "eternal summer" of his beloved will never end—his beloved will never lose his beauty, and that beauty will never succumb to Death. The reason for this is that the poem itself, the "eternal lines" committed to paper by the poet, will stand as a monument to the beloved and his beauty. For as long as men are alive and still reading the lines the poet has written, it "gives life" to the beloved and he will be immortal.

The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 453

This fourteen-line poem begins with a straightforward question in the first person, addressed to the object of the poet’s attention: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” After a direct answer, “Thou art more lovely and more temperate,” the next seven lines of the poem develop the comparison with a series of objections to a summer day.

William Shakespeare develops the “temperate” elements of his comparison first, leaving the “lovely” qualities for later consideration. His first criticism of summer is that in May rough winds shake the “darling” buds. This objection might seem trivial until one remembers that the poet is invoking a sense of the harmony implicit in classical concepts of order and form which writers of the Renaissance emulated. His use of the term “darling” extends the harmonious concept to include the vision of an orderly universe embracing its creations and processes with affection.

Such terms apply only to the ideal universe, however. In nature’s corrupt state, after Adam’s fall, all sublunary (earthly) forms and events fail to adhere to their primal harmony. Hence, rough winds shake the May buds and, as the next line indicates, summer is too short. Sometimes the sun is too hot; at other times the day becomes cloudy.

In lines 7 and 8, the poet summarizes his objections to the summer day by asserting that everything that is fair will be “untrimmed,” either by chance or by a natural process. The most obvious meaning here is that everything that summer produces will become less beautiful over time. The word “fair,” however, seems to mean more than merely beautiful to the eye and, like the words “lovely” and “darling,” comprehends all desirable qualities. Here, too, the poet invokes the concept of sublunary corruption. Although he is apparently still discussing the disadvantages of a summer’s day when compared to the person he is addressing, he is at the same time creating a transition to the next section of the poem by introducing the second element of his comparison, that comprehended in the word “lovely.”

The last six lines of the sonnet detail the advantages of the person addressed, indicating no diminution in the durability or fairness of that individual. The reason lies in the “eternal lines to time” that Shakespeare creates in his sonnet, knowing that the poem in which the person is memorialized will last through all time.

Although in the concluding couplet Shakespeare gives a direct statement of the theme, he uses the pronoun “this” to carry the weight of meaning and gives no verbal referent to the pronoun. Yet in making the poem itself the referent, the poet creates the object that will transmit the immortality of its subject to eternity.

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Themes