Sonnet 18 Themes

The three main themes of Sonnet 18 are the brevity of youth and beauty, the immortality of poetry, and the power of love.

  • The brevity of youth and beauty: The poem acknowledges the fleeting nature of the beloved’s beauty.
  • The immortality of poetry: The speaker expresses the hope that the poem itself will immortalize his beloved for all time.
  • The power of love: The sonnet is a testament to the power of love to inspire acts of praise and poetry.

Themes

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Last Updated on September 19, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 536

The Brevity of Youth and Beauty

The sonnet opens in praise of beauty, but it quickly transitions to somberly acknowledges its brevity—the shortness of summer, both literal and metaphorical. While comparing his beloved to “summer,” the speaker discusses youth, the period in which one’s beauty flourishes, and ponders the implications of its end. Just as the season, youth is far “too short” for his tastes, and he wonders if he can forestall the inevitable. Beautiful things, the speaker says, do not remain beautiful for long; "every fair from fair" will decline in the end. However, he offers a solution. Unlike the physical manifestations of beauty—a “summer’s day” or a fair youth—written records, like a sonnet, of such truths will not fade. They will live on long after that which inspired them has decayed and fallen. The sonnet mourns this loss but offers a solution, finding solace through poetry and the written word.

The Immortality of Poetry

In the second half of the sonnet, the poet argues for the immortality of poetry. He frames this written form as a consolation for the brevity of youth and beauty. Although the physical beauty of his beloved is unlikely to endure, the beauty of his “summer” will be "eternal" because it will be committed to paper in words that ring out across centuries, recording his lovely appearance for readers yet to come. Indeed, the sonnet broaches the theme of writing and its enduring qualities, arguing that written work can confer immortality upon its subjects. The poet suggests that the "eternal lines" of his work will prevent his beloved from being lost in the spell of death. Although he may literally and physically die, the poem will "give life to" him for as long as people are still living to read it. The sonnet is at once mournful and joyful, grieving the beauty that must fade but celebrating the creative means by which the speaker maligns death and subverts the inevitable. Poetry becomes an eternal record the speaker uses to reverse the natural order in the name of love and adoration.

The Power of Love

Written in awe and admiration, “Sonnet 18” discusses the power of beauty—and the love it inspires in others—to evoke artistic works and creative efforts. The sonnet is largely focused on the speaker’s narration of his beloved’s beauty. The object of his affection surpasses even the finest summer day, a comparison that elevates the young man in question above the natural world and grants him an almost divine visage. Yet, as the speaker rightly acknowledges, this fine form will invariably wither, prey to the taunts of time and age. However, the speaker cares so deeply for this youth that he acts as his savior, writing of his beauty to preserve it. What might be seen as boastful is instead romantic, as the speaker uses his craft to ensure his beloved lives on, immortalized in his lurid, loving verse. As much as the poem mourns the dying light of youth and praises the preserving ability of poetry, “Sonnet 18” mainly orbits around the question of love and its unique ability to evoke the strong feelings necessary to write and create art.

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