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Sonnet 18 Themes

One of the key themes in this sonnet is the brevity of youth and beauty—the shortness of summer, both literal and metaphorical. The poet refers to the "summer" of his beloved, meaning his youth and the period in which he is beautiful, and ponders whether he should compare this to summers in nature, which are "too short" for his liking. Beautiful things, the poet says, do not remain beautiful for long—"every fair from fair" will decline in the end.

However, the poet moves on to communicate the second key theme of the poem as a sort of expression of consolation. Although the physical beauty of his beloved may not endure, his summer will be "eternal" because it will be committed to paper. The theme of writing, then, and its enduring quality—even a capacity to confer immortality upon its subjects—is broached here. 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.

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As in his plays, Shakespeare’s sonnet introduces several themes reflecting Renaissance thought. The most important of those here is the belief that everything under the moon was corrupted by Adam’s fall from grace. Thus, although the sun (the “eye of heaven”) moved in an uncorrupted sphere above the moon, the earthly influence upon its shining could make it either too hot (line 5) or too hazy (line 6). A corollary of this fall was the consequent mutability of the sublunary creation. For Shakespeare the change was not lateral; rather, it involved a progressive degeneration of beauty, created by chance or by the influence of time on nature (lines 7, 8).

In Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, one may thus discern Renaissance beliefs about nature. One can also see remnants of medieval thinking. This combination appears most obviously in the poet’s treatment of the Ovidian tradition. The Middle Ages had interpreted Ovid (43 b.c.e.-17c.e.) as a moral poet whose Metamorphoses (c. 8 c.e.) contained a cosmology based on Greek and Roman myths. The Renaissance, on the other hand, saw him as an erotic poet whose Amores (c. 20 b.c.e.; Loves) and Ars Amatoria (c. 2 b.c.e.; Art of Love ) provided the model for Petrarch and later...

(The entire section is 589 words.)