Sonnet 18 Summary

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.

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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

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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,”...

(The entire section is 662 words.)