William Shakespeare, the well-known English poet and playwright is famous for his various sonnets, short poems filled with expressive emotions and deep feelings. Overall, Shakespeare has written 154 sonnets which are thought to be created in the period between 1592 and 1598 (Introduction to Shakespeare’s Sonnets par. 2).This paper is focused on one of the most known sonnets of Shakespeare, the sonnet number 18 which is also known as “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
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The main theme reflected in the sonnet number 18 is love. The author expresses his affection to a person he does not name, yet it is suspected that the mysterious object of the poet’s admiration who is mentioned in most of the other sonnets is a young man named William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke (Introduction to Shakespeare’s Sonnets par. 4). The very first line of the sonnet is a question, the speaker wonders if he could compare his beloved person to a summer day. Generally, this seems to be an appropriate comparison since summer is known to be a beautiful and pleasant time of a year, enjoyed by everyone. Yet, the author has a different opinion, his view of a summer day is unusual. He mentions number of negative qualities a summer day has.
First of all, the speaker states that the summer weather can be quite unpleasant when “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May” (3). Secondly, the author notes that summer is rather brief and short-lasting. Thirdly, the poet adds that “Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines” (5) meaning that the heat of summer can be simply unbearable and merciless which is definitely a negative characteristic. Finally, the author underlines the imperfection of summer remarking that it is not always bright, and from time to time summer days are cloudy with their “gold complexion dimmed” (6). The speaker lists all of these negative features of summer in order to answer his initial question and confirm his primary statement where he admits that the object of his romantic interest is “more lovely and more temperate” (2) than a summer day.
In the next several lines of the sonnet, the poet reminds the reader that nothing is eternal, and “every fair from fair sometime declines” (7) meaning that even the most exceptional beauty tends to go away after a certain amount of time since this is how our world is – every object and being here goes through stages of birth, blossom, decline and eventual death, obeying the cyclic nature of life.
Yet, having stated that everything sooner or later loses its beauty, the poet emphasizes that his beloved is an exception, because their “eternal summer shall not fade” (9). The poet believes that the person he admires in this sonnet is never going to lose their fair beauty or even be taken away by death. This statement seems rather bold, because it looks like the poet is convinced that the object of his love is going to live forever, which is impossible. The confusion is solved in the end of the poem where the speaker explains his previous words about the eternal life of his beloved specifying that what is going to live forever is their beauty and the memory about this person as it is now imprinted in this sonnet. The poet says: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,/ So long lives this, and this gives life to thee” (13-14) meaning that the poem he dedicated to the object of his love will serve as an eternal source of life for them, preserving their beauty and fairness, and passing the memory about them through generations of people.
The last lines of the sonnet can be rather overwhelming for the contemporary reader who is encountering the poem more than 400 years after it was first published. The words of the author who created the poem specifically to preserve the memory about his beloved person turned out to be a prophesy – the sonnet still lives today, and it is still very famous and is read and discussed by thousands of people who pass the memory of the person depicted in this poem through generations.
It seems that Shakespeare has found the formula of eternal life, he use his sonnets as the carriers of messages, feelings, emotions and thoughts that practically served as bottled messages able to travel through an ocean of time and still be able to deliver their contents. The only difference is that those who throw their bottled messages into the sea can only hope that their letters will be found by someone one day, but Shakespeare seems to be very confident about the long lives of his sonnets.
In conclusion, the 18th sonnet by William Shakespeare is the author’s monologue where he admires his beloved person and states that even a summer day cannot be a fair comparison for them due to their beauty that, unlike a summer day, will live forever carried by the poem as long as the humanity can read it.
Introduction to Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Shakespeare-online. 2014. Web.
Shakespeare, William. Sonnet XVIII. 2014. Web.