Analyzing Sonnet 18
Summer is a warm, delightful time of the year often associated with rest and recreation. Shakespeare compares his love to a summer's day in Sonnet 18. We will first interpret this sonnet line by line:
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
(Right away, Shakespeare presents his metaphor. He is comparing his love to a summer's day.)
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
(Shakespeare believes his love is more desirable and has a more even temper than summer.)
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
(Before summer, strong winds knock buds off of the flowering trees.)
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
(Summer goes by too quickly.)
Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,
(Sometimes summer days are just too hot!)
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
(Some summer days are cloudy.)
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
(Everything beautiful in nature eventually fades away.)
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
(The changes happen either by accident or through nature's natural cycles.)
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
(But you, my love, have the best characteristics of summer, and these will never go away.)
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
(Your beauty will never decline.)
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
(You will never look as if you are on the brink of death.)
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
(Because I've written these lines about you, even over time . . .)
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
(As long as there are humans alive on this planet . . .)
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.
(Your life and beauty will live on through this sonnet.)
Imagery and Figurative Language
Shakespeare opens the poem with a metaphor, comparing the woman he loves to all of the best characteristics of a summer's day. When we think about summer, many attributes come to mind, such as warmth, sunshine, fun, and relaxation. It is the opposite of winter and its freezing temperatures, consistent bad weather, and bleak skies. Summer represents optimism.
Shakespeare goes on to point out that summer has its downside, as well. For instance, sometimes the sun is far too hot. Summer heat can be unbearable. Also, summer days can be fickle in that they are cloudy when we think they should be warm. Finally, summer days are just too transient.
His love may have been confused at this point. Is it beneficial to be compared to a summer's day? Shakespeare sets her mind at rest, however, by explaining that she is far more beautiful and even-tempered than the most desirable summer weather. It is worth mentioning Shakespeare's use of personification here, which is the attribution of human characteristics to non-human subjects. He gives the sun an eye, a human attribute, and in the next line, a complexion.
We can imagine Shakespeare's love's skepticism when he first tells her that her beauty will never fade. She knows full well that all people age. However, he goes on to explain that it is her portrayal in this sonnet that will make her live forever. One wonders if Shakespeare might have been surprised to know how prophetic these words were! We are still reading Sonnet 18 today and imagining the loveliness of this woman in his life.
Once this lesson is finished you should be able to:
- Interpret some of the lines from Shakespeare's Sonnet 18
- Express knowledge of the poem's metaphors and imagery
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Sonnet 18: Further Exploration
This lesson gave you a great introduction to one of Shakespeare's most famous poems. Using what you've learned, it's time to do a deeper dive into this work.
Sonnets, like this one, consist of 14 lines written in iambic pentameter and ending with a rhyming couplet. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets using this form. Try your hand at writing your own sonnet to see what the process is like. Many sonnets are about love, but not always. Write about a subject that you think suits the form.
Shakespeare wrote this poem as part of his Fair Youth sequence of sonnets, which historians actually believe were about a young man. Do some research on Shakespeare's life and the inspirations for his sonnets in particular. Write up your findings in an essay. Give special attention to how sonnets were viewed at the time, as well as which other poets were writing them and what we know about Shakespeare's sonnets today.
Example: Compare Shakespeare's sonnets to those of Edmund Spenser.
This poem is famous, partly because it allows for multiple interpretations. Regardless of Shakespeare's actual intentions when writing, many people find this poem beautiful and applicable to their own romances. Other people think that the poem is about a lover who has already died, and the speaker is immortalizing him posthumously in verse. What do you think? What connections can you make between this sonnet and your own life? Write down your answers in a paragraph or journal response.
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack