Sonnet 18 (636 words) Essay

Sonnet 18
“Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?” William Shakespeare (1564-1616),
English poet and playwright, recognized in much of the world as the greatest of
all dramatists, is perhaps the most famous writer in the history of English
literature. By writing plays, Shakespeare earned recognition from his late 16th
and early 17th century contemporaries, but he may have looked to poetry for
enduring fame. His poetic achievements include a series of 154 sonnets. Many of
the sonnets he wrote contain lines as well known as any in his plays. One of the
perennial themes of Western literature?the brevity of life?is given
poignantly personal and highly original expression in many of these poems.

Shakespeare’s sonnets are arranged with three quatrains (4 lines) and a
couplet (2 lines). This development was sufficiently original for the form to
become known as the Shakespearean sonnet, which employs a rhyme scheme of abab
cdcd efef gg. The poet is challenged to express his profound emotions and
thoughts on life, death, war, and history in the condensed fourteen lines.

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Sonnet 18 comes from The Sonnets of Shakespeare printed in 1609: “Shall I
compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough
winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short
a date. Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, And often is his gold
complexion dimmed; And every fair form fair sometime declines, By chance, or
nature’s changing course, untrimmed. But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st Nor shall death brag thou
wand’rest in his shade, When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st. So long
as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to
thee.” Shakespeare begins the poem with a question that proposes a comparison
between his beloved and a summer season. Summer is chosen because it is the
loveliest and the most pleasant season due to England’s cold weather. In the
second line the comparison embarks to favor his beloved: his beloved is more
beautiful and less extreme than summer. The reasons for his adoration are given
in the next four lines, which describe the less pleasant aspects of summer: The
wind impairs the beauty of summer, and summer is too brief. The splendor of
summer is affected by the intensity of the sunlight, and as the season changes,
summer becomes less beautiful. Here Shakespeare uses the word fair with a double
connotation, the clear and sunny weather and the pleasing appearance of a
beautiful woman, indicating that any beauty will fade one day. Starting from the
ninth line Shakespeare shifts his tone with a great passion: “Thy eternal
summer shall not fade.” She, unlike summer, will never deteriorate. Summer has
by now become the summer of life and beauty. In the next three lines the
poet’s assurance becomes even firmer with promises that his beloved will
neither become less beautiful nor even die, because she is immortalized through
his poetry. Line ten and eleven give an answer in comparison with line six and
seven: The summer’s fair declines, but the fairness of his beloved will be
everlasting. The summer’s sun dims, but the life and beauty of his beloved
will be eternal. In line twelve the “eternal lines to time” not only refers
to lines of poetry but also implies lines of shape, the shape of beauty. Because
of the eternal lines of the poem, the life and beauty of his beloved will thrive
and flourish. The poem finishes with a triumphant couplet, which explains and
summarizes the theme: poetry gives timeless life to beauty. In the poem “Shall
I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Shakespeare compares the summer’s
imperfection with his beloved’s perfection. The poet employs the step-by- step
arguments, to reach the conclusion: poetry is immortal and makes beauty
immortal. According to Shakespeare, the grace and effectiveness of the art of
poetry is superior to nature, and thus makes it timeless and eternal, just like
his beloved.


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