Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 – correcting my mistakes

This year I have English literature and Culture as one of my in-depth subjects. After learning more about Shakespeare these past two weeks, I have come to realize just how wrong I was when I tried to analyze Sonnet 18 last time. What mistake did I make? I made the mistake of underestimating Shakespeare’s work, choosing to only focus on what first meets the eye. This is, therefore, an attempt to make up for that ignorance I showed last time.

Sonnet 18 is a Shakespearian sonnet, meaning that it is divided into 4 quatrains, each with 4 lines, and a final couplet (2 lines). It is in the final couplet one often finds the true meaning of the sonnet, and in the case of sonnet 18, the lines are a big part of understanding that it is simply not only a declaration of love. Furthermore, the sonnet has the form of abab cdcd efef gg, meaning that the last word on line 1 rhymes with the last word on line 3 and the last word on line 2 rhymes with line 4 and so on.

First, Shakespeare asks if he can compare his loved one to a summer’s day. He debates around whether it fits or not, as she is lovelier and more temperate, and the summer often is too short, the sun too hot and the wind too rough. However, the focus on summer coming to an end can be seen as a parallel to her beauty and how it will eventually fade. Therefore, he begins to refer to her as an eternal summer that will never fade away and die. The twist to this declaration of love becomes clear from line 12- 14, where he shifts his focus, and begins to talk about his eternal lines. As long as his work can be appreciated and read, her beauty will be shown to people. Therefore, one can say that the sonnet is really a tribute to poetry itself, making it a Meta poem (a poem about a poem).

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 dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st 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.

– Kristin


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