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1 Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?2 Thou art more lovely and more temperate:3 Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,4 And summer's lease hath all too short a date:5 Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,6 And often is his gold complexion dimmed,7 And every fair from fair sometime declines,8 By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed:9 But thy eternal summer shall not fade,10 Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,11 Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,12 When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,13 So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,14 So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Sonnet 18, often alternately titled Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?, is one of the best-known of 154 sonnets written by the English playwright and poet William Shakespeare.
Part of the Fair Youth sequence (which comprises sonnets 1-126 in the accepted numbering stemming from the first edition in 1609), it is the first of the cycle after the opening sequence now described as the Procreation sonnets.
Most scholars now agree that the original subject of the poem, the beloved to whom the poet is writing, is a male, though the poem is commonly used to describe a woman.
Sonnet 18 is a typical English or Shakespearean sonnet. It consists of three quatrains followed by a couplet, and has the characteristic rhyme scheme: ababcdcdefefgg.
The poem carries the meaning of an Italian or Petrarchan Sonnet. Petrarchan sonnets typically discussed the love and beauty of a beloved, often an unattainable love, but not always. It also contains a shift in the poem's subject matter, beginning with the third quatrain.
[Line 9]* - The friend's 'summer' or 'prime of life' will remain eternal because the poet immortalizes him in verse. Lines 10-14 confirm this reading. For more on this theme, see sonnet 55.
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;But you shall shine more bright in these contents Than unswept stone besmear'd with sluttish time. When wasteful war shall statues overturn, And broils root out the work of masonry, Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burnThe living record of your memory. 'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmityShall you pace forth; your praise shall still find roomEven in the eyes of all posterity That wear this world out to the ending doom.So, till the judgment that yourself arise, You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.
[Line 12]* - Because of the poet's verse the friend will actually grow as one with time ("to time thou growest"). For similar imagery, see sonnet 15, line 14.
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay, To change your day of youth to sullied night;And all in war with Time for love of you, As he takes from you, I engraft you new.
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Shall I compare you to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
You are more lovely and more delightful:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
Rough winds shake the much loved buds of May
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
And summer is far too short:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
At times the sun is too hot,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
Or often goes behind the clouds;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
And everything that is beautiful will lose its beauty,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
By chance or by nature's planned out course;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
But your youth shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor lose the beauty that you possess;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
Nor will death claim you for his own,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
Because in my eternal verse you will live forever:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long as there are people on this earth,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.
So long will this poem live on, giving you immortality.
1. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
This is taken usually to mean 'What if I were to compare thee etc?' The stock comparisons of the loved one to all the beauteous things in nature hover in the background throughout. One also remembers Wordsworth's lines: We'll talk of sunshine and of song,And summer days when we were young, Sweet childish days which were as longAs twenty days are now.Such reminiscences are indeed anachronistic, but with the recurrence of words such as 'summer', 'days', 'song', 'sweet', it is not difficult to see the permeating influence of the Sonnets on Wordsworth's verse.
2. Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
The youth's beauty is more perfect than the beauty of a summer day. more temperate - more gentle, more restrained, whereas the summer's day might have violent excesses in store, such as are about to be described.
3. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
May was a summer month in Shakespeare's time, because the calendar in use lagged behind the true sidereal calendar by at least a fortnight. darling buds of May - the beautiful, much loved buds of the early summer; favourite flowers.
4. And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Legal terminology. The summer holds a lease on part of the year, but the lease is too short, and has an early termination (date).
5. Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
Sometime = on occasion, sometimes; the eye of heaven = the sun. This links forward to a comparison in a later sonnet:
Against that time when thou shalt strangely passAnd scarcely greet me with that sun thine eye, (49)
The sun of heaven, and the beloved's sun could both scorch and hide itself from the lover. (See the next line).
6. And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
his gold complexion = his (the sun's) golden face. It would be dimmed by clouds and on overcast days generally.
7. And every fair from fair sometime declines,
All beautiful things (every fair) occasionally become inferior in comparison with their essential previous state of beauty (from fair). They all decline from perfection.
By chance accidents, or by the fluctuating tides of nature, which are not subject to control, nature's changing course untrimmed. untrimmed - this can refer to the ballast (trimming) on a ship which keeps it stable; or to a lack of ornament and decoration. The greater difficulty however is to decide which noun this adjectival participle should modify. Does it refer to nature, or chance, or every fair in the line above, or to the effect of nature's changing course? Some printings add a comma after course, which probably has the effect of directing the word towards all possible antecedents. She points out that nature's changing course could refer to women's monthly courses, or menstruation, in which case every fair in the previous line would refer to every fair woman, with the implication that the youth is free of this cyclical curse, and is therefore more perfect.
8. By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed:
9. But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Referring forwards to the eternity promised by the ever living poet in the next few lines, through his verse.
10. Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall it (your eternal summer) lose its hold on that beauty which you so richly possess. ow'st = ownest, possess. By metonymy we understand 'nor shall you lose any of your beauty'.
11. Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
Several half echoes here. The biblical ones are probably 'Oh death where is thy sting? Or grave thy victory?' implying that death normally boasts of his conquests over life. And Psalms 23.3.: 'Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil ' In classical literature the shades flitted helplessly in the underworld like gibbering ghosts. Shakespeare would have been familiar with this through Virgil's account of Aeneas' descent into the underworld in Aeneid Bk. VI. Death was depicted as a blustering braggart in Euripides' play Alcestis.
12. When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
in eternal lines = in the undying lines of my verse. Perhaps with a reference to progeny, and lines of descent, but it seems that the procreation theme has already been abandoned. to time thou grow'st - you keep pace with time, you grow as time grows.
13. So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
For as long as humans live and breathe upon the earth, for as long as there are seeing eyes on the earth.
14. So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
That is how long these verses will live, celebrating you, and continually renewing your life. But one is left with a slight residual feeling that perhaps the youth's beauty will last no longer than a summer's day, despite the poet's proud boast.
In Sonnet 18, Shakespeare employs a Petrarchan conceit to immortalize his beloved. He initiates the extended metaphor in the first line of the sonnet by posing the rhetorical question, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" The first two quatrains of the poem are composed of his criticism of summer. Compared to summer, his lover is "more lovely and more temperate" (2). He argues that the wind impairs the beauty of summer, and summer is too brief (3-4). The splendor of summer is affected by the intensity of the sunlight, and, as the seasons change, summer becomes less beautiful (5-8).
Because of the shortcomings of summer, Shakespeare contends in the third quatrain of this sonnet that comparing his lover to this season fails to do her justice. While "often is gold [summer's] complexion dimmed," her "eternal summer shall not fade" (6, 9). She, unlike summer, will never deteriorate. He further asserts that his beloved will neither become less beautiful, nor even die, because she is immortalized through his poetry. The sonnet is concluded with the couplet, "So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, / So long live this, and this gives life to thee" (13-14). These last two lines further clarify the theme, vowing that for all eternity his lover will be immortalized by his poetry.
Although Shakespeare appears to be conforming, he still elevates his work above the exhausted conventions of other Elizabethan sonneteers. Instead of objectifying his lover through trite comparisons, he declares that she is too beautiful and pleasant to be compared even to a day of the most enjoyable season of the year. While most consider the realm of nature to be eternal and that of humans to be transitory, Shakespeare accentuates the death of a season and imbues his sweetheart with everlasting life. He ingeniously inverts the scheme of things in order to grant his love perpetual existence through his poetry.