Literary Analysis: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
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Literary Analysis: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
The poem “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” by William Shakespeare is his 18th sonnet and is considered the most famous of all Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. Its 18th sonnet’s prominence is attributed to its opening line, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” which has been heartily mastered by every true romantic (Shakespeare & Wallis, 1975). Therefore, sonnet 18 is basically a love poem even though its object of affection is not apparent as it may appear. Shakespeare opens his poem with a prompt addressed to the much-loved: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The ensuing eleven lines are dedicated to such a comparison. For instance, in line two, the poet lays down what primarily differentiates the young man from the day of summer, which is evident from his assertion …” more lovely and more temperate.” Furthermore, the poet claims that the days of the summer approaches the extreme which is apparent from his claim that the “rough winds” shakes the summer’s days, and in them, the sun which is over and over again referred to as “the eye of heaven” illuminates too dim or too hot (Ruslida et al., 2019). The notion that summer is fleeting is attributed to the fact that its date is quite short, resulting in the withering of autumn, evident from the poem’s line “every fair from fair sometime declines.” Towards the final line of the poem, the poet attempts to demonstrate the variation between the beloved and the summer which is associated with everlasting beauty, that is, “Thy eternal summer shall not fade…” that shall remain alive eternally. In the line, the poet strives to elucidate the manner in which the beloved’s beauty will attain this achievement rather than perish since it is preserved by the poet, lasting forever (Shakespeare, 2016). Specifically, the poem’s line“…as long as men can breathe or eyes can see” shows that the beloved beauty will live, defying even death.
William Shakespeare first published his sonnets in 1609, which is seven years prior to the death of Bard, and the sonnet’s extraordinary quality has kept it famous ever since (Shakespeare, 2016). The depth and domain of Shakespeare’s sonnets have created a wide gap between him and other sonneteers. Specifically, Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 provides more emphasis on the loveliness of a lover or friend, which he starts with a rhetorical query regarding comparing their subject to the day of summer. Therefore, from the different lines of sonnet 18, it is clear that Shakespeare was dedicated to praising a friend or lover, traditionally regarded as the “fair youth” (Ruslida et al., 2019). From the sonnet, there is the assurance that the beauty of this individual will be sustained. The fact that the poem’s lines will be read by future generations, even in the absence of the poet and lover portrays the silencing of death. This implies that the fair image of the poet/speaker and lover is kept alive via the power of verse (Shakespeare, 2016). This is better understood by analyzing Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 line by line. Therefore, this paper provides an in-depth literary analysis of Shakespeare’s sonnet 18, focusing on individual lines and the poetic devices that include the use of form, imagery, and figurative language employed in the poem to ensure the poem’s permanence (Shakespeare & Wallis, 1975).
This line serves as the poem’s opening line which appears as a tease that reflects on the uncertainty of the poet as he tries to establish a comparison between his lover and a summer’s day. The first line of the poem poses a rhetorical question for both the audience and the speaker, and even the musical stance of the first line is exposed to more speculations (Shakespeare, 2016). For instance, the inherent comparison is clearly not a forthright one as there is the question of whether it is a complete iambic pentameter.
The second line then surpasses the image portrayed in line one which represents the perfect English summer’s day, revealing that the poem’s lover/subject is lovelier and more self-restrained (Shakespeare, 2016). Lovely is frequently utilized in England with a similar meaning currently at is did when the poet wrote the poem which includes beautiful, lovely, nice, etc. On the other hand, temperate also known as self-restrained implied restrained, composed, gentle-natured, and moderate in Shakespeare’s time (Ruslida et al., 2019). Furthermore, line two uses the second-person pronoun to directly refer to the lover, that is, Thou, which is currently archaic.
The advancement of the sonnet through to line eight demonstrates an emphasis on the distanced ups and downs of the weather, presented in a steady iambic rhythm (with an exception of line five) (Ruslida et al., 2019). It is, therefore, evident that England’s summertime in the context of weather is a hit-and-miss affair. Specifically, there is evidence of winds blowing, gathering of rainclouds, and without realizing, summer has come and gone in a week. Clearly, there are quite short seasons in Shakespeare’s time, similarly to the contemporary times where people lament extreme hot weather and complaint when it’s overcast (Ruslida et al., 2019). The significance of this is that summer will pass quite fast for some people, and naturally, they will grow old and their beauty will gradually fade with the season’s passing.
Throughout these lines of the poem, Shakespeare turns the argument the other way of aging. For instance, in line 9 where the poet states that “but thy eternal summer shall not fade,” providing assurance that his lover shall maintain fairness and to a great extent cheat death and gradually become immortal (Shakespeare & Wallis, 1975).
Lines 13 and 14
These two last lines bolster the poet’s notion that the poem will assure the subject/lover that they will remain young, and as such, the written word serves as the breath and essential energy that are necessary to ensure their lives continue.
Shakespeare praises his lover without flashiness and gradually builds the lover’s image into that of a perfect being. For instance, the poet strives to compare his lover to summer as evident in the first 8 lines of t the stanza, evident in the assertion that “… thou art more lovely and more temperate.” He attempts to portray his beloved to posse lovelier and self-restrained attributes unlike summer’s day (Ruslida et al., 2019). However, there is an apparent turn of facts at the start of the 9th line where the poet turns his beloved to summer, “but thy eternal summer shall not fade.” At this point, the poet’s lover is considered a metric that allows the judgment of true beauty. Proceeding to other lines in the stanza, the poet provides a comprehensive tone that explores in-depth feelings. As such, Shakespeare reacts to such beauty and joy by making sure that his lover will last forever, that’s is, evading the oblivion that follows death (Shakespeare, 2016). The simplicity of the poem’s music also serves to demonstrate the inherent subservience of summer, unlike the poet’s lover.
Shakespeare mainly employs the imagery of nature within the poem to assert his feelings about his beloved beauty. Specifically, the poet provides a description of summer that is different from the usual summer season. As seen in line 3 “…Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,” the poet attempts to portray his perception of summer climate as a blow of the spring flowers (Shakespeare, 2016). He tries to emphasize the superiority of his beloved beauty of summer, and as such, Shakespeare attempts to downgrade the positive notions of summer to ascertain how highly he regards the image of his lover. Furthermore, the use of the words “gold complexion dimmed” are utilized to describe the sun. In this case, the poet diminishes the comfort of the sun’s warmth by referring to the sun’s rays as dimmed. Consequently, Shakespeare’s description of the climate strives to influence the readers to perceive his lover to posse never-changing looks and that summer pales profoundly compared to his lover (Ruslida et al., 2019).
Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 also encompasses classic sonnet elements. Specifically, the rhyme scheme ababcdcdefefgg is evident in the stanza where it is written in 14 lines. There is a distinct rhyme between lines within the poem which is apparent in lines 1 and 3, lines 2 and 4, and the pattern goes on to the last two rhyming lines (Harrison & Burt, 2020). Additionally, the stanza is written in iambic pentameter where every line contains ten syllables, the first line being unaccented and the second line accented. Sonnet 18 further exploits the balance that exists between asymmetrical and symmetrical melody and form to establish an organic beauty. Furthermore, the fact that sonnets have been historically associated with robust themes of love, the poet also utilizes the sonnet form to emphasize his perception of his lover and their outstanding appearance (Harrison & Burt, 2020).
The poem is tied up neatly and perfectly to facilitate easy reading and understanding. The lines of the stanza are written with flawless iambic pentameter and without enjambment (Harrison & Burt, 2020). The use of jargon is limited to a level where the audience of diverse calibers can easily read and understand regardless of the use of exceptional elegance and elevated language in the poem. Furthermore, the compliance with the classical forms of sonnet portrays the poem’s dedication to creating and establishing the feeling of perfection of the poet’s beloved. This, therefore, is more compatible with the poem’s domain theme.
The use of figurative language is also evident in Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 which aids in conveying the intended message. The personification of the sun by Shakespeare referring to it as “the eye of heaven” and “his gold complexion dimmed” demonstrates the comparison of the dimmed sun’s complexion to his beloved. Therefore, assigning the sun identity of human quality is similar to degrading the commonly perceived powerful and untouchable nature of the sun (Ruslida et al., 2019). This serves as an introduction to the theme of the lasting beauty of the poet’s beloved. Another notable personification is in line 11 where Shakespeare states “Nor shall Death brag thou wander’s in his shade.” In this context, death is portrayed as a meandering figure around the poet’s ‘shade.’ Therefore, the poet’s move to compare human beings to death demonstrates that his lover surpasses the entire living creatures as well as acts of nature (Shakespeare, 2016). The poet creates a situation where he perceives his beloved as the ideal figure where other readers will also see the beloved as an ideal figure. As such, the use of figurative language in sonnet 18 renders the poet’s lover a superior being with a beauty that shines eternally and with the power to overcome death.
Finally, the poet in his sonnet 18 clearly portrays his poetic ability in eternalizing words. Evident from the line “…so long as men can breathe, or eyes can see / so long lives this, and this gives life to thee,” the poet also portrays the eternity of his poetry which is dependent on the continued existence of his poem. Besides, the poet claims that the beauty of their beloved will last for the time his poem exists (Harrison & Burt, 2020). This, therefore, shows that Shakespeare takes pride in the fact that his sonnets will be read from generation to generation. From the entire stanza until line 13 demonstrates the poet’s boundless sentiments regarding his lover, but the last two lines alter the poet’s message. For instance, the last two lines portray the fact that the poet is well informed about his poetry skills.
In conclusion, the sonnet “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” by William Shakespeare which is also referred to as sonnet 18 is the popular and well-loved sonnet of all Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. It is evident that the poet attempts to portray the specific themes of stability of love and associated power that immortalize the subject of the verse of the poet. Therefore, the use of form, imagery and figurative language facilitates the skill conveyance of poetry messages by poets. Specifically, these poetry devices are made easily visible in the poet through the use of varying imagery, form, and figurative language that provides an in-depth insight into the nature of the poem. Furthermore, the methods of Shakespeare helps secure the eternal nature of his poem.
Shakespeare, W., & Wallis, B. (1975). Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?. N. Adams.
Shakespeare, W. (2016). Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?(Sonnet 18). Poets. org. April, 20.
Harrison, R. G., & Burt, S. (2020). Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Art thou more temperate?… Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines…. Weather, 75(6), 172-174.
Ruslida, V. M., Sembiring, B., & Damayanti, I. (2019, December). Figurative Language in William Shakespeare and William Wordsworth’s Poems. In UICELL Conference Proceeding (pp. 161-170).