365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

265. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

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Any lover worth his salt ought to utter these words to his beloved at least once. Shakespeare’s eighteenth sonnet, generally known by its first line “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”, is perhaps one of the most simply romantic verses in existence. There may be plenty of poems out there that compare a loved one to something beautiful, but far fewer actually allow that loved one to surpass it. In comparing the subject of the sonnet to a summer’s day, Shakespeare maintains that the subject’s beauty and temper are far superior to that of even the sweetest day the summer can bring.

“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:”

These lines set in motion the comparison between the lover and the summer. The speaker notes that sometimes the late spring and summertime can be too rough, what with the unexpected storms and the winds that blow in unsavory ways. He also notes that the summer does not last long enough to be truly enjoyed, while the speaker’s loveliness far outlasts the summertime.

“Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And oft’ is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d:”

Further noting the less-than-appealing aspects of the hot summer, Shakespeare notes how very hot indeed it can be. The second line in the sonnet has already established that the subject is more “temperate” than the summertime, so it is worth noting how he reiterates this point later in the poem. And again, the sometimes foul weather of summer is noted: the sun’s “gold complexion” is dimmed too often by sudden storms, but the subject will always stay radiant. Though nature may be always changing and ever unpredictable, the speaker’s lover will remain constant.

“But thy eternal Summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:”

But, as the speaker goes on, the subject’s “eternal summer” will stay forever. No matter how time may pass or whether Death may eventually come, the subject’s beauty will never fade.

“So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

The couplet at the end of the sonnet assures the subject that this poem will give them eternal life and beauty, since the lines can never fade nor be forgotten by those who remember them, no matter what time and life may do to a person’s youth and body.

Sonnet 18 has remained an anthem of lovers for centuries, and it is clear why: its sweet and heartfelt language and insistence that nothing can fade the beauty in the eye of the beholder are sentiments that any loved one should hear.

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Written by Caroline Mincks

June 23, 2010 at 8:21 PM

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