365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

285. Sonnet 18

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Shakespeare’s love sonnets are well-known and well-quoted, but few are as beloved as Sonnet 18. This beautiful love poem compares the narrator’s lover to a summer’s day, extolling her beauties and virtues and claiming that she far outweighs the splendor of even the most glorious day in the summer.

The sonnet’s popularity has grown over the centuries, and it is easily the one that most people can associate with William Shakespeare’s body of work. The text is as follows:

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buts 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 from 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,
Where 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.”

The sonnet begins by claiming that the subject is far superior to thesummertime: they are milder than the summer can be, what with its sudden storms, its oppressive heat, and its eventual fade into the cold. The speaker believes that no matter how long time goes on, this sonnet will continue the beauty and life of his beloved. Neither death nor age can fade what he loves about her, and the eternity of the written word will help keep his promise to capture her as she is at her loveliest.

We cannot know for sure who the sonnet was addressed to. Perhaps it was to someone in Shakespeare’s real life, perhaps it was a commission, and perhaps it was just a group of pretty lines addressed to no one in particular. But the truth of it lies in the final two lines: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see/So long lives this, and this gives life to thee”. These fourteen lines have already withstood centuries, and presumably their popularity will not fade anytime soon. It can be said that the final two lines of the sonnet could apply to the sonnet itself.

The subject of this immortal poem may remain a mystery forever, but its meaning and the decadent writing behind it will never fade.


Written by Caroline Mincks

July 13, 2010 at 11:48 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , , ,

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