Wednesday, 29 June 2016


Shall I compare thee .......... gives life to thee.

1. Introduction
(i) Title: Sonnet XVIII
(ii) Poet: William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
(iii) Date of Composition: 1609
(iv) Collection: Untitled; a group of 154 sonnets
(v) Poetic Genre: Shakespearean Sonnet
(vi) The Speaker: A lover and poet
(vii) Addressee: A handsome young man (the Earl of Southampton)
(viii) Content: The beauty of the young man who will be remembered forever because of this poem.
2. Lines 1-2
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
     The first line competitive with "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" is in the long list of Shakespeare's quotable quotations. The speaker asks whether he ought to compare whomever he is speaking to with a summer's day. The important issue this line brings up is the question of "thee" because the gender of the addressee is not explicit. Then he says that his addressee is more "lovely" and more "temperate" than a summer's day. "Lovely" is easy enough but "temperate" carries dual meaning, referring to both temperament and temperature. 
3. Lines 3-4
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
     In these lines the speaker says that the transition from Spring to Summer is violent and quick. The phrase "darling buds of May" refers to the opening buds that point towards the warm summer season ahead. It probably refers not to the month of May directly, but to the May tree, the Common Hawthorn, that flowers in England at that time of year. The strong winds of summer threaten the buds of this tree. Moreover, Summer has the "lease" on the weather, just as our family might have a lease on its car, like a person, summer enter into, and must abide by agreements. 
4. Lines 5-6
Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
     These lines describe that the beauty of the sun is unsteady. Sometimes the sun is too hot, and other times, we can't even see it at all. "The eye of heaven" is a kenning; a compressed metaphor to describe the beautiful sun. However, when the sun sets or goes behind the clouds, its beauty is hidden. The word "complexion" refers to the human face and so makes it human-like. Thus "his gold complexion" proves that the addressee of the poem is in fact a male. In short, nature's beauty and man's beauty both are transient and inconsistent. 
5. Lines 7-8
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;
     These lines declare that everything beautiful must eventually fade away and lose its charm, either by chance or by the natural flow of time. The word "untrimm'd" can be taken two ways. First, in the sense of loss of decoration, and second, in the sense of untrimmed sails of a ship. In the first interpretation, things that are beautiful naturally lose their fanciness over time. In the second, it means that nature is a ship with sails not adjusted to wind changes in order to correct course. This, in combination with the words "nature's changing course", creates an oxymoron; the unchanging change of nature. 
6. Lines 9-10
But thy eternal summer shall not fate
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
     These lines change the tone and direction of the poem dramatically. Moving on from bashing summer and limitations inherent in nature, the speaker pronounces that his addressee is not subject to all these rules he has laid out. The speaker argues that, unlike the real summer, his beloved's summer (beautiful, happy years) will never go away, nor will the beloved lose his beauty. It's worth picking on the word "ow'st". The apostrophe might be contracting "ownest" or "owest" and both work nicely. Either the beloved won't lose the beauty he owes, or won't have to return the beauty he borrowed from nature. 
7. Lines 11-12
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
     Death, the speaker claims, won't get a chance to claim the beloved in the valley of the shadow of Death. It is because his beloved is very beautiful and the beauty of huge magnitude cannot be destroyed by death. As a metaphor, lines to time" refers to a poem. Here the speaker is making two claims: first, that his poem is "eternal", and second, that it nourishes "thee", as it is where he is able to "grow". This willingness to write a poem within the poem itself is pretty cool stuff. One fancy way of describing this kind of artistic tactic is called "breaking the fourth wall". 
8. Lines 13-14
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
     In this couplet the speaker predicts that this poem will continue to be read, and his beloved will continue to be analyzed and re-analyzed for all time. In other words, as long as men live and can read, this poem will continue to live, and so keep "thee" alive. Thus the beloved's "eternal summer" will not fade precisely because it is embodied in the sonnet. Moreover, the speaker has broken through the fourth wall, and revealed himself as not just a lover, but also a writer of poetry. In short, this couplet hammers home that the speaker is more interested in himself and his abilities as a poet than the qualities of his addressee. 
9. Literary Devices
(i) Rhyme Scheme: ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG
(ii) Meter Check: Iambic pentameter
(iii) Alliteration: "Shall and summer", "do and darling", "hot and heaven", "fair from fair", "chance, changing and course", "long, lives and life". 
(iv) Symbols: Summer (youth), beauty (passage to time), Sun (cycle of life)
(v) Metaphor: Summer (the beloved's life), the eye of heaven (the Sun), lines to time (poetry)
(vi) Personification: Summer, the Sun, Death
(vii) Tone: Self-assured because the speaker has no doubts
(viii) Themes: Beauty, love, poetry
10. Conclusion
     In short, this sonnet should not be regarded as an ultimate English love poem due to the fact that Shakespeare has clearly aimed to draw a lot of attention to himself as the poet and that his description of his beloved's beauty does not include much detail. In fact, the sonnet provides insight into Shakespeare as an artist, and the poem derives its artistic unity from its exploration of the universal human themes of time, death, change, love, lust, and beauty. Thus the sonnet can be read as the great lyric and dramatic poem. 

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