Sonnet 18

Sonnet 18

Sonnet 18, commonly known as “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day,” is one of William Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets. Comprising of fourteen lines and following the traditional Shakespearean sonnet form, it is part of the Fair Youth sequence, a collection of sonnets addressed to a fair young man.

In this sonnet, the poet is in search of a suitable metaphor to compare the beauty and qualities of his beloved. He contemplates comparing the young man to a summer’s day but ultimately asserts that the young man’s qualities surpass the transient beauty of such a day. While a summer’s day may fade and diminish, the poet argues that the youth’s beauty will endure through the art of poetry. The poet’s intention is not only to capture the physical beauty of the beloved but also to immortalize it through his written words. The idea that the young man’s beauty will live on as long as people can read and write underscores the power of the poet’s verses to transcend time.

Though the sonnet does not explicitly state its romantic nature, the underlying theme revolves around love and admiration. By employing vivid imagery and metaphor, Shakespeare crafts a timeless piece that celebrates the enduring nature of true beauty, both in the natural world and within the realms of human emotion and art.

Summary and Analysis

First Quatrain (Lines 1-4)

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;

In the first quatrain of Sonnet 18, the poet poses a rhetorical question, asking if he should compare his beloved to a summer’s day. He immediately asserts that the young man is even more beautiful and temperate than a summer day. The term “temperate” implies a gentle, calm, and balanced beauty both externally and internally, reflecting a harmonious existence. After that, the poet lists several reasons why summer isn’t as wonderful as it might seem: strong winds of summer shake the beloved buds of early summer, revealing its harshness, and summer ends too quickly. He says that summer has a deadline, which is too short and temporary, to make way for other seasons. In this portrayal, the poet personifies summer, attributing human-like qualities and granting it a short lease in the grand cycle of seasons. Ultimately, the poet suggests that the conventional metaphor of comparing someone to a summer’s day falls short in capturing the extraordinary beauty of his beloved.


Second Quatrain (Line 5-8)

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

The second quatrain of Sonnet 18 delves into the imperfections of the sun, symbolized as the “eye of heaven.” The poet personifies the sun, describing how it can be excessively hot at times and its golden complexion can be dimmed, especially on cloudy days. Despite being a radiant and bright celestial body, the sun becomes an inadequate metaphor for the poet’s beloved. The speaker explores the theme of change, asserting that all beautiful things, including the sun, experience a decline in their beauty. This change is attributed to either chance or the natural course of changing seasons, emphasizing the transient nature of beauty. The speaker’s philosophy centres on the idea that everything beautiful is subject to fading and losing its adornments, adhering to the natural law of change. The repetition in the line “And every fair from fair sometimes declines” underscores the inevitability of beauty’s decline, reinforcing the notion that change is the only constant.


Third Quatrain (Line 9-12)

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:

In the third section of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, the poet continues to explore how his words can keep the subject’s beauty alive forever. He begins by saying that the subject will never lose their beauty. The word “Nor” connects this idea to what came before, showing that it’s still part of the same argument.

The phrase “that fair thou ow’st” means the beauty that the subject owns. Here, the poet suggests that the subject possesses a special and unique kind of beauty. This ownership doesn’t just mean something physical, but also something deeper that makes the subject stand out.

The next line, “Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,” brings up the idea of death. The poet boldly declares that even death won’t be able to brag about the subject being under its power. This means that the poet’s words have the power to beat death by making the subject’s beauty live on forever. The word “brag” shows how death is arrogant, thinking it can claim everything.

The poet is confident that his words can withstand both time and death. He uses strong negations like “Nor lose possession” and “Nor shall Death brag” to emphasize his belief that the subject’s beauty will endure through his writing. This section of the sonnet adds to the main theme of the poem – the power of poetry to keep the beloved’s beauty alive forever.


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2 Responses

  1. Shubham says:

    Thank you for ur contribution it’s very helpful and easier way to understand Shakespearean Sonnet .

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