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Explication of Sonnet 18

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William Shakespeare has long been regarded as one of the best writers in the English language. He is mostly known for his development of original plays, such as Romeo and Juliet, but he is also the composer of 154 sonnets. The sonnet I have chosen to analyze is sonnet 18, which reads:
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:
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;
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;
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
The first 126 sonnets that Shakespeare wrote were dedicated to the “fair youth”, which is a young man that Shakespeare was very close with. This information helps provide the context of this poem, and derive the true meaning behind these Shakespearean words. In comparing the recipient of the poem to a “summer’s day”, Shakespeare implies the idea that his beauty will never fade, and that no matter how good a day it is, the beauty of this “fair youth” will always transcend that of the day. The first two lines of the sonnet read, “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.” In these first two lines, Shakespeare is calling this young man “lovely and more temperate”, meaning that the beauty of this young man is constant, whereas a summer day may come and go. Summer is a season, and like all seasons, another replaces it when the time comes. Shakespeare is trying to say that the beauty of this man will survive any season that occurs. Some critics of Shakespeare’s work claim that this “fair youth” may have been more than just a part of a platonic relationship, and I can definitely see this in the way that Shakespeare describes this “fair youth.” The use of the word “lovely” implies more than a friendship, and the fact that Shakespeare draws a comparison to a season that is greatly associated with pleasure and warmth is alarming at the very least. In lines 3 & 4, he goes on to say that “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, and summer's lease hath all too short a date.” As I described before, summer is a season that will eventually change into fall, and Shakespeare highlights this in these two lines. The word “lease” is an interesting word to use in this instance. When I think of the word “lease”, I think of a rental, similar when somebody leases a car and that car is being loaned out to the buyer rather than it being completely there’s. After the contract is over, the car must be returned and the fun had with the car is finished. This is the same concept as summer, where fun may occur, but when the “contract” that time has given us expires, then we must return summer and fall must take its place. The next two lines read, “Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, and often is his gold complexion dimm'd.” This is an interesting change in the sonnet, because Shakespeare goes from wishful thinking of longevity of summer to describing the imperfections of summer. The “eye of heaven” refers to the sun, and he is saying that sometimes the sun shines too hot. The “gold complexion” is the light that the sun gives, and the clouds dim this “complexion”. The next line reads “And every fair from fair sometime declines.” This is saying that everything that is beautiful will eventually lose its beauty, similar to the way the world looks when summer is around. When summer is over, the world may not look as beautiful to Shakespeare, because a new season has replaced it. The beauty changes “By chance, or by nature's changing course, untrimm'd.” This means that beauty will fade due to extenuating circumstances that are out of our control. In lines 9 & 10, Shakespeare resumes his praise of the “fair youth.” He says, “But thy eternal summer shall not fade, nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st.” After speaking of summer as something that is finite, he describes the youth as an “eternal summer”, saying that his beauty and youth will never fade. In the next two lines, he says that not even “…Death brag thou wander'st in his shade, when in eternal lines to time thou grow'st.” Here, there is the recurring theme of immortality that Shakespeare seems to use over and over again regarding the legacy of a memory. Death cannot claim this youth, because he will live forever in the verses that Shakespeare has written. He goes on to say that this will be the case as long as “men can breathe or eyes can see, so long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” As long as mankind continues to exist, the beauty of this youth will surpass that of his own lifespan. The fact that Shakespeare’s words are in a poem make him immortal, because whenever somebody reads this poem, his memory will be revived by the imagery and personification used in this poem, and the reader will understand just how important this youth was to Shakespeare. In conclusion, the only answer Shakespeare has to the profound joy and beauty that summer brings is to ensure that his friend remain forever in human memory, saved from the oblivion that accompanies death. This is achieved through his verse, believing that as history writes itself, his friend will become one with time. The final two lines reaffirm Shakespeare’s hope that as long as there is breath in mankind, his poetry too will live on, and ensure the immortality of his beloved youth. The excessive imagery that Shakespeare uses to allude to the “fair youth” is reason enough to believe that this man meant a lot to Shakespeare, and that the relationship between these two is either a very deep friendship, or a possible intimate relationship. Nevertheless, this man is very important in Shakespeare’s eyes, and the connection he has developed with him will last long after they are both gone.

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