23 February 2015
Someone once said that love is the best part of any story and that true love goes beyond the limits of death. That someone was completely right. William Shakespeare is known worldwide as the greatest poet of the English language, a title well deserved. He, who is the master of the early modern English, used the power of love in his writing as the pathway to his eternal life as an author. Even though human bodies cannot live forever, their work and their words certainly can. Shakespeare knew that love is, and that it will always be never-ending; that a tale about love that never dies will be infinite and will never be worn out. In “Sonnet 18” Shakespeare used elements of poetry such as nature symbolism, imagery, and personification to support his overall message that he will live on forever in our literature.
One of the most important elements used in “Sonnet 18,” in an attempt to woo the speaker’s intended lover, is the nature symbolism. This element is illustrated mainly in the poem’s first two stanzas, where Shakespeare gives vivid comparisons and explanations for why his beloved is more lovely and more temperate than the summer. The summer season in literature is for countless of people a symbol of warmth, bright light and perfect times; a time where love can blossom and happiness comes easily. But in real life summer is not always perfect. Even something as pretty and charming as the summer has its gloomy days as Shakespeare recognized in these lines: “Sometimes too hot the eye of the heaven shines, / And often is his gold complexion dimmed; / And every fair from fair sometimes declines, / By chance or nature’s changing course untrimmed;” (lines 5-8) In these lines Shakespeare uses both personification, talking about the eye of the heaven, and nature symbolism to generate his point. With the nature symbolism, Shakespeare creates a picture that tells his readers about the faults of summer, how each of its days cannot be bright blue skies and perfect temperature, and how that can all change by chance. He wants to give his readers a better understanding of what it is that makes his beloved worthy of such a praise by giving them a vivid picture of nature’s changing course. In addition to that, he refers to the sun as ’the eye of the heaven,’ characterizing the sun, giving it a face so that the idea of it not being perfect will seem more realistic or comprehensive. The sun is an object that is often praised and lifted in literature, described as the nourisher or the life giver. But Shakespeare wanted his readers to know that not even the sun on its best day would be as perfect as his beloved.
The beginning of the poem is similar to so many of Shakespeare’s other works; beautiful, charming and about true love. And yes, it is a stunning proclamation of undying love, but what makes it so different from all the rest? Shakespeare did what no one had done so far. Shakespeare seems to have made the impossible possible; he now created immortal life for his beloved through his sonnet, by using imagery and personification in these short lines: “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, When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:” (9-12) He is now implying that; contrary to what he wrote in the first lines of the sonnet, his beloved is not like a summers day. The summer will die and fall will come. But she will never die because he has given her eternal life which makes her beauty grow forever. By using the imagery; her “eternal summer,” Shakespeare is giving his readers the chance to relate to the poem in an uncomplicated way. Summer is for many the highlight of the year, the best of the best. Love is always going to be interpreted differently by different people from different cultures, but by describing her as summer, Shakespeare is giving the readers the picture of the perfect time, the perfect woman, or the perfect love. Shakespeare then adds contrast to the beautiful summer by mentioning death. By using personification to death in the second line, Shakespeare is giving it a face; making death more detailed and more frightening. Death by itself may seem distant and untroubling at the time; however, by creating a face to death gives it a more concrete fear. Something that is more relatable.
So far the poem has given the readers the impression of it being a love confirmation, comparing the beauty of Shakespeare’s beloved to a summer’s day; however, that may not be the case. The poem takes an absurd turn in the last two lines, when Shakespeare spins the attention away from his beloved, and brings it to himself on a silver platter. He writes; “So long as men can breath, or eyes can see, /So long lives this, and this gives life to thee” (13-14). The focus that before was put upon his beloved, whom he has been praising in all the lines before these two, has now been altered to him; to his talent, and to his writing. He is now praising his own work, telling the world that the only way for his beloved to stay in this world is through his words on paper. It may seem rather arrogant, but seeing that the sonnet is still holding a high recognition today, makes him true to his vanity. Shakespeare is right here claiming that his words will not only be recognized in due time, but they will also live on forever. That he will be given eternal life, or at least eternal in the way that his literature will be read and admired through centuries.
It is a common belief that “Sonnet 18” is simply about a man’s eternal love for a woman; although, taking a closer look at the last stance might convince one otherwise. “Sonnet 18” can be portrayed as and related to a number of phenomenons; however, unconditional love might not be one of them. This sonnet is a strong illustration of how Shakespeare’s pride works its way into his poetry, and how he employs his poetry to declare to the world that he has the power to live on forever in his literature. This might be interpreted as arrogant, but every time the sonnet is being read, Shakespeare is being true to his words. He did after all create eternal life for him and his beloved, at least life as he defines it, being analyzed and admired.
Shakespeare, William.“Sonnet 18.” Literature: A Portable Anthology. Ed. Janet E. Gardner, Beverly Lawn, Jack Ridl and Peter Schakel. Third edition. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2013. 453-454. Print.