Course: English Poetry and Literature
Teacher: Dr. Natanela Elias
Sonnet 18 One of the Greatest Love Poems of all Times or a Poet's Self Glorification Praise
Sonnet 18 is a beautiful love poem that conveys the themes of human beauty and the effect of time on it through a variety of metaphors and poetic techniques. On the surface, the poem is simply a statement of praise about the beauty of the Beloved; summer tends to unpleasant extremes of windiness and heat, but the Beloved is always mild and temperate. It praises the Beloved with vivid descriptions and Shakespearian metaphors. It's simplicity derives from the similes that are taken from a very casual object as a summer's day and words that are not too hard to understand. The octet raises a question: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" and then describes all the reasons why the comparison would not be a reasonable thing to do. Shakespeare elevates the Beloved's beauty far above the beauty of a summer's day, by using the conjunction "but", he emphasizes why the Beloved is much more than a summer day, the Beloved will never fade. While the octet elaborates on the defaults of a summer's day in order to emphasize the Beloved eternal beauty, the sestet presents a twist that implies that it is not the Beloved that Shakespeare wants to praise in this romantic poem, but rather himself. Some critics claim that sonnet 18 should not be regarded as a love poem but as a poet's song of praise to himself. The sonnet does not include detailed descriptions of the Beloved's beauty but rather Shakespearian metaphors of the ultimate beauty. Elkana
Shakespeare also boasts to have the power to preserve his love’s beauty through his poetry which has led critics such as James Boyd-White to claim that it is actually ‘one long exercise in self-glorification’ rather than a love poem. James Boyd-White states that Shakespeare has clearly aimed to draw a lot of attention to himself as the poet in sonnet 18 and that is the reason his descriptions of his Beloved’s beauty do not include many details. Shakespeare’s conceited claim in the sestet makes this argument possible. It clearly demonstrates the poet's desire to praise oneself for his poetic skills as opposed to the wish to praise the lover. James Boyd-White claims that the evidence of Shakespeare writing this poem for the purpose of praising himself occurs subtly throughout the entire text. In the very first line, for example, due to the rhythmic structure the word ‘I’ is emphasized whereas the word ‘thee’ is not. This suggests that Shakespeare wanted to focus on himself rather than on his love. Likewise in the third quatrain, he personifies death and states that it will not ‘brag’ to power over Shakespeare’s love. This could be interpreted as Shakespeare stating that he will be the one who brags rather than death, since even if physically the Beloved might get old and wrinkled and eventually die, the rhyming couplet direct the reader to the main idea of the poem: The beloved’s beauty will accomplish this feat and not perish, because it is preserved in the poem, which will last forever. The two rhyming lines of the couplet draw the reader's attention to the omnipotent poet whose poems will last as long as people are able to see and read, and through them the Beloved becomes eternal. The poem gives the Beloved immortality and not his unique beauty. Elkana
Reinforcement to this claim is the fact that this sonnet is considered unique for it is the first poem in Shakespeare's 1-18 sonnets that does not explicitly encourage the young man to have children in order to preserve his beauty. Sonnet 17 ends with the poet's realization that the young man might not need children to preserve his beauty for he could also live “in my rhyme.” Sonnet 18, then, is the first rhyme where Shakespeare makes his first attempt to preserve the young man’s beauty forever. An important theme of the sonnet is the power of the poem to defy time and last forever, carrying the beauty of the beloved down to future generations. The beloved’s “eternal summer” shall not fade because it is embodied in the sonnet: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this and this gives life to thee.” It is a great wish to wish your lover eternity, and in sonnet 18, Shakespeare takes it one step further by not just wishing immortality to his lover, but by claiming that he has the power to grant it. Sonnet 18 is very straightforward in language and intent. When reading the poem for the first time, it seems to be the perfect love poem, but when analyzing the structure and the content a bit deeper, the poet's passion to immortalize his Beloved and his perception of having the power to do so becomes prominent. All of the above reinforces the claim that Shakespeare wrote sonnet 18 with a strong belief that the poem will be eternal for his exceptional talent and through the poem he and his Beloved will achieve immortality. The poet believes that his Beloved would be saved from the oblivion that accompanies death, since his poem will forever live.