Comments on 'Sonnet 18'


Note: Shakespeare's sonnets are written in iambic pentameter (with the exception of Sonnet 145). This means that each line has five iambic feet. Each iambic foot has an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable. The word "deceive", for example, is an iamb. Iambic pentameter is close to conversational English. Shakespeare's plays are also written for the most part in iambic pentameter.

There are 154 sonnets. Critics and researchers claim that Sonnets 1-126 are addressed to a young man, while Sonnets 127-154 are addressed to the "dark lady". We leave this speculation alone, as it is a far, far better thing to read and enjoy the poetry as is.

Shakespeare's sonnets are concerned with love, beauty, poetry, and, perhaps most pervasively, on the force that the passage of time exerts upon all three.

Sonnet 18

The main premise of the sonnet is that the speaker compares a person's beauty with a summer's day, which points to the brief quality of one's youth and beauty. The point then is the ephemeral quality of youth and beauty. The first two lines establish the comparison and line 2 establishes who is the more radiant, but then the sonnet proceeds not with praise of the person's beauty but with a list of possible faults in a summer's day. The rest of the first quatrain and the entire second quatrain dwell on negative aspects that can mar a summer's day. The third quatrain starts to move in the real direction of the poem, which is to say that the young person's beauty and radiance (which we must assume would fade and be lost like the ephemeral summer's day) will never fade because Sonnet 18 will keep it alive. This, the main point, is then summed up in the ending couplet.


Line by line (our interpretation):
Line 1
If I compared you to a summer day – (how do you think this should be read? Would an ironic tone already be appropriate here?)
Line 2
I'd have to say you are more beautiful and serene – (now he flatters the person he is writing to)
Line 3
By comparison, summer is rough on budding life – (one may begin to wonder, here the speaker describes the beauty of the person not by direct referral to his or her beauty but by looking at what the summer's day can be in a negative sense)
Line 4
And doesn't last long either
Line 5
At times the summer sun (the eye of heaven) is too hot – (the speaker continues with the negative aspects of the summer's day)
Line 6
And at other times clouds dim its beautiful golden glow
Line 7
Everything that is nice in nature will at some point decline – (every fair may also refer to every fair woman who will lose her looks to age)
Line 8
The decline might be by chance or by the natural workings of nature – (neither can be controlled)
Line 9
However, you yourself will not fade ("Aah, finally," thinks the person in the poem, "we're getting to my positive traits, I hope."
Line 10
Nor lose ownership of your fairness – (here is the sense of immortality as opposed to the ephemeral qualities of a summer's day)
Line 11
Not even death will claim you
Line 12
Because these lines I write will immortalize you – (the eternal lines must be seen as the sonnet itself)
Line 13
As long as men breathe and see (as long as there are people who appreciate poetry. Does this suggest the poet's self-praise of his own abilities? Your beauty will fade, but by gosh my poetry is so good you've just been immortalized)?
Line 14
We interpret "this" to be referring to the sonnet itself. So this sonnet will continue to live and it will give you immortal life.


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Sist oppdatert: 20.03.2015

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