Few have matched such a task including himself. This short sonnet number 18 is one of the best known and most loved of all 154 poems. Mabillard states that “It is also one of the most straightforward in language and intent” (Mabillard). Shakespeare starts the sonnet by the praise of his lady friend without ostentation, but he slowly builds the image of his lady friend into that of a perfect being.
Shakespeare illustrates that as history writes itself down in the books, his friend or loved lady, will become one with time. The poet’s hope that as long as there is breath in mankind, his poetry too will live on. Shakespeare uses a vast amount of imagery in his sonnet. Each line adds to his feeling and thoughts through flowing visions and comparisons. “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, / And summer’s lease hath all too short a date”. (Kennedy and Gioia).
This line down plays summer and shows the negatives of the season. Shakespeare gives the fact sharp winds attack what beautiful flowers the ground and trees put out in the spring. This asks the question; if summer is so nice and perfect, how could it do this to something so lovely as the small buds on a tree or a flower? The next line suggests summer is short and ends far to quickly for most people’s liking. Shakespeare’s love could never end like summer does. He knows there is no limit such as time to his feelings and thoughts.
Throughout the sonnet, Shakespeare combines personification and imagery to add to the effect on the mind’s eye and its view of his love. “Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, / And often is his gold complexion dimmed” (Kennedy and Gioia) are two lines which show this perfectly. Ray says that “Complexion in line 6 refers only to physical appearance in the face and that it points to the face of the personified sun” (Ray). Shakespeare puts down the sun which is often a favorite part of most people during summer. He also states “Shakespeare certainly also assumes the other meaning of ‘complexion’ most common in his time: an individual’s ‘complexion,’ his or her temperament” (Ray). He writes the truth in saying the sun does get too hot sometimes and the golden shine can dull with clouds and haze from time to time.
By taking such a bold stand and shunning the one thing which sets summer apart from the other seasons, Shakespeare shows he is fearless in his love and will take the road less traveled for it. Shakespeare has some darker parts to his sonnet which bring out the light in his feelings. “Nor shall death brag thou wand’ rest in his shade” (Kennedy and Gioia) is another use of personification and cast a shadow on the ending of the love between Shakespeare and his significant other. Death shall not take the love away from Shakespeare for he will always remember what is between the two lovers. He repeats his thought on this in the line “But thy eternal sunshine shall not fade” (Kennedy and Gioia). This has a tone of a command as if he is threatening anything death or memory about the love.
He will not let the slightest bit change what he feels. The line also has a warm feel to it in the words eternal sunshine. This gives the imagery Shakespeare and the other are filled with great warmth and light which few have felt before. The versatility which Shakespeare creates in a few carefully chosen words adds to the sonnet’s significance and meaning.
Shakespeare does an odd thing in his writing about love. He contrasts it with summer instead of comparing it with spring which is the more highly recognized season of love. The adds to depth and meaning of Shakespeare’s words and love. By avoiding spring, Shakespeare shows his love is not young or fleeting like most spring loves. His love everlasting, and he is fully devoted to his one and only.
Spring loves are thought to be for the young and inexperienced and simply fascinations. Shakespeare avoided showing his love is like this by choosing summer over spring. Shakespeare has a key factor in his writing which is easily overlooked. He writes to his love not about them.
He does not use pronouns, such as she, he or they, but ones like you or your. By writing directly to his love, Shakespeare shows an emphasis on how he feels and how he wants everyone to know it. This is not merely a sonnet about love but about loving someone more than life itself. He is not shy in his feelings nor is he scared in what the outside world may think. Shakespeare wanted to express and scream his feelings the best possible way and he achieved it. The first line of the sonnet adds the complexity of the whole.
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” (Kenney and Gioia). By having a question in the first line, Shakespeare gives curiosity for the audience. It makes one want to read on and find the answer. This makes the rest of the sonnet a must read. Questions instill the need to find the answer, and Shakespeare understood this. He starts the sonnet off with phenomenally and ends it the same.
“So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee” (Kennedy and Gioia). These lines are a definition for the undying love Shakespeare feels but this is not the significance of them. What makes these two lines stand out is Shakespeare indented them. Therefore, they stand out and are very prominent. Being at the end of the sonnet was not enough for Shakespeare final emphasis.
He had to thrust them out of the page at all who can see. This shows he is completely and utterly serious about his love if the other lines did not prove it. A strong beginning and ending just like his love. This sonnet is the prototype for one’s feelings on love.
Though it is not for sure who Shakespeare is writing to, one thing is certain: his love is everlasting and beautiful. He describes his feelings almost as well as he feels them and gives the same feelings to the audience. He outdid himself with his work and few things can match his words and heart he put into this sonnet.
Kennedy X.J. and Dana Gioia, eds. Literature: An Introduction. 9th ed. New York: Longman, 2005.
pg 815-816. Ray, Robert H. ‘Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18. ‘ The Explicator. Washington: Fall 1994.
Vol. 53, Iss. 1, p 10-11. Mabillard, Amanda. ‘An Analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18’. Shakespeare Online. 2000.
June 26, 2005.