Friday, June 6, 2014

Analysis of "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? (Sonnet 18)" by William Shakespeare

Original poem reprinted online here:  "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? (Sonnet 18)" by William Shakespeare
Originally read: October 27, 2013
More information about the Poet: William Shakespeare

Probably one of the most famous (Elizabethan) sonnets of all time.  This poem in particular reminds me of that old English puzzle.  "Can I go to the bathroom?" "I don't know, can you?"  Something facetious like that.  This poem isn't facetious though.

The core of the poem is not only a love poem, but also a permission poem.  Where "My mistress eyes is nothing like the sun" plays with the idea of hyperbolic comparison, the play with this poem is the idea of "love."

    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.

The first part is a rhetorical question based on asking the other if the comparison could be made.  But of course we have to go forward because, well, saying no would probably be a different poem.  Note that the comparison to the thee is brief, "thou art more lovely and more temperate," and the rest of the quatrain states the harshness of Summer -- rough winds in May (is that summer or spring?) and how short summer is.  These descriptors, in turn, are not the "thee":

     Sometimes too hot they eye of heaven shines,
     And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
     And every fair from fair sometimes declines,
     By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimmed.

Note how the comparison to "thee" are basically gone to the conceptual of what "summer" means -- what is compared to.  The temporariness of summer can be similar to the "his gold complexion dimmed" -- perhaps a reference to the sun, or to the divine due to "chance" or "natures changing course"  -- time.  Time dims summer, regardless of the return.

     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 grows't

What the speaker is proposing is an "eternal summer" and rather than state what eternal summer is, the speaker states what an eternal summer can do.  Never losing  fairness, be immortal from death, and won't be forgotten by time.

    So long as man can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

So I remember reading this poem a long time ago in the class and the professor ended with, "and we're still reading this poem today" and then she sighed.  And my response was...what. What is loved here is not a person.  This is not like Robert Herrick's Julia poems where there's someone specific being addressed -- rather a concept is being memorialized, a meta-poetic one.

What's eternal the idea of someone fair being immortalized on paper -- note that there isn't a comparison to the other throughout most of the poem, rather the concepts of what can take the other away.

The speaker places himself in the position to be the only one to make the other immortal.  The idea.  Not a specific love, but of "love."

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