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Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day By William Shakespeare

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:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
            By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade, 
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

         Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Literary Analysis (Summary)

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day (Sonnet 18) is one of the best known 154 sonnets by Williams Shakespeare. The poem is an address (apostrophe) to the poet’s lover as he professes his love and magnifies her beauty. The poet celebrates the irresistible and everlasting beauty of his beloved in a rather exaggerated manner.

The poem begins with a rhetorical question by the speaker contemplating if he could really compare his unnamed beloved to a summer’s day. This implies that the beloved’s beauty is incomparable and superior to the tranquillising beauty of the summer season. The summer is known as the warmest season when many crops are grown. It’s a season of merriment and relaxation. Summer creates a beautiful atmosphere for vacation. Hence, the speaker compares his beloved to a summer season but contends that his beloved is “more lovely and more temperate”. Unlike the transient beauty of the summer, his beloved’s beauty is everlasting and eternal. And through the lines of this poem, his lover will live on forever.

The poem as a conceit juxtaposes nature (summer’s day) with the beauty of the beloved. In the first two stanzas, the poet-speaker compares the two elements but tries to place his lover above the summer. He acknowledges that the summer is beautiful with its soothing ambience and his beloved too is beautiful. Then, he begins to pin-point the imperfections of the summer in order to bring out his lover’s perfection.

“Rough winds” can shake the beautiful flowers of the summer rendering it superficial. In addition, summer is just for a short period of time, “all too short a day”. It doesn’t last long. Even when the sun (the eye of heaven) scorches, it still fades away with time (gold complexion dimmed). In fact, every beauty “declines” and loses its charm with time. By the virtue of ageing, other natural occurrences and other natural occurrences or hazards, even the most beautiful people shed their beauty.

Unlike nature, the beauty of his loved one is “eternal” and “shall not fade”. She won’t in any way lose possession of the beauty she owns. As a matter of fact, the poet-speaker deploys hyperbolic descriptions to extol the immortal beauty of his lover such that death cannot consume it.

One of the characteristics of living things is death, yet the lover defies this natural law because the poet has etched her name in the “eternal lines” of poetry. In other words, the poet has harnessed poetry as a timeless means to immortalise his beloved’s beauty.

This is further emphasised in the last heroic couplets of the poem when the poet declares that as long as men live and can read this poem, she will continue to live and posterity will continue to meditate and eulogise her everlasting beauty. Moreover, the last line indicates the beauty of poetry, and literature in general, as a tool for preserving cultures, history and legacies.

The beauty of nature
Love is beautiful
The immortality of literature
Life is ephemeral


The setting of the poem is the season of summer in England, Shakespeare’s native country. The mood of the poem is romantic while the tone is hyperbolic and also romantic. The poem is a sonnet, a poem of fourteen lines with iambic pentameter. In the three quatrains, the poet makes declarations about his lover, while the last two lines conclude the poem in an assertive way. The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EF EF GG 

Written by Toluwalogo Adeyemi

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