Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare can be viewed as a message from a man to his beloved women. The speaker talks to a girl describing her beauty and her importance to him. For this reason, the tone is solemn, inspirational, and at the same time, it is full of warmth and passion. A reader can see the depth of emotions and the meaning of that woman for a man who addresses these words to her. Sonnet is devoted to the theme of love, which is one of the major themes mentioned in the works of Shakespeare, and it reveals relations between men and women.
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Analyzing the poem, it is possible to state that the speaker is in love with the addressee; however, we do not know whether she has the same feelings. However, it does not prevent the man from admiring the beauty of the woman. The summer is the central image of the sonnet as the author compares his beloved one with the summer day, which becomes the main idea of the plot. Although nature is beautiful, its beauty is changeable, while for a person in love, his sweetheart will always be attractive and cannot be compared to other things or objects.
Shakespeare uses different stylistic devices to disclose the theme. For instance, there are multiple examples of imagery in the poem. The sonnet opens with the question “Shall I compare thee to a summer day?” meaning that the author compares the woman’s beauty with the attraction of summer and its main features (Shakespeare, 2017, stanza 1). This motif becomes the central idea of the whole poem and helps to understand the central message of Shakespeare. Another example of imagery is the comparison of beauty with nature. Both these phenomena are unique; however, for the eyes of a person in love, his/her beloved one will always remain attractive compared to changeable nature.
The rhyme scheme of the sonnet is similar to other works of Shakespeare. It has 14 lines of iambic pentameter and the scheme abab cdcd efef gg. In such a way, the poet follows the pattern and tradition of classical sonnets previously used by Petrarca. It makes the poem easy to read and remember, which is also essential for a better understanding of the main idea and theme.
The sonnet has several symbols necessary for its comprehension. First of all, summer is the central symbol of the whole poem. While spring is traditionally associated with youth, summer stands for the period of life when people reach their peak and live their full lives. Additionally, it is associated with passion, emotions, feelings, and love. For this reason, Shakespeare chooses this season to compare it with the beauty of his beloved woman. Winds and sun can also be viewed as symbols of change and fade as they alter the image of nature and precondition its gradual corruption along with some devastation “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May” (Shakespeare, 2017, stanza 3). However, the beauty of his woman resists them as it exists in the mind of a speaker.
In the sonnet, Shakespeare also plays with sounds to attract readers. For instance, there is a case of alliteration in the line “By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d” (Shakespeare, 2017, stanza 8). The words chance, changing, and course start with C, which contributes to the creation of a specific sounding and the memorable image of the sonnet. There is also the alliteration at the beginning in the first line, “Shall I compare thee,” which contributes to the establishment of the correct mood at the very beginning of the poem (Shakespeare, 2017, stanza 1).
Finally, the whole sonnet revolves around the extended metaphor, which Shakespeare offers at the beginning of the poem. He compares the beauty of the woman with eternal summer. In such a way, she is the tenor she is ascribed with the elements of nature, while the chosen season is the vehicle. However, comparing these two phenomena, Shakespeare states that “But thy eternal summer shall not fade” same as the beauty will also last forever in the thoughts of lovers. In such a way, there is a case of a sonnet-long metaphor that develops the plot of the story and also helps the poet to demonstrate his vision of beauty.
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Altogether, Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare is an example of love lyric. A speaker who is in love devotes his lines to his beloved woman and compares her to summer, which is the central imagery and metaphor of the poem. Both these objects are unique and attractive; however, in the heart of a man, this woman, and her beauty will live forever. The use of symbols, allusions, and alliterations also helps to understand the mood of the sonnet and the main idea of the author. In such a way, it is possible to conclude that Sonnet 18 is a perfect example of how stylistic devices help readers to feel the emotions of the author and make poems memorable.
Shakespeare, W. (2017). Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”) In Gardner, J., Lawn, B., Ridl, J., Schakel, P., & Diaz, J. (Eds.), Poetry: A portable anthology (4th ed., p. 544). Bedford/St. Martin’s. (Original work published 1609).