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Shakespeare’s ‘Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day?’

The eighteenth sonnet of Shakespeare is the most famous of his one hundred and fifty-four sonnets. This is because it treats the subject of literary immortality. The beginning lines are so oft-quoted by many young people to a fair lady even in our times. We could daringly say that it summarizes the love poetry of many centuries (Dickie). It is such a beautiful love poem, written by someone so entranced in his lover’s beauty that every loving heart finds an echo of its own in the poem.. The subject that Shakespeare was writing about was earlier believed to be a woman. But now it is commonly agreed by literary critics to be a man (Dickie). He, in the first eight lines compares the lover with things found in nature and finds his lover to be better than those beautiful things. The rest of the poem slightly deviates from this comparison and moves on to the mortality of ordinary beauty. But the beauty of the poet’s lover is safe as the friend will be immortalized by the poem (Dickie). This sonnet was created soon after the ‘procreation sonnets’ of Shakespeare in which the poet tried to persuade the fair Lord to have a child (Shakespeare’s Sonnets Study). The writing of the poem is of an early period in the career of Shakespeare. It is considered to have been written between 1592 and 1597. The poem is in the typical form of a Shakespearean sonnet, which is of iambic pentameter and ends in a rhymed couplet. This means that there are five metric feet in one line with alternately stressed and unstressed syllables. This is a form that is very common in English speech and can be heard in everyday speech of the Englishman (Shakespeare’s Sonnets). There will be three quatrains concluded by the couplet. The quatrains are in the form abab cdcd efef gg. Whereas other beautiful things will pass, the beauty of poet’s friend is preserved in time. This tone helps the reader to understand the depth of affection and the beauty of the beloved, that is being immortalized through the lines of Shakespeare (Shall I compare Thee to A Summ).

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The poem is well-loved because the poet compares the beauty of the subject to the transient beauty of nature. Shakespeare begins by comparing the beauty of the friend to the beauty of a summer morning. But then he thinks that his friend is even better. The beauty of a summer morning is not as stable and temperate as his friend. Even the sun is sometimes too hot or too cold. For eleven lines he continues the comparison of his friend with nature. Even a cloud could alter the face of the sun and change the beauty of his face and the young buds are too fragile even for the wind of May. Everything in nature falls from the state of fairness at one time or another. It could happen due to the ravages of time or it could be due to chance. Both ways the fairness is very easily lost. But the poet assures the friend that he will not allow the enchanting beauty to be lost. He will not allow death to boast about destroying the beauty. Because the poet would immortalize the beauty, in the lines that he has created, thus safeguarding it forever (Dickie).

The poem may have been written to the lover to claim affection or win favor with the person in the poem. Whatever it may be, it is a work of exemplary literary merit. The poet explains to his friend that the beauty and charm will remain forever in his verse. This poem’s theme is mainly about the immortalization of beauty. The poet appears to believe that works of art and the subjects of that art would outlive their creators for an Indefinite period or even for an infinite period. Other things of nature may fade away, so Shakespeare is trying to immortalize his friend forever (Dickie).

In the first two lines the poet is comparing the friend to a day in summer. Here the poet finds that the friend is lovelier and of a more comfortable temperature, that is calm. Here the poet is using a technique used by artists when they compare something of evident beauty with their lover and then saying that the thing of beauty has some fault in it, it evidently enhances the beauty of the lover. The beautiful young buds of May are shaken by winds and lose their beauty. The next line compares the lover with the summer itself. But, it is too short a rest from winter. Often the golden face of the sun is dimmed and lacks beauty. In the next line the poet generalizes and says that everything in this world loses its beauty at some point or another. It is either by simple chance or by the passage of time. Time, ravages everything of beauty, because it is unchanging in its path. But you alone would not fade, says the poet. Your beauty will be eternal and never lose its charm. Nor it will become less by the passage of time. Even death will not be able to boast that you are now within its grasp. You will grow immortal in these lines that will continue forever. As long as men live on this earth and they have eyes to see, you will live on in these eternal lines (Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18).

The rhyme scheme of the poems gives a twist in the final couplet. After the three quatrains, comes the couplet. This couplet gives emphasis to the argument that the beauty of the friend shall live on forever in the lines of the sonnet. The final couplet in the Shakespearean sonnet comes like a closing bell to the poem. In Shakespearean sonnet, the couplet is so strongly marked that it is not read as an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines) , but as three quatrains and a couplet. This couplet is found to be highly epigrammatic in this sonnet. The poet starts by describing the beauty of the lover, goes on to the fickleness of natural beauty. We are confused with whom the subject of the poem is. Critics now say that it is a man, because the poet says ‘his’ in line 6. This could be a natural use as it is a simile. But we are left wondering. Anyway, we feel that whomever Shakespeare was trying to immortalize, he ended up doing so to himself.. All the different rhymes seven pairs of them enhance the beauty of the poem (Dickie). Then the final quatrain shifts the mood of the description with a hyperbole which claims that the friend has eternal beauty that will never fade. The ‘But’ in line 9 comes as a contrast to the natural ‘fading away. The friend shall not fade away. Shakespeare is giving the ultimate gift of immortality to his friend, whom he loves (Fineman). The images of summer, fair, eternal etc., all impress the reader sensually. Even though there is a possibility that Shakespeare was using praise and flattery to address a patron, the intense feeling of love has still left its mark on the poem. The poem gives us an unutterable feeling of the presence of the love that is felt universally (Fineman).

Works cited

Fineman, Kelly. 2008. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? — a National Poetry Month post. Web.

Jordan, Dickie. 2009. William Shakespeare’s “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day”: Analysis. Web.

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Jordan, Dickie. 2009. William Shakespeare’s “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day”: Analysis (2). Web.

Language Arts: Shakespeare’s Sonnets. 2003. Web.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets Study Guide. 2009. Web.

Shall I compare Thee to A Summ. 2009. Web.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18: Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day?. 2009. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 2). Shakespeare’s ‘Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day?’. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/shakespeares-shall-i-compare-thee-to-a-summers-day/

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 2). Shakespeare’s ‘Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day?’. https://studycorgi.com/shakespeares-shall-i-compare-thee-to-a-summers-day/

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"Shakespeare’s ‘Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day?’." StudyCorgi, 2 Nov. 2021, studycorgi.com/shakespeares-shall-i-compare-thee-to-a-summers-day/.

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StudyCorgi. "Shakespeare’s ‘Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day?’." November 2, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/shakespeares-shall-i-compare-thee-to-a-summers-day/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Shakespeare’s ‘Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day?’." November 2, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/shakespeares-shall-i-compare-thee-to-a-summers-day/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Shakespeare’s ‘Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day?’'. 2 November.

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