Shakespeare’s Sonnet “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day” Essay
Updated: Apr 23rd, 2020
Shakespeare is a classical poet famous for his stumbling, touching verse, skillful imagery, and eternal ideas he touched upon in his dramas, comedies, and sonnets. Every work of Shakespeare has managed to reach its objective, and has contributed to the creation of Shakespeare’s unique literary legacy that is now under the intense investigation.
The subject of the present paper is argumentative analysis of poetry, hence one of the most famous Shakespeare’s sonnets “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day” will be subject to analysis and argumentative response in the present work.
It is quite easy to analyze sonnets through the prism of poetry analysis, as they possess a rich variety of poetic language units, and they represent a separate entity with a set of its distinguishing peculiarities, the theme and message uncovered through careful reading, the tone unveiled upon the thorough investigation of the plot etc.
“Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day”
The sonnet No. 18 “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day” can be discussed from several angles used to consider poetry. First of all, one may catch the rising tone of the sonnet, since the beginning is of average emotion and intensity, and the starting lines sound more like an inquiry than like a poetic praise:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate (Shakespeare 1-2)
However, the first line of the sonnet is a widely known manifestation of love poetry utilized by men in love for several centuries; the very imagery and mode of comparison are very poetic, and the person in love may really find the analogy between a woman he loves and the blessing of a sunny day.
Therefore, the similes met in the first two lines are highly eloquent from the point of view of literary analysis: the woman as bright and warm as a sunny day, bringing as much joy and life to every being in the world as the warm summer sun etc. However, Shakespeare even goes farther in his comparison – he states that even the summer day in all its splendor and grandness cannot supersede a beloved woman, she will always remain “more lovely and more temperate” (Shakespeare 2).
As Frey notes, there is much beyond a single phrase “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day” as it arouses not only the poetic, but visual and emotional representation of a realm of other things, reminiscences everyone may have about summer, such as sounds, relaxed postures, fragrance, warmth etc. (Frey 9).
Thus, the comparison becomes a much more powerful complement than any praise that could have been voiced towards a woman. It seems that every reader will have his/her own picture in the mind because it is very broad but nevertheless bright and warm, causing everyone to imagine something great indeed as compared to the object of love Shakespeare turned to.
Further on, Shakespeare comes to the detailed comparison of a beloved woman to the summer day, showing why they are not alike, and which comparative advantages a woman he loves has. First of all, Shakespeare skillfully points at the changeability of the summer weather, and the short term during which a man can enjoy the summer:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date (Shakespeare 3-4).
It is the beauty of Shakespeare’s poetic language that makes the reader understand the true splendor of summer, and the natural processes that take place during summer – ‘rough winds’ and shake the ‘darling buds’, the fragile beginning of life in May, and threaten the very fact of nature’s blossom later. However, as Shakespeare contends, the beloved woman is incapable of such cruelty towards the life that is only originating, does not have the force and strength yet, and needs support and not the shaking of ‘rough winds’.
The short duration of summer is also a barrier for Shakespeare to compare two beautiful things, the beloved woman and the summer day. Shakespeare states that summer is too short to resemble the love he has, as the woman is always in his life, heart, and soul, while the seasons are changeable.
“Too short a date” is not the case about the beloved, as she will be the only unchangeable memory in his life (Shakespeare 4). The reason for this immortality as compared to the changes of seasons will be explained by Shakespeare at the end of the sonnet.
As the sonnet, proceeds, the great author offers a set of skillful and charming metaphors that reveal both his attitude to nature and to love. Shakespeare calls the sun “hot eye of heaven”, and refers to its shapes as “his gold complexion” (Shakespeare 5-6). Here one can also see the personification effort – the Sun is an inanimate object, but many poets have seen some supernatural forces in the elements of nature such as Sun, Moon, oceans and seas, winds etc.
Hence, turning to the Sun as “he” is not strange in poetry – Shakespeare paid much awe to the image of the Sun in his verses, and he may have referred to the Sun as a king of the Universe, the eye of heavenly forces, the unique power that rules many processes in the world etc. Hence, the object of the Sun takes a notable place in the imagery of Shakespeare.
One more personified object in the sonnet of Shakespeare is Death – the author promises that through his effort, his beloved woman will never lose the beauty, charm, and youth she possesses. Shakespeare says: “Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade” (Shakespeare 11).
This powerful line is full of poetic language; first, it is the personification of death (Shakespeare also calls it ‘he’, which means that he gives death human characteristics, comparing it to a person). Secondly, the metaphor of death bragging a woman into its shade is eloquent, meaning dying and fading away, as all people die and lose their human traits and features.
However, the brightest part of the sonnet is the final three lines in which Shakespeare embodies love into his poetry and uses poetry as the eternal tool for saving love from death.
Shakespeare includes the hopes about the long life of his poetry into the verse itself, stating that his beloved woman will be eternally young and beautiful because she lives in his lines (Mabillard). Therefore, Shakespeare becomes both the author and the object of the verse, showing that he is aware of the tremendous power poetry (and his poetry in particular) may have on people:
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee (Shakespeare 12-14).
As one can see from these lines, the hope of Shakespeare lies entirely within the power of art, the might of poetry to retain the features of the object of his love. Therefore, one may see the praise not only towards a woman (or a man, which is often suggested while reading Shakespeare’s sonnets), but the praise towards art in general, towards its boundless power to keep the beauty from dying and fading.
It is one more metaphor that praises art and people who consume this art, making it alive, as art without appreciators will also die, and all beautiful things praised in the lines of verses or embodied in paintings will also die. Hence, the work is more about the immortality of beauty through the immortality of art that people provide for themselves, turning to works of art centuries after their creation.
Frey, H. Charles. Making sense of Shakespeare. Danvers, MA: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1999.
Mabillard, A. An Analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18. Shakespeare Online. 2000. Web.
McMahon, E. Literature and the Writing Process, 9th ed., Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2010.
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