NON AFRICA POETRY. SHALL I COMPARE THEE TO A SUMMER 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 owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
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.
Summary: Sonnet 18
The speaker opens the poem with a question addressed to the beloved: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The next eleven lines are devoted to such a comparison. In line 2 , the speaker stipulates what mainly differentiates the young man from the summer’s day: he is “more lovely and more temperate.” Summer’s days tend toward extremes: they are shaken by “rough winds”; in them, the sun (“the eye of heaven”) often shines “too hot,” or too dim. And summer is fleeting: its date is too short, and it leads to the withering of autumn, as “every fair from fair sometime declines.” The final quatrain of the sonnet tells how the beloved differs from the summer in that respect: his beauty will last forever (“Thy eternal summer shall not fade…”) and never die. In the couplet, the speaker explains how the beloved’s beauty will accomplish this feat, and not perish because it is preserved in the poem, which will last forever; it will live “as long as men can breathe or eyes can see.”
This sonnet is certainly the most famous in the sequence of Shakespeare’s sonnets; it may be the most famous lyric poem in English. Among Shakespeare’s works, only lines such as “To be or not to be” and “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” are better- known. This is not to say that it is at all the best or most interesting or most beautiful of the sonnets; but the simplicity and loveliness of its praise of the beloved has guaranteed its place. On the surface, the poem is simply a statement of praise about the beauty of the beloved; summer tends to unpleasant extremes of windiness and heat, but the beloved is always mild and temperate. Summer is incidentally personified as the “eye of heaven” with its “gold complexion”; the imagery throughout is simple and unaffected, with the “darling buds of May” giving way to the “eternal summer”, which the speaker promises the beloved. The language, too, is comparatively unadorned for the sonnets; it is not heavy with alliteration or assonance, and nearly every line is its own self-contained clause—almost every line ends with some punctuation, which effects a pause.
Sonnet 18 is the first poem in the sonnets not to explicitly encourage the young man to have children. The “procreation” sequence of the first 17 sonnets ended with the speaker’s realization that the young man might not need children to preserve his beauty; he could also live, the speaker writes at the end of Sonnet 17 , “in my rhyme.” Sonnet 18 , then, is the first “rhyme”—the speaker’s first attempt to preserve the young man’s beauty for all time. An important theme of the sonnet (as it is an important theme throughout much of the sequence) is the power of the speaker’s poem to defy time and last forever, carrying the beauty of the beloved down to future generations. The beloved’s “eternalMsummer” shall not fade precisely because it is embodied in the sonnet: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,” the speaker writes in the couplet, “So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Sonnet 18 is devoted to praising a friend or lover, traditionally known as the ‘fair youth’, the sonnet itself a guarantee that this person’s beauty will be sustained. Even death will be silenced
because the lines of verse will be read by future generations, when speaker and poet and lover are no more, keeping the fair image alive through the power of verse. The opening line is almost a tease, reflecting the speaker’s uncertainty as he attempts to compare his lover with a
summer’s day. The rhetorical question is posed for both speaker and reader and even the metrical stance of this first line is open to conjecture. Is it pure iambic pentameter? This
comparison will not be straightforward.
This image of the perfect English summer’s day is then surpassed as the second line reveals that the lover is more lovely and more temperate. Lovely is still quite commonly used in England and carries the same meaning (attractive, nice, beautiful) whilst temperate in Shakespeare’s time meant gentle-natured, restrained, moderate and composed.
The second line refers directly to the lover with the use of the second person pronoun Thou, now archaic. As the sonnet progresses however, lines 3 – 8 concentrate on the ups and
downs of the weather, and are distanced, taken along on a steady iambic rhythm (except for line 5, see later).
Summer time in England is a hit and miss affair weather-wise. Winds blow, rain clouds gather and before you know where you are, summer has come and gone in a week.The season seems all too short – that’s true for today as it was in Shakespeare’s time – and people tend to moan when it’s too hot, and grumble when it’s overcast.
The speaker is suggesting that for most people, summer will pass all too quickly and they will grow old, as is natural, their beauty fading with the passing of the season.
With repetition, alliteration and internal and end rhyme, the reader is taken along through this uncertain, changing, fateful time. Note the language of these lines: rough, shake, too short, Sometimes, too hot, often, dimmed, declines, chance, changing, untrimmed.
And there are interesting combinations within each line, which add to the texture and soundscape: Rough/buds, shake/May, hot/ heaven, eye/shines, often/gold/complexion, fair from fair, sometimes/declines, chance/nature/changing, nature/course.
Life is not an easy passage through Time for most, if not all people. Random events can radically alter who we are, and we are all subject to Time’s effects.
In the meantime the vagaries of the English summer weather are called up again and again as the speaker attempts to put everything into perspective. Finally, the lover’s beauty, metaphorically an eternal summer, will be preserved forever in the poet’s immmortal lines.
And those final two lines, 13 and 14, are harmony itself. Following twelve lines without any punctuated caesura (a pause or break in the delivery of the line), line 13 has a 6/4 caesura and the last line a 4/6. The humble comma sorts out the syntax, leaving everything in balance, giving life.
Sonnet 18 Language and Tone
Note the use of the verb shall and the different tone it brings to separate lines. In the first line it refers to the uncertainty the speaker feels. In line nine there is the sense of some kind of definite promise, whilst line eleven conveys the idea of a command for death to remain silent.
The word beauty does not appear in this sonnet. Both summer and fair are used instead.
Thou, thee and thy are used throughout and refer directly to the lover, the fair youth. And/Nor/So long repeat, reinforce
Sonnet 18 is an English or Shakespearean sonnet, 14 lines in length, made up of 3 quatrains and a couplet. It has a regular rhyme scheme: abab cdcd efef gg. All the end rhymes are full, the
exceptions being temperate/date .
Sonnet 18 is written in traditional iambic pentameter but it has to be remembered that this is the overall dominant metre (meter in USA). Certain lines contain trochees, spondees and possibly
anapaests. Whilst some lines are pure iambic, following the pattern of da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM , no stress syllable followed by a stressed syllable, others are not.
Why is this an important issue? Well, the metre helps dictate the rhythm of a line and also how it should be read. Take that first line for example:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
There’s no doubting that this is a question so therefore the stress would normally fall on the first word, Shall. Say it quietly to yourself and you’ll find the natural thing to do is place a little more
emphasis on that opening word, because it is a question being asked. If the emphasis was on the second word, I, the sense would be lost. So it is no longer an iamb in the first foot, but a trochee, an inverted iamb.
Shall I / com pare / thee to / a sum / mer’s day ? (trochee, iamb x4)
But, there is an alternative analysis of this first line, which focuses on the mild caesura (pause after thee ) and scans an amphibrach and an anapaest in a tetrameter line:
Shall I / com pare thee / to a sum / mer’s day ?
Here we have an interesting mix, the stress still on the opening word in the first foot, with the second foot of non stressed, stressed, non stressed, which makes an amphibrach. The third foot
is the anapaest, the fourth the lonely iamb. There are four feet so the line is in tetrameter.
Both scans are valid because of the flexible way in which English can be read and certain words only partially stressed. For me, when I read this opening line, the second version seems more natural because of that faint pause after the word thee . I cannot read the opening line whilst sticking to the daDUM daDUM iambic pentameter beat. It just doesn’t ring true.
More Analysis – Lines That Are Not Iambic
Again, the iambic pentameter rhythm is altered by the use of a spondee at the start, two stressed single syllable words: Rough winds / do shake / the dar / ling buds / of May ,
This places emphasis on the meaning and gives extra weight to the rough weather.
Again an inversion occurs, the opening trochee replacing the iamb: Sometimes too hot the eye of hea ven shines , The stress is on the first syllable, after which the iambic pattern continues to the end. Note the metaphor (eye of heaven) for the sun, and the inversion of the line grammatically, where too hot ordinarily would be at the end of the line. This is called anastrophe, the change of order in a sentence. Line 11
Note the spondee, this time in the middle of the line. And a trochee
opens: Nor shall death brag thou wand ‘rest in his shade, The emphasis is on death brag, the double stress reinforcing the initial trochee to make quite a powerful negation.