William Shakespeare (1564-1616) -
Sonnet 18 (c. 1595)
Shakespeare's sonnet has the same theme as
Sonnet 75 by Spenser:
the poet makes his beloved immortal by means of his poetry.
This theme is a conventional one in Elizabethan sonnets.
But Shakespeare and Spenser treat it in an original and individual manner.
Spenser starts from a concrete situation and uses dialogue to make his point.
Shakespeare writes a monologue in the form of an address.
It contains a carefully reasoned argument which, as in many of
Shakespeare's sonnets, moves in a series of steps.
line 1: summer's day = summer season
line 10: ow'st = ownest
line 14: this = this poem
The first line, a question, proposes a comparison between Shakespeare's
beloved and a summer season. Summer is chosen because it is lovely and
pleasant. In the second line the comparison is restricted:
in outward appearance and character the beloved person is more beautiful
and less extreme than summer. The reasons for the restriction are given
in the next four lines which describe the less pleasant aspects of summer.
In the seventh and eighth lines Shakespeare complains that every beauty
will become less one day. The ninth line takes up the comparison with
summer again: summer has by now become the summer of life. The comparison
turns into a contrast by referring back to the seventh. The poet's assurance
becomes even firmer in lines eleven and twelve, which contain a promise
that death will be conquered. 'Eternal lines' refers to lines of poetry
but also suggest lines of shape. It points forward to the triumphant
couplet which explains and summarizes the theme: poetry is immortal
and makes beauty immortal.
Because of the step by step arguments Shakespeare's conclusion makes the
impression of great certainty. His method is more rational and logical
than Spenser's. Spenser does not try to argue or prove his theme.
Shakespeare wrote a series of sonnets, most of which were probably
addressed to a noble young man for whom he felt deep love and admiration.
In many of them he deals with the problem of time, sometimes optimistically
as in the present sonnet, sometimes in a mood of despair.
From: 'Enjoying Literature' by H.J. van Moll and N. Kortland,
published by Tjeenk Willink/Noorduijn b.v., The Netherlands, 1982
There are literally loads of Web pages on Shakespeare and his works.
See for example
works or the
<=== Sonnet 18 page
<=== Main poetry page
<=== Music and lyrics page.
Jos van Geffen --
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last modified: 3 February 2008