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|موضوع: analysis of Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day الخميس مايو 26, 2011 10:48 pm|| |
The speaker begins by asking whether he should or will compare "thee" to a summer day. He says that his beloved is more lovely and more even-tempered. He then runs off a list of reasons why summer isn’t all that great: winds shake the buds that emerged in Spring, summer ends too quickly, and the sun can get too hot or be obscured by clouds.
He goes on, saying that everything beautiful eventually fades by chance or by nature’s inevitable changes. Coming back to the beloved, though, he argues that his or her summer (or happy, beautiful years) won’t go away, nor will his or her beauty fade away. Moreover, death will never be able to take the beloved, since the beloved exists in eternal lines (meaning poetry). The speaker concludes that as long as humans exist and can see (so as to read), the poem he’s writing will live on, allowing the beloved to keep living as well.
Section I lines "1-8" Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
The speaker starts by asking or wondering out loud whether he ought to compare whomever he’s speaking to with a summer’s day.
Instead of musing on that further, he jumps right in, and gives us a thesis of sorts. The object of his description is more "lovely" and more "temperate" than a summer’s day.
"Lovely" is easy enough, but how about that "temperate"? The meaning that comes to mind first is just "even-keeled" or "restrained," but "temperate" also introduces, by way of a double meaning, the theme of internal and external "weather." "Temperate," as you might have heard on the Weather Channel, refers to an area with mild temperatures, but also, in Shakespeare’s time, would have referred to a balance of the "humours."
No need to explain this in great detail, but basically doctors since Ancient Greece had believed that human behavior was dictated by the relative amount of particular kinds of fluids in the body (if you must know, they were blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. Yummy, no?).
By the early 1600s, this theory was being strongly challenged, but people in Shakespeare’s audience would have known that "temperate" meant that someone had the right amount of those different fluids.
The other important (and less disgusting) issue these lines bring up is the question of "thee." Normally, we’d just assume that the object of the poem is his lover, and leave it at that. But with Shakespeare, these things are always complicated.
What can we tell about the relationship between the speaker and his addressee from the way he addresses "thee"?
For the moment, all we can really tell is this: the speaker doesn’t seem to care much what "thee" thinks. He does ask whether he ought to make this comparison, but he certainly doesn’t wait long (or at all) for an answer.
So is he just wondering out loud here, pretending "thee" is present?
Even better, and this is important, could "thee" also be us readers? Is it just us, or does some small part of you imagine that Shakespeare might be asking you, the reader, whether you want him to compare you to a summer’s day? Keep that on the back burner as you go through the poem.
Finally, just a note on the meter here:
Go ahead and read those first two lines out loud. Notice how they’re kind of bouncy? That’s the iambic pentameter: "compare thee to a summer’s day."
So do you want to see a cool bit of foreshadowing? The pronoun "I" is a stressed syllable in the first line, but the pronoun "Thou" is unstressed in the second line. Guess who’s going to be the real subject of this poem.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Here the speaker begins to personify nature. In other words, some of the smack talking he’s doing about summer sounds like he’s talking about a person.
Basically, strong summer winds threaten those new flower buds that popped up in May, and summer just doesn’t last very long.
The way he describes the short summer, though, is what’s interesting. Summer has a "lease" on the weather, just as your family might have a lease on your car; like a person, summer can enter into, and must abide by, agreements.
The point here is clear enough: the summer is fated to end.
But check this out: isn’t summer also fated to begin every year once again? Can the summer possibly have "too short a date," if it happens an infinite number of times? Isn’t it, in a meaningful sense, immortal?
Keep this in mind as you read on.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
Here comes the major personification of nature. Put simply, the speaker’s saying sometimes the sun is too hot, and other times you can’t even see it at all (hidden, we assume, by clouds).
But instead of being boring, he calls the sun the "eye of heaven," refers to it using the word "his," and gives it a "complexion," which generally means refers to the skin of the face.
Check out how much more information about the summer we’re getting than we are about the beloved. Indeed, the speaker is carefully describing the summer individually, and even in human terms, while he only describes "thee" in one line and only relative to the summer.
"Complexion," in particular, is especially interesting, as it brings back the whole "humours" theme we saw in "temperate."
"Complexion" used to be used to describe someone’s health, specifically with regard to their balance of humours. Thus, we see here again that the speaker is combining descriptions of external weather phenomena with internal balance.
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
With these lines, the speaker gets even broader in his philosophy, declaring that everything beautiful must eventually fade away and lose its charm, either by chance or by the natural flow of time. Kind of like teen pop stars.
Now what exactly does "untrimm’d" refer to?
We might read it as what happens to "fair" or beautiful things. By that reading, things that are beautiful eventually lose their trimmings, or their decorations, and thus fade from beauty.
On the other hand, "untrimm’d" is also a term from sailing, as you "trim," or adjust, the sails to take advantage of the wind. This gives "untrimm’d" a completely opposite meaning; instead of "made ugly and plain by natural changes," it means "unchanged in the face of nature’s natural changes."
Here, then, we are subtly prepped for the turn we’re about to see in…
Section II (lines 9-14) Summary
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
The turn! Check out the "Form and Meter" section for more on line 9 in sonnets, but here’s a classic example of a "turn."
Suddenly (though it was foreshadowed a bit in line "8"), the tone and direction of the poem changes dramatically. Moving on from bashing summer and the limitations inherent in nature, the speaker pronounces that the beloved he’s speaking to isn’t subject to all of these rules he’s laid out.
The speaker argues that, unlike the real summer, his beloved’s summer (by which he means beautiful, happy years) will never go away, nor will the beloved lose his/her beauty.
But remember what we mentioned in line 4? The summer in real life actually is an "eternal summer," since it comes back every year for all eternity. Just like we saw with all of the personifications of nature in the previous lines, we begin to notice here that "thee" and the "summer’s day" are really quite similar.
Both can fade away or, depending on how you look at it, be eternal, and both can be personified. That’s why here, at line 9, the poet switches direction – both the beloved and nature are threatened mainly by time, and it is only through this third force (poetry), that they can live on.
It’s also worth picking up on that word "ow’st." That apostrophe might be contracting "ownest" or "owest," and both work nicely. Either the beloved won’t lose the beauty he/she possesses ("owns"), or won’t have to return the beauty he/she borrowed from nature and now owes back.
These readings both resonate well with line 4, in which the speaker described the summer months as a "lease," or a temporary ownership that had to be returned.
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st;
In another bit of personification (so far we’ve had summer and the sun), the speaker introduces death.
Death, the speaker claims, won’t get a chance to claim the beloved in the valley of the shadow of death (this death’s shadow idea is from Psalm 23:4), since he/she is immortal.
The general meaning of line 12 (you’re eternal) is actually easier to see if you read the line as a metaphor. As a metaphor, "lines to time" definitely refers to a poem, since they are lines set to a meter, or time.
Here, then, the poet is making two bold claims: first, that his poem is "eternal," and second, that it nourishes and develops "thee," as it is where he/she is able to "grow."
Now this willingness to discuss the fact that he’s writing a poem within the poem itself is pretty cool stuff.
One fancy way of describing this kind of artistic tactic is called "breaking the fourth wall." That’s a metaphor itself, and you can think of it as a stage: in a normal play, any indoor action goes on as if the front edge of the stage were an imaginary wall. The actors, in other words, are supposed to pretend they’re in a real world with four walls and no audience watching them. If the actors, however, recognize that there’s an audience out there, they’re considered to be "breaking" through that fourth wall, as they try to do away with the artificiality of pretending they’re just living out a normal life up there on stage.
Well that’s exactly what’s starting to go on here. If you were thinking this poem was a love letter to a beloved, you can forget it. This is a poem written to be read by an audience, and that audience, by continuing to read the poem, will try to make the beloved grow into a character, and in turn make him/her immortal.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
The couplet, in the end, is really just a fuller admission of what the speaker points toward in line 12.
He has completely shattered the fourth wall, and (successfully, we should add) predicted that this poem will continue to be read, and the beloved will continue to be analyzed and re-analyzed for all time.
In other words, by allowing us to try to give life to "thee" (figuring out who he/she was), the speaker and the poem itself give "thee" life.
In other words: as long as men live and can read, this poem will continue to live, and so keep "thee" alive.
But let's examine the language more closely. First of all, we’ve got some more personification: technically, eyes don’t really "see," and poems certainly don’t "live."
Also, it’s worth noting the incredible arrogance here: why should we believe that as long as humankind exists, this poem will continue to live? Can’t we imagine a world in which every copy of this poem were burned, and so "thee" would stop living?
And even if people are still reading the poem, what kind of "life" is it that the beloved will be leading? This definitely doesn’t sound like heaven. The beloved can’t make any choices for his or her self, isn’t conscious, and can only be recognized as the poet described him or her.
In fact, we ought to wonder whether it is "thee" who will be alive, or rather the poet’s (very limited) representation of "thee."
Plus, remember how in line 9 we noted that summer could also be eternal? Well, the end of this poem kind of makes you wonder. So why, again, is the beloved eternal but not summer? Just like summer, the beloved is going to fade away in real life, and just like summer, the beloved has been written about and preserved in a poem. How come, by the end of the poem, it’s only "thee" who lives on and not nature?
Finally, remember how back in line 1 we were already wondering if "thee" might not just be the speaker’s lover, but also us readers? Well now the speaker has broken through the fourth wall, and revealed himself as not just a lover, but also as a writer of poetry.
So check this out (this should be fun for you math kids out there): the speaker is talking to "thee," and that speaker is actually the poet. Now who do poets write for? That’s right, for us readers.
So we have three conditions here: the speaker speaks only to "thee," the writer speaks only to us, and the speaker and writer are the same thing. Doesn’t that mean, then, that "thee," is the same as "us"? Trippy.
Frankly, we think that’s a pretty cool reading. Basically, the speaker here is speaking to all of mankind. All of us feel this pressure of mortality, but here Shakespeare crystallizes that anxiety in a poem, so that this idea of mankind will live on forever.
The last lines, then, can be read as circular: "so long as mankind lives, mankind will continue to live."
Cool? Too weird? You decide.
In any case, these last two lines hammer home something we suspected from those very first pronouns: this speaker seems more interested in himself and his abilities as a poet than the qualities of his addressee.
Sonnet 18 Symbolism, Imagery & Wordplay
There’s more to a poem than meets the eye.
Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.
Change, Fate, and Eternity
However much it might look he’s praising a beloved, this poet is definitely more concerned with tooting his own horn. Really, you could sum up the poem like this: "Dear Beloved: You’re better than a summer’s day. But only because I can make you eternal by writing about you. Love, Shakespeare." That message is why images and symbols of time, decay, and eternity are all over this poem. Whether or not we think the beloved is actually made immortal (or just more immortal than the summer’s day) is up in the air, but it’s certainly what the speaker wants you to think.
Line 4: This is where the speaker starts pointing to how short summer feels. Using personification and metaphor, the speaker suggests that summer has taken out a lease on the weather, which must be returned at the end of the summer. Summer is treated like a home-renter, while the weather is treated like a real-estate property.
Lines 7-8: These lines give us the problem (everything’s going to fade away) that the poet is going to work against.
Lines 9-12: These lines are full of all sorts of figurative language, all pointing to how the speaker is going to save the beloved from the fate of fading away. The beloved’s life is described in a metaphor as a "summer," and then his or her beauty is described in another metaphor as a commodity than can be owned or owed. Death is then personified, as the overseer of the shade (a metaphor itself for an afterlife). Finally the "lines to time" are a metaphor for poetry, which will ultimately save the beloved, and "eternal" is a parallel with "eternal summer" in line 9.
Lines 13-14: What’s so interesting about these lines is that it’s hard to tell whether the speaker is using figurative language or not. Does he actually mean that the poem is alive, and that it will keep the beloved alive? Well, it depends what we mean by "alive." If we read alive scientifically, as in breathing and thinking, well then alive is definitely a metaphor. But if we read it as describing a continued existence of some kind, well then maybe he does mean it literally, since surely the poem and the beloved exist for us in some sense.
If the major question of this poem is how to become immortal, and thus more wonderful than a summer’s day, the speaker’s answer is poetry. For that reason, poetry takes on an inflated importance in the poem, and is attended by dramatic, powerful language.
Line 1: This rhetorical question accomplishes a lot, including setting down the main axis of comparison in the poem, and also implying that the speaker is only making a show of caring what we readers or the beloved actually think (since he clearly can’t care how or whether we answer him). In addition to these roles, though, the word "compare" gives this line a special charge, since it is a word that is so closely tied up with the role of poetry. If you were to try to define poetry, one thing you might say is that poets really like to compare things that are really dissimilar and show they can be connected. In a sense, then, we can read this line as "should I write a poem about you?" In that way, the speaker has already made the act of writing poetry an issue in this poem, and, as we’ll see, his answer to this question is obviously, "heck yeah I should write a poem about you, since I can make you immortal!"
Lines 12-14: These lines are where the poet finally begins to talk about poetry more clearly. The phrase "lines to time," creates a metaphor for poetry, since poetry is lines of words set to a time, or meter. Then, using a parallel in the last two lines, he asserts that as long as humans live, his poetry will survive, and, in turn, so too will the beloved. The question, of course, is what he means by the poem giving "life" to the beloved. It’s in some sense a metaphor, at least, since the poem isn’t about to perform CPR on the beloved’s corpse every time the poem is read. But if "life" just means having someone think about you, then sure, the poem could give life to the beloved.
From the beginning of the poem, the speaker tries to set up a contrast between the beloved and a summer’s day. He tries really hard to distinguish them, ultimately arguing that the beloved, unlike nature, will be saved by the force and permanence of his poetry. The thing is, the contrast doesn’t really work, since summer, if anything, seems much more eternal than the beloved. If being written about preserves immortality, then the summer ought to be immortal because the speaker’s writing about it as well. And then there’s the fact that summer actually is, in some sense, immortal, since it returns in full force every year.
Line 1: This is a rhetorical question, as the speaker definitely doesn’t care how or whether we answer him, and it also introduces what will be the main metaphor of the poem, as the summer’s day will be discussed using concepts more literally applicable to the beloved than to summer itself.
Line 2: "Temperate" is a pun, since it carries two important meanings here. When applied to the beloved, it means "showing moderation or self-restraint," but when applied to the summer’s day it means, "having mild temperatures."
Lines 3-4: This is all personification here. Even if winds might really be able to "shake" things, and buds could be described as "darling," these are both words more often applied to human actions. The next line is a much more obvious case of personification, as summer can’t literally take out a lease on anything. Note also that this implies a metaphor of the weather as a rentable property. Also, the "darling buds" introduce an extended metaphor of plant life and the conditions needed to sustain life that runs through the rest of the poem
Lines 5-6: There’s the apparent opposition here, in that sometimes the weather is too hot, and sometimes it’s too cold. But there’s also personification with "eye" and "complexion." What’s more, "complexion" doesn’t just mean the appearance of the face, but also had a second meaning in Shakespeare’s time, referring to someone’s general internal well-being. Note also that the plant life extended metaphor is continued in "shines" and "dimm’d," since plants need light in order to flourish.
Line 9: Here the personification is inverted: instead of describing nature in human terms, the speaker is describing the beloved in the terms of nature, giving him or her an "eternal summer" which could not literally apply.
Line 11: "Shade" makes for a continuation of the plant life extended metaphor, since if you’re a plant stuck in the shade, that’s some bad news. "Shade" is also a pun, because it can mean "ghost."
Line 12: The plant life extended metaphor is completed, as the speaker finally points out a way that plants can "grow," instead of all of these problems they faced in previous lines of the poem. Now what is this way? Well, perhaps aside from suggesting poetry, "lines to time" could also conjure up an image of plants lined up in rows in a farm. In other words, plants need to be organized and cultivated by humans in order to survive. This works really well with the main theme in the rest of the poem: that the beloved needs to be organized and developed by the poet in order to survive.
Leases and Debt
The speaker of "Sonnet 18" is really trying to simplify nature and fate, since he’s trying to hurdle over their limitations with his poetry. One way he does it is to reduce them to economic transactions – something simple, easy to understand, and most importantly, work around.
Line 4: He describes summer as having a "lease" over the weather. This is, of course, personification, since summer couldn’t hold a lease, but for the purposes of this theme, it’s also a metaphor, since the weather isn’t actually a product that can be bought, sold, or rented.
Line 10: Here the speaker jumps back into the economics lingo, using both a metaphor and a pun. The metaphor is similar to what we saw in line 4: here beauty, instead of the weather, is what can be bought, sold, and rented. But here there’s also a cool pun with the word "ow’st," as it could mean both "owest" and "ownest." Either way, he’s still playing with the property metaphor, but we can wonder whether the beloved’s beauty is something he or she owns, or something that he or she has only borrowed, and would have to return if not for the speaker’s poetry.
Sonnet 18: Rhyme, Form & Meter
We’ll show you the poem’s blueprints, and we’ll listen for the music behind the words.
A Shakespearean Sonnet in Iambic Pentameter
This is a classic Shakespearean sonnet with fourteen lines in very regular iambic pentameter. With the exception of a couple relatively strong first syllables (and even these are debatable), there are basically no deviations from the meter. There aren’t even any lines that flow over into the next line – every single line is end-stopped. There are two quatrains (groups of four lines), followed by a third quatrain in which the tone of the poem shifts a bit, which is in turn followed by a rhyming couplet (two lines) that wraps the poem up. The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.
The form of this sonnet is also notable for being a perfect model of the Shakespearean sonnet form. Just as in older Italian sonnets by which the English sonnets (later to be called Shakespearean sonnets) were inspired, the ninth line introduces a significant change in tone or position. Here Shakespeare switches from bashing the summer to describing the immortality of his beloved. This poem also has the uniquely English twist of a concluding rhyming couplet that partially sums up and partially redefines what came before it. In this case, the closing lines have the feel of a cute little poem of their own, making it clear that the poet’s abilities were the subject of this poem all along.
Don’t be fooled, though: beyond the form, this is not your stereotypical sonnet. The main reason is that sonnets, at least before Shakespeare was writing, were almost exclusively love poems. Certainly this poem has some of the qualities of a love poem, but, to say the least, this poem isn’t just a poet’s outpouring of love for someone else. Check out the "Love" theme for more on that.
Sonnet 18 Theme of Time
The speaker of Sonnet 18 is absolutely fixated on fate and mortality, but believes he’s come up with an effective time machine: poetry. Instead of contemplating a beautiful summer’s day, this speaker can’t stop thinking about how everything in life is temporary and fleeting. No need to fear, though – the hero-poet steps in and announces that, by artistically representing his beloved, he can save him or her from the ravages of time. "Time," then, is the intersection of the "Literature and Writing" theme and the "Man and the Natural World" theme. Man, in the natural world, can’t avoid being subject to time, but it is through literature, the poet argues, that he can free himself.
Sonnet 18 Love Quotes
How we cite the quotes:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate (1-2)
At first glance, the poem seems to start like a really awkward little love poem, doesn’t it? It feels like the poet is almost awkward in professing his love. He has to ask whether he ought to go ahead with the comparison (couldn’t he just make the comparison without all the anxiety?), and the best compliments he can come up with are "lovely" and "temperate." This isn’t high-flown language, and there’s nothing particularly inspiring here. If we didn’t have the rest of the poem to go on, we’d think this poem was by some sad sap who had no idea how to express himself poetically. Instead, though, once we get to the end of the poem, we realize that these lines sound awkward because the speaker’s heart isn’t really in it. He’s into himself and the idea of writing a poem, and it’s only there where his language can shine.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade (9)
In line 9 we come to realize that this whole comparison with the summer is bizarre. Check out this line: "thy eternal summer shall not fade." That’s like saying "thy unbreakable armor shall not be broken." Duh, his/her eternal summer won’t fade, because it’s eternal. Plus, there’s the added issue that the comparison of real summer to the beloved’s "summer" doesn’t fully make sense. The speaker is claiming that the real summer is temporary, while the beloved’s metaphorical summer is eternal. But the problem is, even the real summer is eternal, because it happens every year. The line "summer’s lease hath all too short a date" doesn’t entirely make sense, because even if each individual summer is limited, summer itself is eternal. To us, all of this just helps torpedo the thought that this is a legitimate love poem for anyone other than the poet.
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st (11-12)
In the thoughts accompanying lines 1-2 above, we mentioned how the "love poem" feels a bit hollow and falls flat in the first two lines, as the poet just doesn’t seem to be able to turn his love into beautiful language. Well, we see in lines 11-12 that he is fully capable of turning his love into beautiful, richly imagistic language. The thing is, he reveals his true love here: himself, or the guy who can fend off death.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee (13-14)
Remember when we thought this might be a love poem? Well, the last two lines seal it: this is a poem about living, not loving. Note the repetition of "lives" and "life" in the final line. There’s nothing here about love, except for implied self-love on the part of the speaker.