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Sonnet 18

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Sonnet 18
Detail of old-spelling text
Sonnet 18 in the 1609 Quarto of Shakespeare's sonnets
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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 ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.





—William Shakespeare[1]

Sonnet 18, sometimes titled Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?, is one of the best-known of 154 sonnets written by the English playwright and poet William Shakespeare. It is part of the Fair Youth sequence, which comprises sonnets 1126 in the accepted numbering, which occurs in the first edition in 1609. Sonnet 18 is the first of the cycle that follows the opening sequence of seventeen sonnets, which is sometimes referred to as the procreation sonnets.

In the sonnet, the speaker asks whether he should compare the young man to a summer's day, but notes that the young man has qualities that surpass a summer's day, the speaker then states that the young man will live on forever in the lines of the poem. Scholars have found parallels within the poem to Ovid's Tristia and Amores, both of which have love themes. Sonnet 18 is written in a form that is known as the Shakespearean sonnet, having 14 lines of iambic pentameter ending in a rhymed couplet, the form is also known as the English Sonnet, or the Elizabethan Sonnet.


The poem starts with the speaker posing a question to the young man, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" The young man is "more lovely and more temperate" than a summer's day. The speaker lists some negative aspects of summer: it is short ("summer's lease hath all too short a date") and sometimes the sun is too hot ("Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines"). However, the young man has qualities that, unlike the fleeting beauty of a summer's day, will last forever; they will last forever by the poet preserving it in verse. "So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee." The young man's aspects of loveliness, temperateness, and fairness (or beauty), which are mentioned earlier in the poem, will live on through the poem which will last as long as it can be read.


Sonnet 18 is a typical English or Shakespearean sonnet, it consists of three quatrains followed by a couplet, and it has the characteristic rhyme scheme: abab cdcd efef gg. The poem reflects the rhetorical tradition of an Italian or Petrarchan Sonnet. Petrarchan sonnets typically discussed the love and beauty of a beloved, often an unattainable love, but not always,[2] it also contains a volta, or shift in the poem's subject matter, beginning with the third quatrain.[3]

The couplet's first line exemplifies a regular iambic pentameter rhythm:

 ×  /   ×   /   ×    /     ×  /     ×   / 
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, (18.13)
/ = ictus, a metrically strong syllabic position. × = nonictus.


The poem is part of the Fair Youth sequence (which comprises sonnets 1–126 in the accepted numbering stemming from the first edition in 1609), it is also the first of the cycle after the opening sequence now described as the procreation sonnets. Some scholars, however, contend that it is part of the procreation sonnets, as it addresses the idea of reaching eternal life through the written word, a theme they find in sonnets 1517; in this view, it can be seen as part of a transition to sonnet 20's time theme.[4]

There are many, varying theories about the identity of the 1609 Quarto's enigmatic dedicatee, Mr. W.H. Some scholars have suggested that this poem may be expressing a hope that they interpret the procreation sonnets as having despaired of: the hope of metaphorical procreation in a homosexual relationship.[5] Professor Michael Schoenfeldt of the University of Michigan, characterizes the Fair Youth sequence sonnets as "the articulation of a fervent same-sex love,"[6] and some scholars, noting the romantic language used in the sequence, refer to it as a "daring representation of homoerotic...passions," [7] of "passionate, erotic love," [8] suggesting that the relationship between the speaker and the Fair Youth is sexual. The true character of this love remains unclear, however, and others interpret the relationship as one of purely platonic love, while yet others see it as describing a woman. Scholars have pointed out that the order in which the sonnets are placed may have been the decision of the publishers, and not of Shakespeare, which would further support the interpretation that Sonnet 18 was addressed to a woman.[9]


Line one is paradoxical, because the implied answer to the poet's question, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day", is in the negative, even though the point is illustrated by comparisons.[10]

"Complexion" in line six, can have two meanings:

  • (1)The outward appearance of the face as compared with the sun ("the eye of heaven") in the previous line, or
  • (2)The older sense of the word in relation to The four humours.

In Shakespeare's time "complexion" carried both outward and inward meanings, as did the word "temperate" (externally, a weather condition; internally, a balance of humours). The second meaning of "complexion" would communicate that the beloved's inner, cheerful, and temperate disposition is constant, unlike the sun, which may be blotted out on a cloudy day, the first meaning is more obvious, meaning of a negative change in his outward appearance.[11]

The word, "untrimmed" in line eight, can be taken two ways: First, in the sense of loss of decoration and frills, and second, in the sense of untrimmed sails on a ship.In the first interpretation, the poem reads that beautiful things naturally lose their fanciness over time; in the second, it reads that nature is a ship with sails not adjusted to wind changes in order to correct course. This, in combination with the words "nature's changing course", creates an oxymoron: the unchanging change of nature, or the fact that the only thing that does not change is change, this line in the poem creates a shift from the mutability of the first eight lines, into the eternity of the last six. Both change and eternity are then acknowledged and challenged by the final line.[2]

"Ow'st" in line ten can also carry two meanings equally common at the time: "ownest" and "owest". Many readers interpret it as "ownest", as do many Shakespearean glosses ("owe" in Shakespeare's day, was sometimes used as a synonym for "own"). However, "owest" delivers an interesting view on the text, it conveys the idea that beauty is something borrowed from nature—that it must be paid back as time progresses. In this interpretation, "fair" can be a pun on "fare", or the fare required by nature for life's journey.[12] Other scholars have pointed out that this borrowing and lending theme within the poem is true of both nature and humanity. Summer, for example, is said to have a "lease" with "all too short a date." This monetary theme is common in many of Shakespeare's sonnets, as it was an everyday theme in his budding capitalistic society.[13]



  1. ^ Pooler, C[harles] Knox, ed. (1918). The Works of Shakespeare: Sonnets. The Arden Shakespeare [1st series]. London: Methuen & Company. OCLC 4770201.  To correct a typographical error in Arden 1, Quatrain 2 has been supplied by Arden 3: Duncan-Jones, Katherine (1997). Shakespeare's Sonnets. London: Arden Shakespeare. ISBN 978-1903436578. 
  2. ^ a b Jungman, Robert E. (January 2003). "Trimming Shakespeare's Sonnet 18". ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews. ANQ. 16 (1): 18–19. doi:10.1080/08957690309598181. ISSN 0895-769X. 
  3. ^ Preminger, Alex and T. Brogan, the New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993. pg. 894 ISBN 0-691-02123-6
  4. ^ Shakespeare, William et al. The Sonnets. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. pg. 130 ISBN 0-521-29403-7
  5. ^ Neely, Carol Thomas (October 1978). "The Structure of English Renaissance Sonnet Sequence". ELH. ELH, Vol. 45, No. 3. 45 (3): 359–389. doi:10.2307/2872643. JSTOR 2872643. 
  6. ^ Schoenfeldt, Michael Carl. A Companion to Shakespeare's Sonnets. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2010. Print. p 1.
  7. ^ (Cohen 1745)
  8. ^ (Cohen 1749)
  9. ^ Schiffer, James. Shakespeare's Sonnets. New York: Garland Pub, 1999. pg. 124. ISBN 0-8153-2365-4
  10. ^ Larsen, Kenneth J. "Sonnet 18". Essays on Shakespeare's Sonnets. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  11. ^ Ray, Robert H. (October 1994). "Shakespeare's Sonnet 18". The Explicator. 53 (1): 10–11. doi:10.1080/00144940.1994.9938800. ISSN 0014-4940. 
  12. ^ Howell, Mark (April 1982). "Shakespeare's Sonnet 18". The Explicator. 40 (3): 12. ISSN 0014-4940. 
  13. ^ Thurman, Christopher (May 2007). "Love's Usury, Poet's Debt: Borrowing and Mimesis in Shakespeare's Sonnets". Literature Compass. Literature Compass. 4 (3): 809–819. doi:10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00433.x. 


  • Baldwin, T. W. (1950). On the Literary Genetics of Shakspeare's Sonnets. University of Illinois Press, Urbana.
  • Hubler, Edward (1952). The Sense of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
  • Schoenfeldt, Michael (2007). The Sonnets: The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s Poetry. Patrick Cheney, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
First edition and facsimile
Variorum editions
Modern critical editions

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