William Shakespeare’s Sonnet #18, “Summers Day”, is one of his most widely read pieces of writing. Filled with imagery, he immortalizes the subject of his poem with paradox and descriptions unlike other writers. Throughout his word choice and comparisons of his subject to the summer, he is able to write a piece that glorifies his subject in comparison to a hot summer’s day. Through immortalizing his subject in written form, Shakespeare is also guaranteeing that his subject’s memory will last much longer than a season.
In line one of this poem; Shakespeare writes “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” At first glance, this line gives the impression that he is beginning to write about his subject in an unflattering manner. Typically summer is not the season that a writer chooses to use in order to express feelings of fondness; spring seems the more apt choice. In his word choice, by selecting “Shall I”, beginning his poem in the harsh sound of an ‘S’, it is implied that Shakespeare is not thrilled to be writing a piece about his subject. Had he selected an opening such as “May I” or another word choice that is less harsh sounding, the poem would begin in a softer tone, implying that this is a piece of adoring writing. “Shall” implies that this is a required act of writing, rather than a voluntary one.
However, in line two “Thou art more lovely and more temperate”, Shakespeare redeems the qualities of his subject by expressing some of the more desirable attributes that they posses. He uses contrasting images in lines one and two in order to validate his feelings of admiration towards his subject. By putting the harsh picture of a summer’s day, filled with heat and exhaustion, against the softer qualities of being “lovely” and “temperate”, the reader gets an even deeper feeling of how fond Shakespeare is of his subject. If Shakespeare had started out the first line in glowing admiration of his subject, the impact would not have been as great when reading the rest of the poem. By putting the two contrasting images right next to each other, it displays to the reader that the subjects, in Shakespeare’s eyes, is deserving of only the finest of prose for eternity.
Shakespeare uses lines three thru eight to further display how the summer season is not grand enough to describe his highly admired subject. By using the word choice of “rough winds do shake” and “darling buds” Shakespeare displays how summer is harsh compared to other seasons; further displaying that comparing his subject to summer does not do justice to them. By having the summer wind shake and tear at innocent flower buds, Shakespeare is able to let the reader know that his subject is neither harsh nor rough. The contrasting images are what further display to the reader just how gentle and delicate his subject appears to him. The phrase of “summer’s lease hath all too short a date” implies that Shakespeare feels that the person he is writing about deserves to be immortalized for a longer period of time than that of the summer. By putting the person into a written sonnet, Shakespeare is hoping to keep his subjects memory ‘alive’ for far longer than a season.
Lines five and six in the sonnet give a description of the summer sun, the epitome of how people relate to summer. By writing “Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines; And often is his gold complexion dimm’d” Shakespeare supports even further that his subject is worthy of far more than a mere comparison to the summer. With the sun beating down, causing it to be too hot to enjoy and clouds dimming the shine of the sun, Shakespeare shows he doesn’t feel that his subject’s glory should be dimmed by anything. By choosing to call the sun “the eye of heaven” is an amazing word choice to imply that even a part of heaven, where everyone hopes to eventually achieve, has flaws compared to his beloved subject. Had Shakespeare written “Sometimes the sun is too hot, or the clouds cover it up” the impact on the reader would have been minimal and easily forgotten. By selecting specific imagery, the reader becomes awed at the majestic qualities of Shakespeare’s inspiration for the poem.
The lines “And every fair from fair sometimes declines; By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’e” (7 & 8) Shakespeare eloquently displays and describes the mortality of life. In life, everything will eventually fade and lose its glory and beauty by the course of nature or by chance-it is inevitable. It is Shakespeare’s knowledge of the inevitable death and fading of all life that he wanted to write about his subject, give them eternal life and preserve their memory forever in the written word. Through his piece of writing, Shakespeare is making his subject forever young and forever beautiful. No matter how life may change the subject, in reading Shakespeare’s word, the subject will always return to how they were at the time the poem was written. By writing about his subject, Shakespeare is also able to ensure that other people who have never know his subject will be able to appreciate and understand just how wonderful Shakespeare felt his subject is/was.
Lines nine thru eleven further prove this action “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”. Shakespeare is saying that his subject shall never fade; the subject will forever remain young and beautiful in his writings. By immortalizing his subject on paper, Death will never be able to take them away or claim their life fully. Although the physical person may fade in beauty and grow old, Shakespeare is finding a way to cheat death by keeping a part of the person alive forever in writing. For Shakespeare, this insures that Death will never be able to fully claim the subject of his admiration, and Shakespeare will have done what he set out to do to immortalize his beloved subject.
The final three lines of the poem let the reader know, from Shakespeare himself, the full intent in writing this work. “When in eternal lines to time thou growest; So long as men can breath or eyes can see; So long lives this and gives life to thee” (Lines 12-13). Shakespeare is stating that because of his poem and because of him, his subject will live forever in verse. As long as there are people on earth that can read his work, his subject will never be forgotten or truly dead. Shakespeare is boasting that as long as his poem survives the ages, so will the memory of his beloved subject. In a way, while Shakespeare is making his subject survive for eternity, it is also a way that he can preserve the fact that it was he that defied Death and made it so his subject was immortal. The last three lines imply that he is in fact preserving for all eternity his own godly actions in defying the inevitability of death.
In writing this sonnet, Shakespeare wanted to ensure that his subject would live on throughout the ages, defying death that makes one mortal. In placing his subject in verse, he is able to ensure that the subject he felt such importance for will be remembered long after they are physically gone. Five hundred years later, Shakespeare has accomplished his task of having his subject become immortalized. Although the name of his subject, or their relationship, was not disclosed in the body of the poem, we readers get to know how important this person was to Shakespeare. Through the written word and eloquent images, today we are able to glimpse the admiration of the subject and begin to understand their importance in Shakespeare’s eyes.