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Sonnet 18

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English Literature

William Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets, but few are as well-known and as frequently quoted as Sonnet 18 (1609).

Literary critics have long held the belief that Shakespeare directed his collection of sonnets to three different entities: The Fair Youth, the Dark Lady, and a Rival Poet. The largest number, from Sonnet 1 to Sonnet 126”, seem to be directly speaking to the Fair Youth. Many believe that the Fair Youth was one of Shakespeares mentees. For more accomplished men to develop mentor relationships with younger men was normal in his time.

But lets now look at one of Shakespeares most famous poems, Sonnet 18, and learn how Shakespeare was able to immortalize the subject of his poem in a mere fourteen lines.

Sonnet 18 at a glance

PoemSonnet 18
AuthorWilliam Shakespeare
Publication date1609
Structure English or Shakespearean sonnet
MeterIambic pentameter
Rhyme schemeABAB CDCD EFEF GG
ThemeThe subject of the poem is compared to summer, revealed to be constant and fair, and immortalized by the words of the sonnet.
MoodAdmiring
ImageryVisual, tactile
Literary devicesMetaphor, imagery, personification, hyperbole, repetition
Overall meaningThe beauty of an individual is more constant than the summer weather and can even remain in death when immortalized in writing.

Sonnet is Italian for little song.

Sonnet 18

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, 5

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, 10

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.

Summary of Sonnet 18

Sonnet 18 contains four sections and is written in the classic Shakespearean or English sonnet form. It features iambic pentameter with ten syllables per line. Each line has a set of five stressed and unstressed syllables, called iambs. End rhyme is found throughout the poem, with the rhyme scheme being ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. The last two lines, a couplet, rhyme with each other.

End rhyme is when a word at the end of one line rhymes with a word at the end of another line.

Lines 1-4

The sonnet begins with the famous rhetorical question, Shall I compare thee to a summers day?, which addresses the subject of the poem as if they are present. Immediately, the poetic voice responds by stating, Thou art more lovely and more temperate (line 4). The voice criticizes the summer for being too windy and too short.

Lines 5-8

Summer is not as lovely as the subject of the poem because the sun is sometimes too hot, sometimes too dim. In nature, everything beautiful declines, as is natures course, because it is always changing.

Sonnet 18 the sun in the sky StudySmarterThe sun is rising over a field and casting a golden light, pexels.

Lines 9-12

The turn, or volta, of the poem occurs in this response to the initial question. The poetic voice changes topic to the subject of the poem, saying, But thy eternal summer shall not fade (line 9) and, unlike the summer, will not lose possession of that fair thou owst (line 10). The qualities of the subject are so constant that not even death can take them away.

In a poem, the turn, or volta, is a shift in ideas, emotions, or tone. In this and many other English sonnets, the turn typically happens at the beginning of the third quatrain.

The concluding couplet

The concluding couplet of this fourteen-line sonnet immortalizes the subject by stating that as long as the poem and humans exist by seeing and breathing, the poem will give eternal life to the subject.

Two main sonnet forms are the Shakespearean or English sonnet and the Petrarchan or Italian sonnet. Both consist of fourteen lines and are typically in iambic pentameter. However, the Shakespearean sonnet has three quatrains and one couplet, while the Petrarchan sonnet format is typically an octave and a sestet, also known as a sestina.

The form of Sonnet 18

The form of Sonnet 18 follows the standard formula and thus does not differ from other English or Shakespearean sonnets.

The poetic foot in Sonnet 18

A poetic foot is a group of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry. Poetic feet count syllables, not words.

An example of a poetic foot is found in line 1 of Sonnet 18”: SHALL I compare thee to a summer’s day? The last two syllables in line 1 complete one poetic foot.

The meter of Sonnet 18

Meter is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry.

The meter throughout Sonnet 18 stresses the second syllable of every foot. The bold portions indicate the stressed syllables in this example from line 1: Shall I compare thee to a summers day? This specific pattern of a weak syllable followed by a stressed syllable is called an iamb.

The rhyme scheme of Sonnet 18

A rhyme scheme is the ordered pattern of words that rhyme, typically at the end of each line of poetry. The rhyming pattern is indicated by the letters of the alphabet.

Here is an example from the first four lines of Sonnet 18:

SHALL I compare thee to a summer’s day? a

Thou art more lovely and more temperate: b

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, a

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date: b

Sonnet 18, field of flowers, StudySmarterA field of flowers blowing in the wind, pexels.

Lines in Sonnet 18

A line of poetry is a group of words together on a line in poetry. It does not signify a complete sentence or an idea.

For instance, line 5 of Sonnet 18, Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines, is a complete line but not a complete sentence.

A quatrain is a set of four lines. Lines 5-8 complete one quatrain.

A couplet is a set of two lines. Lines 13-14, the final lines in a Shakespearean sonnet, complete one couplet.

The literary devices of Sonnet 18

Sonnet 18 contains several literary and poetic devices that make it effective and memorable. These devices enhance the overall meaning of the poem by adding depth, interest, and a connection with the reader.

Metaphor in Sonnet 18

Shakespeare uses metaphor in Sonnet 18 as the basis of the poem. The opening question compares the subject of the poem to a day in summer.

A metaphor is a direct comparison between two seemingly unlike things without using the words like or as.

Imagery in Sonnet 18

Shakespeare uses imagery in Sonnet 18 to appeal to the readers senses and add dimension to the poem.

Imagery is a detailed description that appeals to any of our five senses. For instance, visual imagery is any description that appeals to the sense of sight, while tactile imagery is any description that appeals to the sense of touch.

Personification in Sonnet 18

Shakespeare uses personification to make the comparison between a human being and a day in summer more relatable.

Personification is the act of describing non-human things with human characteristics.

Hyperbole in Sonnet 18

Shakespeare uses hyperbole in the poem to show emphasis.

Hyperbole is a form of figurative language that uses exaggeration to make a strong point.

An example of hyperbole can be seen in line 5, as the subject of the poem has an eternal summer that will never fade (line 9). The hyperbolic statement helps strengthen the idea that the subject of the poem is constant and much more predictable and, therefore, more beautiful than summer.

Repetition in Sonnet 18

Shakespeare uses repetition in Sonnet 18 for emphasis and to provide a strong conclusion.

Repetition is a writing convention that repeats the same words, phrases, or sentences to add emphasis or structure to a piece.

The concluding couplet in Sonnet 18 repeats So long as to emphasize that the subject will remain constant as long as the poem exists. The repetition also creates a parallel structure, emphasizing that both ideas are equally important.

Analysis of Sonnet 18

In this fourteen-line sonnet, Shakespeare establishes a comparison between the subject of the poem, the Fair Youth, and a warm summer day. Although these two may seem extremely different, the literary devices Shakespeare employs effectively develop the comparison. Sonnet 18 effortlessly immortalizes the poems subject.

Lines 1-4

The first quatrain of Sonnet 18 uses metaphor and apostrophe to ground the poem. The initial question, Shall I compare thee to a summers day? (line 1), establishes the central purpose of the poem and directly addresses the subject. This question is the focus of the rest of the poem. Immediately, the audience understands that a day in summer will fall short when compared to the subject, who is more lovely and temperate (line 2) or more constant. After all, summer has rough winds (line 3) that destroy the beautiful buds of May (line 3) and is a season that is too short (line 4).

An apostrophe is a literary device where the speaker addresses a person that is not present, a thing that cant answer (such as a god), or the dead. It creates a sense of intimacy and helps the speaker communicate ideas more effectively.

Lines 5-8

The second quatrain begins with a metaphor comparing the sun to the eye of heaven (line 5), which is too hot. The following personification of the sun in line 6, with his gold complexion dimmd, proves the sun to be inconsistent in temperature and appearance. This description leaves the reader to infer that the poems subject remains consistent in demeanor, action, and appearance, unlike the summer sun, which fluctuates because of natures changing course (line 8).

Lines 9-12

The final quatrain of the poem begins the turn or volta. The word But in line 9 changes the subject from the sun to the Fair Youth. While summer days are ever-changing, the poems subject has an eternal summer (line 9) that will not fade (line 9). This hyperbolic statement emphasizes that the fair traits that the subject possesses are consistent and ever-lasting. Even death personified cannot brag (line 11) that he has cast a shadow on the wonderful traits that the poems subject maintains.

The concluding couplet

The repetition in the sonnets closing couplet, So long as (lines 13-14), provides a parallel structure to the poem, making it memorable and adding weight to the closing claim. As long as the poem lives, this gives life (line 14) to the subject of the poem.

A parallel structure is a writing strategy where ideas are expressed using the same pattern of words and the same grammatical structure in connected lines of poetry or prose. It shows that the ideas have the same level of importance and add continuity.

The theme of Sonnet 18

Using extended metaphor throughout the poem to compare the subject of the poem to a summers day, the speaker shows how constancy in action and traits are more important than physical characteristics. The core of a person will outlast even death and can be immortalized through the power of words. The concluding lines prove that as long as humankind can see (read) and breathe, the poem will live on. With each new reading, the subject of the poem lives on as well. Words have the power to give life again and again, just as nature is reborn each year through the cycle of the seasons.

The meaning of Sonnet 18

Sonnet 18 is about the respect and admiration the speaker has for the poems subject. The speaker sees the subject and all their remarkable traits as something that is constant and much more valuable than the characteristics of a day in summer. The summer winds, the hot sun, and the ever-changing nature pale to the endless summer of the subject (line 9) that is captured in the eternal lines (line 12) of the poem.

Sonnet 18 - Key takeaways

  • Sonnet 18 is one of over 150 sonnets written by William Shakespeare. It was published in 1609.
  • The theme of Sonnet 18 shows that consistent actions and character traits are more important than physical characteristics.
  • Shakespeare uses extended metaphor throughout the poem to compare the subject of the poem to a summers day.
  • Sonnet 18 is an Elizabethan sonnet, but it can also be referred to as a Shakespearean or English sonnet.
  • The structure of an English sonnet features fourteen lines, separated into three quatrains and one couplet with a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. Shakespearean sonnets are written in iambic pentameter.

Sonnet 18

Sonnet 18 compares the subject of the poem with a day in summer, showing the subject to be superior when compared to something as inconsistent as a summer's day. 

Using extended metaphor throughout the poem to compare a summer's day to the subject of the poem, the speaker shows how constancy in action and traits are more important than physical characteristics.

Sonnet 18 is about the respect and admiration the speaker has for the poem's subject. The speaker sees the subject and all their remarkable traits as something that is constant, and much more valuable than the characteristics of a day in summer, which many value. 

These "lines" refers to the 14 lines of the sonnet and implies that the lines of the are eternal and therefore the poem's subject will live eternally within the poem.

Sonnet 18 is an English or Shakespearean sonnet. 

Final Sonnet 18 Quiz

Question

How many lines does a Shakespearean sonnet have? 

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Answer

14

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Question

What is another name for a Shakespearean sonnet? 

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Answer

An English sonnet

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Question

What is the meter for a Shakespearean sonnet? 

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Answer

iambic pentameter

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Question

How many lines are in a quatrain?

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Answer

4

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Question

What is the rhyme scheme for an English sonnet? 

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Answer

ABAB CDCD EFEF GG

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Question

What are the last two lines, with a rhyme scheme of GG, in a Shakespearean sonnet called? 

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Answer

A couplet

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Question

How many stanzas does an English sonnet typically have? 

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Answer

Show question

Question

Who is believed to be the subject of "Sonnet 18"?

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Answer

The Fair Youth

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Question

What is a foot in poetry? 

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Answer

A group of stressed and unstressed syllables

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Question

What is an extended metaphor?

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Answer

An extended metaphor is a metaphor that goes on for several lines 

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Question

What is a stanza? 

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Answer

A stanza is a group of lines together in a poem.

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Question

What is not personified in "Sonnet 18"?

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Answer

The darling buds of May 

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Question

What is "the eye of heaven"?

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Answer

the sun

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Question

What is another way to say the "volta" in a poem? 

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Answer

the turn

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Question

What is the turn within a poem? 

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Answer

A turn in a poem is a change of topic, subject, sentiment, emotion, or attitude. It often happens at the start of a stanza and is sometimes signified by a transition word. 

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