Shakespeare’s Love Poems – Analysis of Sonnet 18 (Shall I Compare You?)

Sonnet 18 Analysis: 1st quatrain

Sonnet 18 is the most famous of Shakespeare’s love poems. In the story from Shakespeare’s sonnets, the main character directs this message to the beautiful young woman, with whom he shares a special love. Whether love is platonic or sexual has been debated over the years, however the romantic and love nature of this sonnet cannot be debated. The writer begins by asking, Should I compare you to a summer’s day?, and he is comparing the handsome young man’s beauty, youth, and vitality to that of a summer’s day. The writer also says that the beautiful young man is more beautiful and temperate than a summer day, possibly saying that the beautiful young man is more calm, kind and gentle.

But the last two lines of this quatrain say that summer is too short, and they begin to question the good looks of the beautiful young men, will they last forever?

second quatrain

In this quatrain, negative thoughts and worries begin to fill the writer’s head. He begins by continuing his thoughts that summer is very short. You can feel a rather pensive and doubtful mood when he talks about summer being too hot and at other times too cold – the unpleasant extremes of summer. So although the beautiful young man is charming, sometimes the beautiful young man can also be angry, and he can also be harsh. He then begins to question nature, “…every fair of the fair at some point declines”, even beautiful and beautiful things, like fair youth will lose their beauty to “nature’s change of course”.

3rd quartet

But a new sense of vigor seems to have invaded the writer at the beginning of this quatrain, when he says firmly, “your eternal summer will not fade.” He says that the beauty and vitality of the beautiful youth will not fade. He says you will not lose your youth, nor the beauty you possess, and death will not claim you as its own. The writer might be saying that the beautiful girl’s inner beauty will not fade, and there is certainly an element to that with these poetic words, but furthermore, the writer is also saying with the words “with eternal lines” that the beauty of the beautiful young woman is immortalized in the words of this sonnet.

Ending rhyming couplet

The last rhyming couplet of any Shakespearean sonnet, this reinforces the writers’ earlier claim. That as long as there are people on this earth to read these words, the spirit and beauty of the beautiful youth will live on in this poem.

Here is Shakespeare’s love poem, Sonnet 18. I’ve even broken this poem into quatrains for you.

1st quartet

Shall I compare you to a summer day?

You are more beautiful and warmer;

Harsh winds shake the dear blossoms of May,

And the summer lease is too short dated;

second quatrain

Sometime too hot the sky’s eye shines,

And often his golden complexion darkens;

And every fair fair at some point declines,

By chance or by the changing course of untrimmed nature;

3rd quartet

But your eternal summer won’t fade

Nor lose possession of that beautiful you ow’st;

Not even death will boast that you wander in its shadow,

when in eternal lines to time you grow:

Ending rhyming couplet

As long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So live this, and this gives you life.

If you want to find out more about Shakespeare’s love poems, or indeed anything to do with romance and Shakespeare, take a look at some of my other posts on Shakespeare’s love poems.

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