Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day (Sonnet 18): Explained in Simple Words

Article cover Image featuring William Shakespeare

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day is a Sonnet written by the famous playwright and poet, William Shakespeare. As with all of his sonnet, this specimen also has a rhythm, meter, and a beautiful meaning worth analyzing. We’ve added the meaning, analysis, hidden essence, and all the literary devices used in this sonnet.

Shall I Compare Thee was written somewhere in the 1590s but was published in the year 1609. It is one of the 154 sonnets written by Shakespeare. Shall I Compare Thee is also known as the Sonnet 18 and it is one of the most popular sonnets amongst the 154. 

While there is no name mentioned in the poem, nor any relation between the poet and the recipient of the poetry revealed, it is believed that this poem is dedicated to a ‘young man”.For all the readers of poetry, this is also the poem that was recited in the movie Dead Poets Society. 

Before the analysis and meaning, take a look at the sonnet.

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day (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,

And often is his gold complexion dimmed;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest 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.

Analysis and meaning of the sonnet

When reading any of Shakespeare’s sonnets, you’ll notice one thing that is very common; time’s power and its course. Shakespeare considers (rightly so) time to be a very powerful agent. A ravaging force that can bring down even the strongest and toughest of human creations. This is very important to keep in mind because the poem uses time as the adversary of beauty. Let’s look at the analysis of Sonnet 18.

A sonnet is traditionally divided into two parts; An octave and a sestet. The octave has two quatrains (stanzas of four lines) while the sestet has six lines. So to analyze the poem, we’ll break the poem into two quatrains and a sestet. 

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.

Shakespeare is trying to compare his love, clearly someone dear and charming, to a lovely summer day in the season of cold, lifeless winter. Shakespeare asks a question of whether he should compare her to the sweetness of arriving summer. The reason for this hesitation is then explored next.

Summer, beautiful and lovely, has limitations. While the person Shakespeare is comparing summer with is more lovely and warm, summer lasts only for a small period and is susceptible to the forces of nature. 

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimmed;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;

In this stanza, we get to see the inconsistencies in the beauty of summer. Sometimes the summer sun is too hot to be pleasant and sometimes the clouds cover and dim the golden complexion of the star. And everything fair and beautiful falls sometimes. All susceptible to the whims of nature or the improbable chance’s game. No beauty is guaranteed to stay beautiful forever. Time renders them dull after some time. 

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,

When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.

While everything compared to the beauty Shakespeare is admiring will fade, the beauty will stay eternal. The fairness will never be lost. Even death won’t be able to bring that beauty under its dark and cold shade. This is where we see the significance of time in Shakespeare’s sonnets (yet again). Time is eternal yet none are who live under it. But the beauty shall run with time, growing eternally. 

    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

The last two lines of the sestet are very powerful. As long as there is life here, as long as eyes are capable of seeing, the beauty of the person Shakespeare is referring to will remain alive and shining. The beauty shall surpass the power of time, something that Shakespeare has always presented as the ultimate ravager. This poem itself shall make the beauty of the young man eternal. 

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day poem by William Shakespeare

A compact summary of Sonnet 18

Reading the old English version of the poem can be complicated for some folks. So for the summary, we’ve created a simpler version of the poem in everyday English. This is the paraphrased version of Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day. The italicized parts are our insertion for indicating the meaning of the line. Take a look;

Shall I compare you to a summer’s warm day?

But You are more lovely and warm that the summer’s day

Rough winds do shake the beautiful buds of May (Which I compare to you with)

And summer’s days are short, ending after a few days

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines (the warmth turns to heat)

And often his gold complexion dimmed (for clouds cover it when summer ends)

And every fair and beautiful thing declines

By chance, or nature’s changing course, which runs without direction.

But your beauty shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that beauty you have 

Nor shall death brag that you have come under its shade, losing the beauty 

When in eternity your beauty shall grow with time 

As long as men are alive, their eyes can see and read this poem

You are alive and your beauty shall live, in eternity.

Theme and literary devices

The major theme of the poem is love, beauty, and the power of both to even surpass the strengths of time and death. It is about the persistence of beauty through words. The minor themes of this sonnet are death, time, the persistence of memory, metaphor, etc.

Alliteration: Here are some examples of alliteration used in the sonnet. This is a fairly simple sonnet with the least amount of literary devices used. 

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;

There are no examples of allusion in this poem.

Metaphors: The entire poem is a search for the right metaphor to describe the beauty of the subject. Here are some of the examples of metaphor in the sonnet. 

Summer’s day, Summer’s Lease, Eye of Heaven, Gold complexion dimmed, Thy eternal summer, death’s shade, etc.

About the poem 

There is no confirmation on the subject of the poem. Who is Shakespeare talking to or comparing the beauty of is not confirmed? But we can make a few guesses. The preceding sonnets are addressed to a young man and these sonnets are called the “procreation sonnets” wherein Shakespeare talks about marrying and having children. 

Sonnet 18 is where the entire theme changes. This is where the poet turns his attention to the beauty of the young man and how his poetry can eternalize it. Sonnet 18 is when the poet expresses his devotion to the young man, praising his beauty and the power of preserving it.

Sonnet 18 or Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day is an English sonnet, also known now as a Shakespearean sonnet. This is where the sonnet is divided into two stanzas of four lines and one stanza of six lines. The poem is about beauty and how it can be kept alive through the means of words. How time can be evaded using poetic lines. And whatever Shakespeare meant for the beauty of the person has been established to be true. It’s been more than 400 years and still people are reading about the beauty of that person. Time has been defied.

This concludes the article, but it shouldn’t conclude reading. Here are some other great articles that you’d love to read. Take a look:

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