This is one of Shakespeare’s most well loved sonnets and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is my current favorite as well.
Typically analysis of this poem overall takes the incredibly literal approach to the content in saying that Shakespeare is saying that this one woman’s beauty is eternal and will never fade away because he has written about her beauty in verse. Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea that my beauty will never fade. It’s quite enticing! However, I like to think that there is a greater depth to the message given here.
Have you ever loved someone for such a long time that when the years have passed they still somehow look the same to you? Rationally you know that they have changed and the years have made their laugh-lines more pronounced and grey hairs have begun to shimmer through the depths of the color of their hair, but still you see their face in person or in photograph and you think, “Wow… You haven’t changed a bit. You look exactly the same, just as handsome as ever.”
I feel like this is a truth that Shakespeare understood: that love will hold the image of beauty as long as it (love) lives. Certainly writing of the beauty we find in another memorializes that beauty for posterity, but the beauty seen and loved will truly never fade.
I think that looking deeper, Shakespeare is really talking about the beauty of his love for this woman. That he discusses the troubles of spring which will destroy immature buds to me speaks of troubles destroying immature or undeveloped love. We have all been there, I think it is safe to say. When he mentions a summer too short or a sun too hot I think Shakespeare is really talking about short but fiery romances that come on quickly but also burn themselves out quickly because of their heat. Which of us hasn’t experienced that either?
When Shakespeare talks of *her*, however, he talks of an eternal summer ~ a love that can outlast the troubles of early romance and when life brings difficulty but also a love that isn’t overly hot or hurried that will burn out in the end. This kind of love doesn’t happen overnight and it cannot be hurried. It takes time to germinate, to grow, to develop. It’s a tango between two souls, sometimes quick, sometimes slow, but always entrancing and always in time, with two people so completely in sync they seem almost indistinguishable.
Isn’t that the kind of love worth waiting and praying for?
A love that can survive all the seasons of life but that still lives on, always in the summertime of love with occasional storms, hot and cool patches, but with life and abundance always present anyway?
Certainly the surface of this work is physical beauty and I think we all can understand the appeal of remaining forever in the summer of our youth physically. However, when the love shared between two people is a love that is that strong eternal summer, to the Other we are seen in that summertime always.
Sonnet 18: “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?”
By William Shakespeare
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.
Originally published 27 December 2017.