Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 was always a lot of fun to work with in the classroom because students want to view it strictly as a love poem and because so much of the poem turns on the single word “this” in the very last line. In case you’ve forgotten all of your Shakespearean sonnets, here it is:
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 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;
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.
Easy to see why it is looked at as a love poem, yes? I even found it listed by one website as a poem suitable for Valentine’s Day, and for the first eight lines, I could not agree more. The poet finds his loved one more beautiful than a summer day, “more lovely and more temperate.” After all, a summer’s day can have “rough winds” and can be too hot or perhaps obscured by clouds. The poet recognizes that “summer’s lease has all too short a date” and as all things in nature “every fair from fair sometimes declines.” All things natural pass through their time of youth and beauty, decline and eventually die, a theme Shakespeare returns to time and again.
But line 9 surprises us. If all things natural (including his lover’s beauty) decline, how can he say that “thy eternal summer shall not fade”? He spends three more lines declaring that her beauty is immune from time’s ravages or the “shade” of death.
How so? The final couplet is the poet’s tribute to himself. He has given her immortality because “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see” they will be able to read his poem, the poem which has frozen her beauty in time. He assures her that “So long lives this (his poem), and this (his poem) gives life to thee.
Trying to figure out those last two lines used to drive my students crazy which was, of course, another reason I loved this poem.
Have a wonderful Sunday. Check in later this week for some thoughts on Orwell’s 1984, and it’s also time to check in on how things are going with Surviving the Trump Apocalypse. Cheers!