Friday, July 31, 2009

Sonnet 18: Analysis

Sonnet 18 is part of a large group of sonnets that Shakespeare wrote addressing a man of great beauty. Shakespeare, in sonnet 18, uses descriptions of nature, and the power and images that they imply, and directly compares them to the power the young man possesses in his youth, vigor, and promise. Shakespeare then finds that the beauty and power of nature do not compare to the beauty and power of the young man. He uses his poem as a way to provide the youth with an eternal existence and subsequently makes it evident that Shakespeare sees the young man as more than a human, he sees him as a god.

In the first quatrain Shakespeare begins his comparison between the young man and nature by comparing the young man to a summer’s day. The image suggests illumination, brilliance, light, life, and all things associated with the sun as the source of all these things. Shakespeare feels the same way about the young man; he is in his prime, in his glory, full of life and beautiful. He is idealized by Shakespeare in this description. It is interesting to note that the first line is in the form of a question. Shakespeare at this point, realizes that he’s made a mistake in his comparison. “Thou art more lovely and more temperate.” (Line 2) He knows that his language and comparison are inadequate in trying to express the way he feels. He knows that comparing the youth to a summer’s day does not do justice to the feelings he has for him. The youth is more perfect than the beauty of a summer’s day. The man is more temperate--- he is gentler, more constant, and more controlled. He is safely more reliant than a summer’s day. Shakespeare questions the idea of the man being as gorgeous as a summer’s day and then ups the ante by saying the youth is more impressive. This is a great compliment and establishes that the feelings that Shakespeare has for the young man far transcend those of friendship or admiration. His feelings for the youth are that of love.

The following lines offer explanations of why the comparison to a summer’s day is not good enough. Shakespeare begins to show all of summer’s imperfections, beginning with the example that rough winds come in May and disturb the darling flowers. May is a time in the year when the weather starts to warm up and flowers are in full bloom--- the very beginning of summer. Shakespeare again uses a force of nature when he speaks of the wind. The image suggested is that of the hot wind of May coming and blowing petals off of the beautiful flowers. In contrast, the wind may be a metaphor for problems and obstacles in life and how the young man is not affected by opposition--- that he cannot be shaken. “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May...” (3) The summer may have imperfections but the youth, by Shakespeare’s belief, does not. This seems contradictory, as the fact is that the youth is a human and all human beings are imperfect. Shakespeare is happily blinded by his love. In his eyes, the youth can do no wrong and he has no negative attributes. Like any person in love, Shakespeare puts the youth on a great pedestal. This again is an affirmation of the love that Shakespeare feels for the man.

Shakespeare continues in his explanation of the inadequacy of summer. It may be beautiful at times, but it is important to realize that it only lasts for a period of time during the year--- “And summer’s lease hath all too short a date. (4). This comparison implies that the youth’s beauty lasts all year long; there is no limit on it and there is no time clock ticking to end it. The issue of time is one of great importance in this poem. Shakespeare feels as though the youth is not subject to time or age. Summer’s glory and beauty may end, but the youth’s will not. His denial of the mortality of the youth proves that he does not see him as human, but as something greater.

Shakespeare expresses that the sun shines too much some days and it is too hot. Other days the sun’s face is hidden by clouds and it is overcast. His personification of the sun lends a hand to comparison. The sun is too hot, but the youth is, as before, temperate. The sun’s golden complexion may be hidden by clouds but the youth’s beauty and golden complexion are never hindered or hidden. There is great power in the comparison of the youth to the sun. Shakespeare believes that all the power the sun possesses, brilliance, heat, color, blindness, and life are nothing compared to the power and perfection of the young man. This belief again provides affirmation that like a God, the young man is greater than the source of light and life on earth.

“And every fair from fair sometimes declines, By chance or nature’s changing course untrimmed:” (7-8) By saying that every fair from fair declines, Shakespeare is saying that every beautiful thing, at some point, grows less and less beautiful and that it reaches the point when it can never be as beautiful as when it first came into being. All beautiful things will fall from perfection. Like summer, beauty has a time limit on it. This is not the case with the young man. His beauty will never dim, nor wilt like the flowers in the wind, nor lessen, nor be covered like the sun may be. He will always retain the state of perfection. Absolute perfection is another quality that makes the youth like a God.

The next line shows that beauty flails because of chance accidents or by the fluctuation of nature’s course. This again ties in to the idea that a summer’s day is unpredictable and subject to change. This again is not true for the youth. The youth is temperate and his perfection is untouchable. He is steadfast and reliable. He is immune from accidents or fluctuation. He is again, perfection.

At this point Shakespeare has finished explaining how summer is an inadequate comparison to the youth and begins to explain his promise to the youth. “But thy eternal summer shall not fade…” The eternal summer represents the eternity of the youth’s perfection. The eternal summer won’t ever fade and it will never lose its original beauty. This again affirms that the youth is not subject to time. He is immortal. He is God-like.

Shakespeare finally declares that the reason that the youth will always be immortal and in perfect state is death has no power over him. “Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade...” (11) Unlike Death’s eventual victory over every living thing, it will not have any affect on the youth. The reason for this being that the youth, in all his glory, will always and forever be captured in Shakespeare’s verse and because of these lines, the youth will remain immortal and will grow as time grows.

“So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this give life to thee.” (13-14) This final part of Shakespeare’s promise to the youth explains that as long as man inhabits the earth, the verse will always exist, and because of the existence of the verse, the youth will live on forever in the words. His image and beauty will always be captured in time and because it is captured, he will remain immortal. The verse gives the youth a means for immortality and eternal existence because it transcends the time barrier. He is a god.

Through the intensity of the emotion of love that Shakespeare is able to express in his writing it is proven that he viewed the youth as godlike. He idealizes the young man by the description of his beauty. His writing is motivated by the love that he feels for the youth. He explains the youth’s perfection by comparing and contrasting the youth to a summer’s day. He explains that a summer’s day is as inadequate a comparison, as the language he uses is in his attempt to express all he feels for the youth. Through the verse and his use of symbolism and personification of aspects of nature, and of the youth, Shakespeare is able to fully utilize this comparison by morphs the youth into the “endless summer,” an ideal without flaw or imperfection. He shows admiration and adoration for the youth by denying the man have any faults. Shakespeare explains that the youth, unlike summer, is immune to time and aging and the fading of beauty, and therefore makes him immortal. He provides means for immortality and eternity though the verse he writes because the youth will still exist on paper, even after the youth is no longer part of the physical world. Shakespeare catapults the man into a creature of perfection, beauty, endless youth, immortality, and because of all these attributes, he is a god in his own right.

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