The “Sonnet 18” belongs to a set of 154 poems in the form of English sonnets, written by William Shakespeare published for the first time in the early 17th century known as “The Sonnets”. This poem relates to the previous ones in terms of the theme. The poems are divided into three different categories. The first one (from the first sonnet to the 17th) idolizes the beauty of a young man and the speaker urges him to find a proper woman, marry her and have children as all people have to do to preserve the human race. “Sonnet 18”, however, belongs to the second category (from the 18th poem to the 126th) where the speaker addresses the young man and he tells him about the destruction that time will have on his beauty and permanency of poetry.
This specifically is the eternity of beauty and poetry, because it will be embodied forever on the words of the speaker in the sonnet, death because the speakers argue that even though death comes for everyone, in the end, it will be silenced as the generations to come will read this sonnets, making him (the young man and his beauty) live forever. Because of the tone of the poem that could be described as some sort of romantic due to the use of some metaphors, love can also be counted as the main theme (the love for the speaker for the young man).
Talking about the structure of the poem this sonnet is divided into three different quatrains and one final couplet (as an English sonnet is characterized by) and are written in iambic pentameter, including “Sonnet 18”. Usually, each quatrain is unified in its topic and the Volta is reserved either for the ninth line or the final couplet.
In the first quatrain, the speaker uses nature as a metaphor to debate himself on whether he should compare the young’s man beauty to a summer’s day or not. At first, he thinks he should compare it to the summer’s day as a summer’s day tends to be beautiful, “lovely”, and with the perfect temperature. But then he thought about how every summer’s day is too short must come to an end and the wind will come and he doesn’t want the beauty of the man to end (even though it physically it has to).
In the second quatrain, the speaker continues to use this image of the summer changing to illustrate how summers are also not always perfect, sometimes they are too hot and the beauty of the man is always perfect, so it doesn’t convince him (the speaker) to compare the man to a summer’s day.
In the third quatrain, the speaker tells the man that his eternal summer (his beauty) must not fade and he can’t admit that it will disappear with the pass of time or lose ant beautiful traits that characterize him. Here appears another theme, death. The speaker uses the personification of death to say that not even the Death itself can wander its shadows above him and has to be eternal.
In the final couplet that puts an end to the sonnet, the theme is the eternity of poetry and words that makes what it is embodied in them eternal too, in this case, the young man’s beauty. He uses human intrinsic traits and senses to make people understand and imagine how eternal he is telling that words are: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see”. N the final line says that, as long that people can breathe or see, this poem will live (because future generations will be alive and read it) it will give life to those words and therefore what they are about, the beauty of the man. Written words (poetry) create eternity.
In the final couplet, the speaker uses the word “this”. That word it’s used to refer to the words and lines of the poem itself that the speaker has written down on paper. The message of this couplet goes also back to the word “this” as it refers to the sonnet, and one of the main themes, the eternity of poetry and, by poetry being eternal so will be the words written it (in this case, the beauty of the young man).
With his final couplet, the speaker tells the young man to not worry because even though his physical beauty will be affected by time, it will remain forever and never fade away because the sonnet, unlike the summer’s day that will end at some point and that the speaker mentions as a metaphor to refer to the man’s beauty, by being written down and allowing future generations to read it, not only the sonnet will remain forever, but also his beauty.
Shakespeare is without a doubt the most famous English author of all time. For this reason, I always have taught hi was in some sort of way, and to a certain extend overrated, such as Cervantes in Spanish literature. But after reading carefully different of his poems (which I enjoyed most than his plays), even though my opinion is that he is still in some kind overrated, I understood where the hype laid on.
This poem revolves around, beauty, eternality, death, and love. In short terms: right up my alley. His power to defy time and eternity by carrying the beauty of the young man (the man he is arguably in love with) to future generations by making a whole poem about him and his beauty, affirming that he is more beautiful than a perfect summer’s day, makes it one of the greatest love poems I have ever read in English literature.