Immortality and Mortality in Shakespeare’s 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 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.


I wrote this analysis for my Shakespeare class at Grove City College. I just have to say, looking back at these sonnets and what I said about them, all I can think is that Shakespeare sounds very gay. Do you think so? Feel free to comment.


In Sonnet 18, Shakespeare is addressing the young man whose beauty he praises for most of his sonnets. He compares this beautiful young man to a summer day and finds him superior. “Thou art more lovely and more temperate” the speaker claims, setting up a series of arguments in the young man’s favor in an extended metaphor (2). The speaker goes on to list ways in which a summer day may not be perfect, such as when “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,” and when “too hot the eye of heaven shines” (3, 5). This is set up in contrast to the beautiful young man, who is “more temperate” and thus untroubled by roughness or anger that may make him less attractive to the speaker. Even though the sun’s “gold complexion” is often covered, or “dimmed,” the young man’s face is never clouded (6). In this fashion, the poem dramatizes the contrast between a beloved man and a bright summer day, between immortality and mortality.

The poet goes on to say that even what is “fair” about a summer’s day will eventually decline, such as it does when the seasons change to autumn (7). Shakespeare’s usage of the word “every” in “every fair from fair sometimes declines” suggests that this is a universal rule, and is applicable, as a result, to everything with few exceptions (7). The next line, “By chance or nature’s changing course untrimmed,” is an example of enjambment since it is a continuation of the preceding line. This is used to provide emphasis on each separate thought while linking the ideas in a single sentence and is the only example of enjambment since every other line ends in some form of punctuation. Shakespeare’s usage of punctuation forces the reader to dwell on lines momentarily, making his message more powerful and measured. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “untrimmed” in the enjambed line means “to deprive of trimness or elegance; to strip of ornament” (1). Sometimes what is “fair” falls by chance, struck down by fate (7) Other times it may be just the result of nature running its course.

The next line promises the young man that his beauty will not be short-lived like that of a summer’s day: “But thy eternal summer shall not fade” (9). At this line begins the volta of the poem, revealing the form to be of the octet and sestet format. This is the first of Shakespeare’s sonnets that is not concerned with procreation, admitting that the beloved young man may not need a son in order to preserve his beauty for future generations. Instead, he will be immortalized in the poetry of Shakespeare. The speaker of the poem claims that this poetry will live on as long as men breathe, and as a result, the beauty of the young man will live on in some small way long past his actual death.

Works Cited

“untrim, v.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, December 2019, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/219113. Accessed 31 January 2020.

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