What does Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”)
seek to do? How does the poem do what it does?
In simple terms, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 is a love poem; the theme of the poem focuses on the constant stability of love and its power to immortalise the subject of the poet’s affections. The poet begins by praising his beloved without being pretentious, but slowly builds the lover’s image into that of a perfect being. The subject is first compared to summer in the octave, but at the start of the third quatrain, he is summer, and thus, the poet has found a way to transform his lover into true beauty that can be revered. The poet only knows of one way to ensure that his beloved remains forever in human memory, saved from the nothingness that accompanies one’s death. He achieves this throughout the poem, believing that, as life on earth continues, his beloved will continue to live on. The lover's beauty then lives on through the poem, which will last as long as it can be read.
Throughout the entirety of the sonnet, the poet never divulges any specifics about his beloved; none of the qualities which make the beloved superior to a summer's day are actually possible. Remaining eternally young and beautiful and never dying is not an accurate representation of the beloved, as they are merely qualities which the poet has given to his lover through the act of writing the poem and allowing his beloved to exist within it.
The form of the poem is structured as a classic Shakespearean sonnet, having fourteen lines of iambic pentameter ending in a rhymed couplet; it consists of three quatrains followed by a couplet, with the typical rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg. The poem could be described as a Petrarchan Sonnet, as sonnets such as these discuss the love and beauty of a beloved, which is often an unattainable love, but this is not always the case. The poem also contains a shift in the poem’s subject matter, which occurs at the beginning of...