Sonnet 18 is the best known and most well-loved of all 154 sonnets. It is also one of the most straightforward in language and intent. The stability of love and its power to immortalize the subject of the poet's verse is the theme.
The poet starts the praise of the beloved without ostentation, but he slowly builds the image of his friend into that of a perfect being. The speaker opens the poem with a question addressed to the beloved: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The next eleven lines are devoted to such a comparison the beloved is first compared to summer in the octave, but, at the start of the third quatrain (9), she is summer, and thus, she is metamorphosed into the standard by which true beauty can and should be judged. The final quatrain ...view middle of the document...
On the surface, the poem is simply a statement of praise about the beauty of the beloved; summer tends to unpleasant extremes of windiness and heat, but the beloved is always mild and temperate. Summer is incidentally personified as the “eye of heaven” with its “gold complexion”; the imagery throughout is simple and unaffected, with the “darling buds of May” giving way to the “eternal summer”, which the speaker promises the beloved. The language, too, is comparatively unadorned for the sonnets; it is not heavy with alliteration or assonance, and nearly every line is its own self-contained clause—almost every line ends with some punctuation, which effects a pause.
the lines 9 through 12 are marked by a more expansive tone and deeper feeling, the poet returns to the simplicity of the opening images. As one expects in Shakespeare's sonnets, the proposition that the poet sets up in the first eight lines — that all nature is subject to imperfection — is contrasted in the next four lines beginning with "But." Although beauty naturally declines at some point — the poet is jubilant in this sonnet because nothing threatens the young man's beautiful appearance.
Sonnet 18 is the first poem in the sonnets not to explicitly encourage the young man to have children. The sonnet ends with the speaker’s realization that the young man might not need children to preserve his beauty. Whatever one may feel about the sentiment expressed in the sonnet and especially in the couplet, one cannot help but notice an abrupt change in the poet's own estimate of his poetic writing. Following the poet's disparaging reference to his "pupil pen" and "barren rhyme" in Sonnet 16, it comes as a surprise in Sonnet 18 to find him boasting that his poetry will be eternal.