Here is one of Shakespeare’s best known and best loved sonnets, with language and images which have passed into general usage, like “the darling buds of May”. What a pleasure to read this sonnet again and again and find it come up fresh and joyful every time.
Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
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.
The poem starts with a question – engaging the reader in the metaphor of his love as a summer’s day. But the superlative tone immediately kicks in – a summer’s day is neither uniformly attractive or long-lasting, rough winds, the passage of time, the heat, the natural degradataion of all things mean that the summer’s day may not be an adequate comparison for the superlative qualities of his loved one.
The final lines of the poem then bring the focus back on the poet’s lover and spells out what makes her superior, and why her qualities will make her live on longer than a summer’s day – and it is the poem itself that will work this miracle “so long as men can breathe and eyes can see”, the poem itself will give eternal life to the poet’s love.
The proof is that we are still reading this marvellous poem over 400 years after it was written and it remains just as fresh and joyful as the day it was written.
The Poetry Dude