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Change, Fate, and Eternity

Symbol Analysis

However much it might look he’s praising a beloved, this poet is definitely more concerned with tooting his own horn. Really, you could sum up the poem like this: "Dear Beloved: You’re better than a summer’s day. But only because I can make you eternal by writing about you. Love, Shakespeare." That message is why images and symbols of time, decay, and eternity are all over this poem. Whether or not we think the beloved is actually made immortal (or just more immortal than the summer’s day) is up in the air, but it’s certainly what the speaker wants you to think.

  • Line 4: This is where the speaker starts pointing to how short summer feels. Using personification and metaphor, the speaker suggests that summer has taken out a lease on the weather, which must be returned at the end of the summer. Summer is treated like a home-renter, while the weather is treated like a real-estate property.
  • Lines 7-8: These lines give us the problem (everything’s going to fade away) that the poet is going to work against.
  • Lines 9-12: These lines are full of all sorts of figurative language, all pointing to how the speaker is going to save the beloved from the fate of fading away. The beloved’s life is described in a metaphor as a "summer," and then his or her beauty is described in another metaphor as a commodity than can be owned or owed. Death is then personified, as the overseer of the shade (a metaphor itself for an afterlife). Finally the "lines to time" are a metaphor for poetry, which will ultimately save the beloved, and "eternal" is a parallel with "eternal summer" in line 9.
  • Lines 13-14: What’s so interesting about these lines is that it’s hard to tell whether the speaker is using figurative language or not. Does he actually mean that the poem is alive, and that it will keep the beloved alive? Well, it depends what we mean by "alive." If we read alive scientifically, as in breathing and thinking, well then alive is definitely a metaphor. But if we read it as describing a continued existence of some kind, well then maybe he does mean it literally, since surely the poem and the beloved exist for us in some sense.

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