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Sonnet 18

Sonnet 18


by William Shakespeare


Symbol Analysis

If the major question of this poem is how to become immortal, and thus more wonderful than a summer’s day, the speaker’s answer is poetry. For that reason, poetry takes on an inflated importance in the poem, and is attended by dramatic, powerful language.

  • Line 1: This rhetorical question accomplishes a lot, including setting down the main axis of comparison in the poem, and also implying that the speaker is only making a show of caring what we readers or the beloved actually think (since he clearly can’t care how or whether we answer him). In addition to these roles, though, the word "compare" gives this line a special charge, since it is a word that is so closely tied up with the role of poetry. If you were to try to define poetry, one thing you might say is that poets really like to compare things that are really dissimilar and show they can be connected. In a sense, then, we can read this line as "should I write a poem about you?" In that way, the speaker has already made the act of writing poetry an issue in this poem, and, as we’ll see, his answer to this question is obviously, "heck yeah I should write a poem about you, since I can make you immortal!"
  • Lines 12-14: These lines are where the poet finally begins to talk about poetry more clearly. The phrase "lines to time," creates a metaphor for poetry, since poetry is lines of words set to a time, or meter. Then, using a parallel in the last two lines, he asserts that as long as humans live, his poetry will survive, and, in turn, so too will the beloved. The question, of course, is what he means by the poem giving "life" to the beloved. It’s in some sense a metaphor, at least, since the poem isn’t about to perform CPR on the beloved’s corpse every time the poem is read. But if "life" just means having someone think about you, then sure, the poem could give life to the beloved.

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