SONNET 18 – SHAKESPEARE

7 April 2004

Shakespeare is so brilliant that it is quite amazing.  I experimented with a little Shakespeare at school, nothing too serious — but I am afraid that this did eventually lead to more and harder Shakespeare.  It was a slippery slope to the sonnets.

Who hasn’t heard of “The Darling Buds of May”? and “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”;  these are stock phrases today.  But just read the 18th, read and enjoy the language, savour the words, and be enriched by what it evokes.

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:
Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d:
And every fair from fair sometimes declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest;
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

‘Sonnet XVIII’ William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

I recall that when first I read this poem, I got confused by the word “fair” until I realised he was writing about beauty.

And every fair from fair sometimes declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d.

Just read this as

And everything beautiful will fade either because of
chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d.

As such I have always taken Shakespeare to be talking about a snapshot — a picture or possibly a sculpture, rather than an actual living woman (whose looks will naturally fade). I can even understand this as being about a building, from the architect’s point of view, or a song or piece of music — or even a play.

A man on the radio one day suggested it might be about unrequited love, either through separation or platonic love, and be about the memory induced. What do you think?

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