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    “Sonnet 18”, “Shall I Compare Thee” Essay

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    “Sonnet 18”, “Shall I Compare Thee”, Is written to express love. Shakespeare opens the sonnet with the question, “Shall I compare thee to a summers day? ” He then proceeds to do just that. At the beginning of the first quatrain, Shakespeare answers that question by saying that she is “more lovely and more temperate:” than a summers day. The colon after temperate shows that he is about to give us a list of reasons why she is better. This list takes up the second half of the first quatrain and the whole of the second. Shakespeare complains that the summer can have “rough windes” and doesn’t last long enough.

    He also complains about how the summer is too extreme, varying between too hot and too cold, “Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, and often is his gold complexion dim’d”. He says that “every faire from faire some-time declines”, not through choice, but through chance or “nature’s changing course”. These are things that he does not like about summer. By comparing his love to summer he may be thought to imply that she may have these faults too but this is corrected in the next quatrain. After this list of summer’s detriments there is a turning point to the sonnet that starts with the word “But”.

    Shakespeare uses the third quatrain to write about how she does not possess summer’s failings. Her “eternal summer” will not fade and she will stay beautiful. . Whereas summer is too hot or cold, she does not have emotions that are too extreme. She will defy death who will not be able to “brag thou wander’st in his shade”. Here death is personified to emphasize its power but she is more powerful and death will not affect her. The rhyming couplet at the end of the sonnet is used by Shakespeare to boast about the fact that his opinions of her beauty are correct.

    He is boasting about how he is such a good writer that he can make her beauty immortal by capturing it in this poem. All through this poem there is the theme of immortality. This sonnet is aimed at making the subject immortal by capturing her beauty so that it will last forever. This sonnet’s purpose is to say that unlike summer, which is the most beautiful month of the year but can be extreme, unpredictable and short, Shakespeare’s subject is constantly beautiful and that beauty will last forever.

    Sonnet 116 is another love sonnet written by Shakespeare with similar themes. This sonnet, like sonnet 18, has a theme of eternity. The difference is that whereas sonnet 18 is about the lover being eternal, sonnet 116 is about love itself being eternal. Shakespeare starts this sonnet by saying “let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments” this shows that he is talking about true love and not just lust. Marriage in this case referring to a binding union and mindes coming together rather than bodies.

    This true love is very strong and does not “alter when it alteration findes or bends with the remover to remove” Shakespeare uses repetition to emphasise that true love does not change and is constant. Shakespeare tells us what love is not in order to define what love is. “Let me not to the marriage… ” “love is not love… “. In the second quatrain Shakespeare uses metaphoric imagery to tell us what love is rather than what it is not, he tells us that “it is an ever fixed marke, that looks on tempests and is never shaken”. It is a reliable, stable, constant thing which can withstand life’s turbulence, emotional turmoil and arguments.

    True love will never be altered by anything and guides people through life in the same way that the north star guides boats, “it is the star to every wandring barke”. This is an extended metaphor, using the same imagery to illustrate a slightly different point. According to Shakespeare, Loves “worths unknown, although his higth be taken” it is priceless although it can be measured as the stars height is measured using a sextant. In the third quatrain Shakespeare goes back to defining love but what it is not, “lov’s not times foole” and “love alters not with his breefe hours… “.

    Imagery is used here with the personification of time, portraying time as a person who makes “rosie lips and cheeks within his bending sickles compasse come”. This makes time seem more powerful so when Shakespeare tells us that “Lov’s not times foole” he is showing that love is even more powerful than time, which is extremely destructive, but for all its power it cannot destroy love which is eternal. True love doesn’t care when beauty fades because it is deeper than looks. Time is “breefe” compared to love which “beares it out even to the edge of doome” The couplet at the end of the sonnet uses false logic.

    Shakespeare says that if he is wrong then “I never writ, nor no man ever loved” it is clear that he has written, as he has written this poem and of course men have loved, in his logic this proves that all he has said about true love is true. In both sonnets Shakespeare defines what love is by saying what is not. In “sonnet 18” he told us that his love was not like a summer’s day and in “sonnet 116” where he said that true love was not false love which alters easily. Other similarities between the sonnets are that he uses the theme of nature to express his opinions of love.

    In “sonnet 18” Shakespeare talks about the “rough winds” and “the eye of heaven”. In sonnet 116 nature is used to tell us that love is eternal. Love is compared to the North Star, which is “an ever fixed marke”. Personification is used in both sonnets. In “sonnet 18” death is personified, In “sonnet 116” nature and time are personified, this makes them seem more powerful. Shakespeare would want to make his comparisons as powerful as possible. Nature is an extremely powerful natural force and by personifying it for his comparisons, he can show just how strong love is.

    Also, in both sonnets Shakespeare uses the couplet at the end to boast about how his opinions are correct and about his standard of writing. Nature, the eternity of love and defining what is by stating what is not are themes that run through both sonnets. Browning’s “Porphyria’s lover” is another poem written about love. It was written three centuries later but is still showing love in the same light using the same imagery and themes as in Shakespeare’s sonnets. Browning sets the scene of the poem using the weather.

    The dark, violent storm is an appropriate setting for a murder. The wind is personified and appears to have human characteristics; “the sullen wind was soon awake and did its worst to vex the lake”. Porphyria’s presence changes the mood and brings warmth because “she shut the cold out” and made “all the cottage warm”. Browning uses sensual language, which would have been quite shocking at the time the poem was written; While describing Porphyria divesting, use of words such as “withdrew”, “laid” and “fall” would have appealed to the male audience reading it.

    In the eighteen hundreds it was the men who pursued women, so this poem is very unusual in the way Porphyria is taking the lead when “she put her arm about my waist” and was “murmuring how she loved me”. The way that Porphyria has to take the lead arouses our curiosity, we also wonder why her lover is being so unresponsive although he was listening for to come “with heart fit to break” but when she does come she called him but “no voice replied”. Porphyria’s lover comes to the realisation that “Porphyria worshipped me”.

    This surprised him, which is odd, as he should have known that before because “she was come through wind and rain” and has put a lot of effort into coming to see him. The theme of eternity is brought into this poem when Porphyria’s lover wants to preserve Porpyria’s love forever. He achieves this in a shocking way; he strangles her. The strangling of Porphyria shocks us and surprises us. We did not expect it in the least because he has just overcome doubt of her love for him and we expect their relationship to improve and for him to become more loving towards her rather than ignoring her.

    What shocks us the most is the casual way in which the tale of murder is told. Porphyria’s lover refers to it as “a thing to do”. The use of the word “thing” implies that it is a minor incident without consequence. The use of “a thing to do” a being the indefinite article, makes the action he is considering even more casual, rather than referring to it as “the thing to do”. The matter of fact tones in which he says “And strangled her” brings us down very hard from an atmosphere of love and calmness to a shocking murder.

    Porphyria did not expect to be murdered, in fact she would have taken the wrapping of her hair around her neck to be an act of tenderness. It was not a spontaneous murder as Porphyria’s lover “debated what to do”; it was the murder of a possessive lover. We know that he was obsessive about Porphyria the way he says “that moment she was mine, mine” he wants to own her and the repetition of the word “mine” emphasizes that. After the murder, Porphyria’s lover convinces himself “no pain felt she” and reinforces it ” I am quite sure she felt no pain”. He does not feel guilty and deludes himself that she is still alive.

    He opens her eyes, which are now innocent, and “without a stain” all of the “pride and vainer ties” she had previously have gone. Porphyria’s lover unties the hair around Porphyrias neck, which releases the pressure of blood to her head and her blood returns to her face and makes her appear to be blushing. He then kisses her and is convinced that she “blushed bright beneath my burning kiss”. He says that “all night long we have not stirred” he thinks that it is because they are lying next to each other and have not stirred because they are content, but in fact Porphyria cannot stir as she is dead.

    He does not think he has done anything wrong and that his action was sanctioned by God as “God has not said a word”. The similarities between Browning’s Porphyria’s lover and Shakespeare’s sonnets are the idea of eternity, Shakespeare talks about love or the lover being made immortal through his skill of writing, Browning talks about love being preserved eternally by killing the lover. “All it scorned at once is fled, And I, its love, am gained instead”.

    Both writers use weather imagery, Shakespeare uses strong naturalistic imagery to compare love to a summers day in “sonnet 18” and stars and tempests in sonnet 116, Browning used the weather to set the scene and dark mood for his poem. Both poems are from a male viewpoint, both Porphyria’s lover, Browning and Shakespeare being male, there is no female input to any of the poems and all the poems make confident boasts. Shakespeare uses the couplets at the end of his sonnets to say that his ideas are right, Browning at the end of Porpyria’s lover, writes that Porphyria’s lover is confident that he has done the right thing.

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    “Sonnet 18”, “Shall I Compare Thee” Essay. (2017, Oct 24). Retrieved from

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