Shakespeare's collection of sonnets is heralded as one of the greatest, most ambitious sonnet collections in English literature. Of these154 sonnets, the first 126 of them are addressed to a 'fair youth', a beatiful young man, with whom Shakespeare has developed an intimate friendship. The overarching theme of devotion in antimony to mortality denotes that “Sonnet 18” is predominantly a love poem. Accordingly the purpose of the poem seems initially to be to compare his beloved friend's handsomness with a common symbol of beauty, a fine summer's day. However, Shakespeare actually provides a pragmatic critique of the conventions of love poetry in his doing so. He not only exposes the flaws of the love poetry through the comparison but also suggests the merits of it in conveying the idea of his everlasting love, and the ability of verse to immortalise both love and beauty.
“Sonnet 18” is written in typical Shakespearan sonnet form, comprising of three distinguishable quatrains and a rhyming couplet. This style of poetry is very useful in creating an argument that flows coherently, as the quatrains seperate main ideas. Although the quatrains in “Sonnet 18”, are not physically split-up by open lines, they are clearly separated by the change in rhyme scheme. The poem deals with thematic ideas of the inability to capture beauty satisfactorily, the transience of beauty and the brevity of life (Mabillard para. 1) and, in contrast, the timelessness of poetry. In the first quatrain, Shakespeare immediately establishes the intentions of his poem. Superficially he wishes to celebrate the beauty of the 'fair youth'. However, through his question “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?” he actually shows his hesitancy to use such a comparison. Should he compare this wonderful young man to something as inconsistnet and unimaginative as a summer's day? His decision that the young man is “more lovely” and “more temperate” [own emphasis] than a summer's day establishes the argument that the comparison is inadequate. Furthermore it introduces Shakespeare's idea that all such metaphors are weak vessels in which to convey one's idea of love.
The tone of the poem changes to suit Shakespeare's thought process as he lays out his argument. The last lines of the first two quatrains share significant similarity. The idea that summer is too short, which, in the context of the poem alludes to the idea that beauty fades quickly, compliments the last line of the second quatrain: “nature's changing course” which refers to inconsistency of nature, and by extension the natural physical shift that age brings (Mabillard para. 1) ie. Summer to Autumn to Winter, young to old, beautiful to decayed. The tone of these two quatrains is thus identifiable as contemplative and melancholic.
In the third quatrain, however, Shakespeare's tone changes abruptly. The first word of the first line “But” indicates a change in thought. Shakespeare's tone has changed from one of...