Immortality Through Verse in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 and Spenser’s Sonnet 75
Desiring fame, celebrity, and importance, people for centuries have yearned for the ultimately unattainable goal of immortality. Poets, too, have expressed desires in verse that their lovers remain as they are for eternity, in efforts of praise. Though Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 and Spenser’s Sonnet 75 from Amoretti both offer lovers this immortality through verse, only Spenser pairs this immortality with respect and partnership, while Shakespeare promises the subject of the sonnet immortality by unusual compliments and the assurance that she will live on as long as the sonnet continues to be read. Spenser debates with his lover, treating her as his equal, and leaves his opinion open for interpretation as an example of poetic indirection.
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 begins with the "whim of an inventive mind," (Vendler, 120) a rhetorical question asking if he should compare the subject of the sonnet to a Summer’s day. After the readers see that Shakespeare does not ask to compare her to anything else, we realize that this one proposed comparison to a Summer’s day is, in his mind, perfection (Vendler, 120). However, in order to truly praise the woman, he must prove that she is "more lovely and more temperate" by deprecating the metaphor (Vendler, 121).
Though the metaphor seems sweet at first, the implied answer is "no," and Shakespeare continues as to why she is not even worthy of the best possible metaphor (Colie, 36). His imagery of "rough winds" and the "too hot" sun together with the personification of Summer ("Summer’s lease hath all too short a date") support Shakespeare’s belief that Summer is too short and unpredictable to be compared to his love. He continues in the second stanza to provide specific reasons of why the metaphor is inadequate, commenting that "Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines/ And often is his golden complexion dimmed." Summer is unpredictable in that the sun ("eye of heaven") may be covered with clouds or it may even become unbearably hot. Contrastingly, the woman is temperate, therefore she never exhibits extreme behavior comparable to the sun (Ray, 10).
Once Shakespeare concludes speaking about the Summer metaphor, he begins the third stanza with a contradiction to support the fact that the woman is not as temporary as a Summer’s day or even as a mortal human. Widening the scope of the sonnet from "day" to "Summer" and now to "Death" (Vendler, 120), he purports that her "eternal Summer shall not fade…Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade"—she will continue to be "fair" and young. Shakespeare continues the metaphor of the woman’s "eternal Summer," meaning her beauty and youth, and contends that she will not die, for "in eternal lines to time thou grow’st." The personification of death reinforces Shakespeare’s desire to "defeat Time and Death at their own war game" (Felperin, 130); by writing these lines,...