Friday, July 26, 2013

William Shakespeare: Sonnet 18 and 130


SONNET 18

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: 
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd; 
And every fair from fair sometime 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.

PARAPHRASE
Shall I compare you to a summer's day?
You are more lovely and more constant:
Rough winds shake the beloved buds of May
And summer is far too short:
At times the sun is too hot,
Or often goes behind the clouds;
And everything beautiful sometime will lose its beauty,
By misfortune or by nature's planned out course.
But your youth shall not fade,
Nor will you lose the beauty that you possess;
Nor will death claim you for his own,
Because in my eternal verse you will live forever.
So long as there are people on this earth,
So long will this poem live on, making you immortal.
Sonnet 18, often alternately titled Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?, is one of the best-known of 154 sonnets written by the English playwright and poet William Shakespeare. Part of the Fair Youth sequence (which comprises sonnets 1126 in the accepted numbering stemming from the first edition in 1609), it is the first of the cycle after the opening sequence now described as the Procreation sonnets. Most scholars now agree that the original subject of the poem, the beloved to whom the poet is writing, is a male, though the poem is commonly used to describe a woman.
In the sonnet, the speaker compares his beloved to the summer season, and argues that his beloved is better. He also states that his beloved will live on forever through the words of the poem. Scholars have found parallels within the poem to Ovid's Tristia and Amores, both of which have love themes. Sonnet 18 is written in the typical Shakespearean sonnet form, having 14 lines of iambic pentameter ending in a rhymed couplet. Detailed exegeses have revealed several double meanings within the poem, giving it a greater depth of interpretation.
The poem starts with a flattering question to the beloved—"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" The beloved is both "more lovely and more temperate" than a summer's day. The speaker lists some negative things about summer: it is short—"summer's lease hath all too short a date"—and sometimes the sun is too hot—"Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines." However, the beloved has beauty that will last forever, unlike the fleeting beauty of a summer's day. By putting his love's beauty into the form of poetry, the poet is preserving it forever. "So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee." The lover's beauty will live on, through the poem which will last as long as it can be read.
The poet never describes anything specific about the beloved. None of the qualities which make the beloved superior to a summer's day are actually possible - remaining eternally young and beautiful and never dying - nor are they inherent in the beloved. They are qualities given to the beloved by the poet through the act of writing the poem and only existing within it.
Sonnet 18 is a typical English or Shakespearean sonnet. It consists of three quatrains followed by a couplet, and has the characteristic rhyme scheme:abab cdcd efef gg. The poem carries the meaning of an Italian or Petrarchan Sonnet. Petrarchan sonnets typically discussed the love and beauty of a beloved, often an unattainable love, but not always.[4] It also contains a volta, or shift in the poem's subject matter, beginning with the third quatrain.

Summary

The speaker opens the poem with a question addressed to the beloved: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The next eleven lines are devoted to such a comparison. In line 2, the speaker stipulates what mainly differentiates the young man from the summer’s day: he is “more lovely and more temperate.” Summer’s days tend toward extremes: they are shaken by “rough winds”; in them, the sun (“the eye of heaven”) often shines “too hot,” or too dim. And summer is fleeting: its date is too short, and it leads to the withering of autumn, as “every fair from fair sometime declines.” The final quatrain of the sonnet tells how the beloved differs from the summer in that respect: his beauty will last forever (“Thy eternal summer shall not fade...”) and never die. In the couplet, the speaker explains how the beloved’s beauty will accomplish this feat, and not perish because it is preserved in the poem, which will last forever; it will live “as long as men can breathe or eyes can see.”

Commentary

This sonnet is certainly the most famous in the sequence of Shakespeare’s sonnets; it may be the most famous lyric poem in English. Among Shakespeare’s works, only lines such as “To be or not to be” and “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” are better-known. This is not to say that it is at all the best or most interesting or most beautiful of the sonnets; but the simplicity and loveliness of its praise of the beloved has guaranteed its place.
On the surface, the poem is simply a statement of praise about the beauty of the beloved; summer tends to unpleasant extremes of windiness and heat, but the beloved is always mild and temperate. Summer is incidentally personified as the “eye of heaven” with its “gold complexion”; the imagery throughout is simple and unaffected, with the “darling buds of May” giving way to the “eternal summer”, which the speaker promises the beloved. The language, too, is comparatively unadorned for the sonnets; it is not heavy with alliteration or assonance, and nearly every line is its own self-contained clause—almost every line ends with some punctuation, which effects a pause. Sonnet 18 is the first poem in the sonnets not to explicitly encourage the young man to have children. The “procreation” sequence of the first 17 sonnets ended with the speaker’s realization that the young man might not need children to preserve his beauty; he could also live, the speaker writes at the end of Sonnet 17, “in my rhyme.” Sonnet 18, then, is the first “rhyme”—the speaker’s first attempt to preserve the young man’s beauty for all time. An important theme of the sonnet (as it is an important theme throughout much of the sequence) is the power of the speaker’s poem to defy time and last forever, carrying the beauty of the beloved down to future generations. The beloved’s “eternal summer” shall not fade precisely because it is embodied in the sonnet: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,” the speaker writes in the couplet, “So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

SONNET 130

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks; 
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare. 

Summary

This sonnet compares the speaker’s lover to a number of other beauties—and never in the lover’s favor. Her eyes are “nothing like the sun,” her lips are less red than coral; compared to white snow, her breasts are dun-colored, and her hairs are like black wires on her head. In the second quatrain, the speaker says he has seen roses separated by color (“damasked”) into red and white, but he sees no such roses in his mistress’s cheeks; and he says the breath that “reeks” from his mistress is less delightful than perfume. In the third quatrain, he admits that, though he loves her voice, music “hath a far more pleasing sound,” and that, though he has never seen a goddess, his mistress—unlike goddesses—walks on the ground. In the couplet, however, the speaker declares that, “by heav’n,” he thinks his love as rare and valuable “As any she belied with false compare”—that is, any love in which false comparisons were invoked to describe the loved one’s beauty.

Commentary http://amch.questionmarket.com/adsc/d1049296/16/1049309/adscout.php?ord=957239351 http://a.tribalfusion.com/i.cid?c=423173&d=30&page=landingPage&ev=1

This sonnet, one of Shakespeare’s most famous, plays an elaborate joke on the conventions of love poetry common to Shakespeare’s day, and it is so well-conceived that the joke remains funny today. Most sonnet sequences in Elizabethan England were modeled after that of Petrarch. Petrarch’s famous sonnet sequence was written as a series of love poems to an idealized and idolized mistress named Laura. In the sonnets, Petrarch praises her beauty, her worth, and her perfection using an extraordinary variety of metaphors based largely on natural beauties. In Shakespeare’s day, these metaphors had already become cliche (as, indeed, they still are today), but they were still the accepted technique for writing love poetry. The result was that poems tended to make highly idealizing comparisons between nature and the poets’ lover that were, if taken literally, completely ridiculous. My mistress’ eyes are like the sun; her lips are red as coral; her cheeks are like roses, her breasts are white as snow, her voice is like music, she is a goddess.
In many ways, Shakespeare’s sonnets subvert and reverse the conventions of the Petrarchan love sequence: the idealizing love poems, for instance, are written not to a perfect woman but to an admittedly imperfect man, and the love poems to the dark lady are anything but idealizing (“My love is as a fever, longing still / For that which longer nurseth the disease” is hardly a Petrarchan conceit.) Sonnet 130mocks the typical Petrarchan metaphors by presenting a speaker who seems to take them at face value, and somewhat bemusedly, decides to tell the truth. Your mistress’ eyes are like the sun? That’s strange—my mistress’ eyes aren’t at all like the sun. Your mistress’ breath smells like perfume? My mistress’ breath reeks compared to perfume. In the couplet, then, the speaker shows his full intent, which is to insist that love does not need these conceits in order to be real; and women do not need to look like flowers or the sun in order to be beautiful.

The rhetorical structure of Sonnet 130 is important to its effect. In the first quatrain, the speaker spends one line on each comparison between his mistress and something else (the sun, coral, snow, and wires—the one positive thing in the whole poem some part of his mistress is like. In the second and third quatrains, he expands the descriptions to occupy two lines each, so that roses/cheeks, perfume/breath, music/voice, and goddess/mistress each receive a pair of unrhymed lines. This creates the effect of an expanding and developing argument, and neatly prevents the poem—which does, after all, rely on a single kind of joke for its first twelve lines—from becoming stagnant.

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