Vox Populi

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William Shakespeare: Sonnet 18

This is the eighteenth poem in Shakespeare’s series of 154 sonnets published in 1609.  Most scholars believe, based on textual evidence, that the last 28 sonnets are addressed to Shakespeare’s mistress, the “Dark Lady,” while  the middle poems, of which Sonnet 18 is the first, are thought to be directed to a young man. The sonnets were dedicated to W. H., whose identity remains a mystery, although William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, is frequently suggested because Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623) was also dedicated to him.

Sonnet 18 is the most famous and most quoted of Shakespeare’s lyric poems; it is a celebration of youthful beauty which concludes with an ironic joke about Shakespeare’s own burgeoning fame.

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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 dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


Public Domain

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6 comments on “William Shakespeare: Sonnet 18

  1. Pam Webb
    October 25, 2020

    My students are stunned to learn that this sonnet is addressed to a young man until I give them the back story that it was an argument for the young man to marry in order to produce progeny as beautiful as him—it was an appeal, a sales pitch. They still won’t believe me and write that it’s a guy writing a poem to his lady fair.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      October 25, 2020

      Yes, openly gay poetry is a consistent part of the Western canon from Anacreon to Frank O’Hara. Students who have grown up in a homophobic subculture have trouble accepting this.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Pam Webb
        October 25, 2020

        Are his sonnets considered gay? I thought them to be an artistic expression. He had a challenge to convince this young man, possibly his patron, to marry.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Vox Populi
          October 25, 2020

          Well, of course we know very little about WS’s life, but the relationship between the poet and the young man seems gay to me. Here’s what Wikipedia says, “…the “Fair Youth” of the sonnets is handsome, self-centered, universally admired and much sought after. The sequence begins with the poet urging the young man to marry and father children. It continues with the friendship developing with the poet’s loving admiration, which at times is homoerotic in nature. Then comes a set of betrayals by the young man, as he is seduced by the Dark Lady, and they maintain a liaison (sonnets 133, 134 & 144), all of which the poet struggles to abide. It concludes with the poet’s own act of betrayal, resulting in his independence from the fair youth (sonnet 152). The identity of the Fair Youth has been the subject of speculation among scholars. One popular theory is that he was Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, this is based in part on the idea that his physical features, age, and personality might fairly match the young man in the sonnets. He was both an admirer and patron of Shakespeare and was considered one of the most prominent nobles of the period. It is also noted that Shakespeare’s 1593 poem Venus and Adonis is dedicated to Southampton, and in that poem a young man, Adonis, is encouraged by the goddess of love, Venus, to beget a child, which is a theme in the sonnets….”

          Liked by 1 person

  2. TheChattyIntrovert
    June 12, 2020

    I can listen to Tom Hiddleston reading it all day long…mmm…

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on June 12, 2020 by in Opinion Leaders, Poetry and tagged , , , .

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