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William Shakespeare’s 18th Sonnet: Poetic Elements


The central theme of William Shakespeare’s sonnet No. 18 is love. The lyrical hero admires his beloved and compares her with a beautiful sunny day in May, as in his eyes, she turns out to be “sweeter and more beautiful.” The poem is built on the antithesis since he compares and contrasts his beloved’s beauty and the beauty of a day in May by using such a literary device as a metaphor. In Shakespeare’s sonnets, metaphor is the central, systematically applied literary device, and is used to form the basis of an artistic image. Using metaphors, the poet rethinks reality, reveals the hidden meaning of things and concepts, and prompts the reader to perceive the poem from the same point of view.

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In the 18th sonnet, Shakespeare uses metaphor to effectively develop a vivid and memorable image in the reader’s mind and convey a particular idea. For instance, “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May” (line 3) is the line where Shakespeare uses metaphor and symbolism to convey his idea of beauty. “Darling buds” symbolizes beauty and love, and in the line, Shakespeare states that love and grace are not everlasting phenomena.

This line could also be viewed as a personification of inanimate things, as the word “darling” is usually applied to humans. “When in eternal lines to time thou grow’ st” (line 12) is a line where “eternal lines” is a metaphor for poetry. By that, the author manages to “engrave” his lover into the words in the verse, therefore making his lover immortal. In the final couplet, Shakespeare emphasizes the fact that as long as people read his poem, his lover is still considered to be “alive.” Therefore, Shakespeare’s lover has been metaphorically immortalized forever within the lines of his sonnet, despite all the “rough winds” and “sun being dimmed.” Shakespeare’s metaphors reflect both the stylistic achievements of his era and his creative personality.


Personification is a type of metaphor, which transfers the properties and characteristics of animate objects to inanimate ones. Quite often, Shakespeare uses personification in the depiction of nature, which is endowed with certain human features. In sonnet No. 18, the author attempts to attribute these properties to nature, and at the same time, distinguish it from his lover’s beauty. He argues that the summer season is too short, unlike his lover, who will live forever with the power of his poetry.

For instance, Shakespeare writes: “And summer’s lease hath all too short a date” in the fourth line. By this, he means that summer takes out a lease with nature, which has a defined expiration date that is too short for his case. Here, summer acts as if it is renting a property, while the weather is the property itself. The literary device is used here to highlight the shortness of the summer season by comparing the summer period to a lease.

Being previously analyzed, the phrase contained in the fifth line, “the eye of heaven,” could also include personification, as an eye is an organ that can only be found in living things. Nevertheless, the author attributes this organ to “heaven,” exaggerating the description of the sun. “Nor shall death brag thou wander’ st in his shade” (line 11) is a line, where Shakespeare inputs a personification of death, claiming that death will never claim his lover. The word “shade” is a metaphor for the afterlife, which means that the poem, as long as people will recite it, will carry the image of his lover and immortalize it. Moreover, it is important to note that Shakespeare skillfully uses metaphor and personification to set up imagery for the reader. Descriptions of nature using these literary devices provoke a certain mood for the verse and help the reader imagine the atmosphere more vividly.


The type of metric line used in verse is iambic pentameter, which means that every line has ten syllables in it, consisting of five iambs. Shakespeare uses the iambic pentameter in other sonnets too, thus, in a way, making it a feature of English classical poetry. In sonnet No. 18, it dictates the way that the poem should be read and helps create a constant melodious rhythm. Additionally, it mimics a breathing pattern, thus establishing a calm beat, making it easier for the reader to recite the poem. In the sonnet, Shakespeare uses a specific rhyme scheme, which goes ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, as there are four-line quatrains and a concluding two-line couplet.

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Each of the four-line quatrains has a particular theme and tone, while the two-line couplet has an entirely different sound and has a change in the topic. The last couplet is a conclusion of each of the themes presented in the quatrain. Lines 13 and 14 embody the author’s main idea and act as a closure of the whole verse in general. These last lines reflect the author’s purpose of making his lover’s beauty eternal by capturing it in the poem.


In line 7, “And every fair from fair declines,” Shakespeare uses alliteration, as each sound occurs at the beginning of each word, making the rhythm smooth. Moreover, there is consonance in line 8, “By chance or nature’s changing course untrimmed” between words “chance,” “nature’s,” and “changing,” which emphasize the sound in the lyrics. The repetition at the start of the lines with the introduction of such words as “And,” “Nor,” and “So” build a symmetrical linguistic pattern, highlighting the presentation of new ideas and forming cohesive sentences.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet 18: Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s…Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation. Web.

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