Sonnet Reflection Paper – Essay Example

Sonnet XVIII – Reflection Paper Sonnet XVIII is among the 154 sonnets published by Shakespeare, towards the end of his life, in 1609. Of these 154 poems, the first 126 focus on a young man who had clearly won the admiration of the bard. It has been speculated that this man might be the ‘Mr W. H.’, to whom the collection of sonnets was dedicated1, and to whom Shakespeare wishes ‘all happinesse and that eternitie promised by our ever-living poet’.
In terms of structure, there are various forms of sonnet, notably the Petrarchan, or Italian sonnet, but the structure of Shakespeare’s sonnets differs2. With Shakespearean sonnets, the first twelve lines are split into groups of four lines, or quatrains, with an ABAB rhyme. The final couplet rhymes, and, as in other sonnets, often functions to slightly alter the reader’s perception of the sonnet as a whole. This feature is known as the volta3, or ‘turn’.
Turning to Sonnet XVIII specifically, it is, as with many of the earlier sonnets, addressed to the young man mentioned above, here revealed by the use of ‘his’ in the sixth and eleventh lines. The poem opens with a rhetorical question which seems to set the scene for relaxed contemplation of a subject which pleases the writer. The comparison made is with something unequivocally agreeable – ‘ a summer’s day’, which, from the first line, sets positive images in the reader’s mind. This theme is reinforced in the following line, when the young man is question is attributed with features even more glorious than those associated with a fine summer’s day – he is ‘more lovely and more temperate’.
Shakespeare goes on, in lines 3-8, to draw on imagery from the natural world to explain why a summer’s day has its weaknesses and limitations – things which detract from its beauty. These include occasional harsh winds or excessive heat. By being changeable and uncertain, the loveliness of a summer’s day cannot be guaranteed.
This variability is then strongly contrasted with the ‘eternal summer’ of the young man. Not even ‘Death’ will be able to dim his loveliness. By committing his wondrous nature to paper, Shakespeare has made eternal the esteem in which he holds the man – in his ‘eternal lines’ his nature shall live on, while every summer’s day will fade.
Shakespeare uses the volta in sonnet XVIII to strengthen this idea – of the eternity of that which has been written down for readers across the years to contemplate – that as long as ‘eyes can see’, the reading of this sonnet will ‘give life’ to the young man who is its subject. 400 years later, Shakespeare’s consideration of love, the temporariness of natural states, and the eternity of the written word, retains its power.