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.
William Shakespeare’s Love Sonnet 18 compares the object of his affection to a summer’s day. Line 2, “Thou art more lovely and more temperate:” expresses how his lover is more mellow and beautiful than a summer day. The word temperate has more than one denotation, making this statement have more than one meaning. Temperate can mean moderate or self-restrained in opinion, not susceptible to extreme passion or emotion, or moderate in temperature or weather. So line 2 can be speaking to both his lover’s personality and temperament as well as their physical beauty, meaning that aesthetically, their features are not harsh. “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May” speaks to the fragility of love and relationships. Rough winds signify the conflicts and difficulties that the couple may face, while the “darling buds of May” represent the romance. The month of May is in spring, and spring is connotated with renewal, rebirth, and love.
“Summer’s lease” in line 4 is the amount of time that this pleasantness will last. “Lease” has the meaning of owning temporary possession. So “summer’s lease” is a way of saying summer’s pleasant weather and romance won’t last forever. It’s limited because the lease will end, which is summed up by “too short a date”. Line 5’s “Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,” explains that sometimes the relationship will be scrutinized by everyone. The “eye of heaven” refers to the sun, and gives the image of a bright, hot spotlight on his lover. The sun, which is a great source of light, reveals small details and flaws in people, allowing scrutiny to occur. As a result, the speaker worries that, “often is his gold complexion dimm’d; / And every fair from fair sometime declines”. “His gold complexion” can literally be referring to his lover’s skin, but “complexion” can also mean viewpoint or attitude. So while the sun can literally be damaging his lover’s complexion with its harsh rays, in a metaphysical sense, the scrutiny from the people around them is causing his lover to lose his bright attitude. “Fair” is used in a way so that its multiple meanings are being used in one sentence. “Fair” as a noun can mean “woman” or “lover”, free from bias and injustice, pale in color and untainted, straight (as in direction), or an exhibition. So in “And every fair from fair sometimes declines”, the first “fair” takes the meaning of “woman” or “lover” and the second “fair” takes up the meaning, free from injustice, bias, or dishonesty.
While conflict can come between their love, the speaker goes onto say, “But thy eternal summer shall not fade.” While the season itself may pass, the pleasantness that comes with summer will remain eternal within his lover, making fading impossible. The speaker ends the sonnet by proclaiming his faith in his lover, “When in eternal lines to time thou growest:/ So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this gives life to thee.”