This week’s Sunday Sonnet comes a day early in recognition of Valentine’s Day. It already existed with some of its romantic connotations in Shakespeare’s time: Geoffrey Chaucer seems to have helped take the Feast of St. Valentine and color it with some aspects of courtly love. It wasn’t until the 18th century, however, that it really became the day for lovers. And it wasn’t until the 20th century that Hallmark ruined the holiday. But romantic love certainly existed in Shakespeare’s time. Today I’d like to share perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets.
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 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.
This sonnet is still bandied about today, read at weddings, and was even misappropriated in the popular movie Shakespeare in Love. Well, if Shakespeare had been love when he wrote this sonnet, he was in love with the Young Man, and not Gwyneth Paltrow. This lovely verse is written by a man to a man.
But why worry to whom ,or why, this exquisite sonnet was written? Sonnet 18’s gorgeous imagery, multi-leveled language and lush verse speaks universally to undying love, and the power of Art to preserve that love, both the transitory nature of romantic love and the undying ‘eternal summer’ of true love.
The image is from Shakespeare in Love, of Gwyneth Paltrow as the imaginary Viola and Joseph Fiennes as Shakespeare, living out modern scholarship’s heterosexual fantasy that Shakespeare never wrote any sonnets to a man. In truth, Will was an equal opportunity romantic, doling out magnificent verse to Young Men and Dark Ladies alike.