A figure of speech is the style of arrangement and use of language that is distinctly different from the literal and actual meanings of words in order to convey additional meanings with dramatic or telling effects. Figures of speech say one thing in terms of something else. The difference between a figure of speech and metaphor and simile are marginal, more or less they belong to the same family. In this sonnet, “Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day,” William Shakespeare makes use of figures of speech to convey profound meanings of love in one’s life. Love baffles definition, as each lover sees a new horizon; one may cross the moon, beat the stars but probe one must the tiny heart engulfed in love which is mysterious and fantasizes of challenging time to remain forever young.”
The generous use of figures of speech
Shakespeare is generous in introducing many figures of speech in this poem. He refers to the sun as “the eye of heaven.” He is fascinated about the youth of the beloved of the young man which he ardently hopes that it shall not fade, by stating, “But thy eternal summer shall not fade.” He is greatly impressed and believes that it will remain permanent and it will challenge to withstand the vagaries of nature. His fondly hopes that her beauty will outgrow the normal growth and decay that is evident in nature. Shakespeare through this sonnet glorifies and takes love to unimaginable, rather impossible heights. The challenges of summer are many. The young man is aware of all the tough issues related to the summer, the wear and tear effect it will have on the human body and yet hopes that his beloved will successfully challenge all such adversaries and will retain her youthful bloom. Summers are shaken by “rough winds” and the sun is “too hot.” But as for the beloved, his trusts that “thy eternal summer shall not fade” and the beauty shall remain preserved forever “as long as men can breathe or eyes can see.”
Poetry and art—the ladders to the divine kingdom
Wise people say that poetry, art, and music are closest to the heart of God. The best words of love are spoken in a simple and hearty language. Simplicity oozes out through the lines of this sonnet and one experiences the loveliness of praise of the beloved and how intelligently Shakespeare keeps the two hearts engaged. Figures of speech are the delicate tools with which he chisels the beauty of the poem. He emphasizes the harshness of the summer and admires the mild and temperate (cool) looks of his beloved. He describes the transition in nature by stating “darling buds of May,” paving the way to the “eternal summer.” That is the assurance of the young man to his beloved. The power of the poem is in its defiance of time and natural processes of decay and the young man is confident about the youth of his beloved that will last forever, and it will be transmitted to future generations to experience and appreciate. The poet may praise time, taunt it or plead with it, but time will not stop its game. Nature, art and time are great contenders but time is the ultimate victor. The sonnet establishes the inevitable connection between the passage of time, the fleeting, transient life, beauty, and the aging process. Shakespeare’s fervent desire is love should conquer age and time, and at the same time, he understands well the futility of his desire.
Some backgrounder information relating to sonnets, and this sonnet in particular
Sonnets are generally associated with romantic love to express feelings for the beloveds and the patrons of poets. Noblemen of the yore loved self-praise and they took the support of poets through their talents to satisfy their inflated egos. Addressing young men in sonnets was prevalent in Elizabethan England and this sonnet falls into that category. Such sonnets, with their idealized love, provided the welcome relief to the readers by probing and eulogizing the true nature of love in contrast to the complicated love affairs that were prevalent in the society. According to Shakespeare, love and time are at war with each other on a perennial basis. In brief, time is the enemy of love. He further elucidates that time destroys love as it makes beauty to fade; any beautiful woman will also age and will have no capacity to challenge the various negative impacts of the age on the body. In the ultimate analysis, a grave is a final destination even for the most beautiful woman in the world. The promise of immortality and such comparisons relating to the hope of remaining young may lull the beloved for a while, but they carry no intrinsic worth in the secular sense. Love is bound to lose the war with time. But I do not agree with the observation/contention of Shakespeare that age has a detrimental effect on love. In reality, true love goes on multiplying with age, and passion diminishes with time. Infatuation should not be equated with true love. Everlasting love is soul-connected and it is sublime.
Love’s physical beauty may be transient, but true love is not. Shakespeare is aware that his lover is fighting the losing battle against the vagaries of time. With this sonnet full of denotation, imagery, metaphor, figures of speech and setting Shakespeare builds a solid defense against the advancement of time, but in vain.
Shakespeare, William. Sonnet XVIII: Shall I Compare Thee to a Summers Day?