Read Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ with an explanation and modern English translation, plus a video performance. Sonnet 18, with its’ first line ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ is possibly the most famous sonnet ever, and certainly one that has hit a tipping point and entered deeply into the consciousness of our culture.

Read on below for the complete sonnet 18, a modern English translation and answers to some common questions about sonnet 18:

Sonnet 18 original text

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.

Sonnet 18 translation to modern English

Shall I compare you to a summer’s day? You are more lovely and more moderate: Harsh winds disturb the delicate buds of May, and summer doesn’t last long enough. Sometimes the sun is too hot, and its golden face is often dimmed by clouds. All beautiful things eventually become less beautiful, either by the experiences of life or by the passing of time. But your eternal beauty won’t fade, nor lose any of its quality. And you will never die, as you will live on in my enduring poetry. As long as there are people still alive to read poems this sonnet will live, and you will live in it.

Common questions about sonnet 18

What is the theme of sonnet 18?

The main theme in Sonnet 18 is the timelessness of love and beauty, death and immortality, and in particular the immortality of art. Also, the power of poetry over fate, death, and even love. The sonnet is concerned with the relationship between man and the eventual death he will encounter.

What is Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 about?

Sonnet 18 praises a friend, traditionally known as the ‘fair youth’. The sonnet is more than just a poem – it is a real thing that guarantees that by being described in the poem the young man’s beauty will be sustained. Even death will be irrelevant because the lines of verse will be read by future generations when poet and fair youth are no more. The image will live in the verse.

Is sonnet 18 about a man?

Yes. Sonnet 18 is one of a sequence of sonnets written for an unidentified young male friend of Shakespeare’s. In the sonnets, Shakespeare is urging his friend to marry and have children because his qualities and beauty are such that it would be a tragedy not to pass them on to a new generation.

Why is sonnet 18 so famous?

The opening line of the sonnet is one of the most quoted Shakespearean lines. It is also one of the most eloquent statements of the power of the written word. Shakespeare preserves his friend in the lines of the poem, where he will live forever, even after his natural death.

Harriet Walters reads Shakespeare’s sonnet 18

Interested in Shakespeare’s sonnet 18? If so you can get some additional free information by visiting our friends over at PoemAnalysis to read their analysis of sonnet 18?.