William Shakespeare considered the greatest English writer has developed a vast work, approaching various themes in the plays or poems that he created. Another highly appreciated English poet is Andrew Marvell, who besides poetry was also a politician, which is visible in his work, as many poems approach politics as the main theme. This paper takes a closer look at the two poets’ literary works, focusing on two of their poems, respectively “Sonnet 18: Shall I compare Thee to a Summer Day” (William Shakespeare) and “The Garden” (Andrew Marvell), identifying the common themes between the two poems, depicting other similarities, as well as differences in terms of content and style.
The first theme that resides from both poems is the nature. Both Shakespeare and Marvell seem to dedicate their worship to nature through their poems. In fact, Shakespeare’s poem is built on a comparison with a summer day, and even the title of his poem suggests that the theme of his literary work is nature. As the poem develops, beautiful words, metaphors and epithets describe the poet’s love for a summer day. Shakespeare suggests humans’ love for a summer day and for the beauty of nature in this season: “So long lives this, and this gives life to thee”, indicating that the power of nature is existential, giving life, nurturing and caring for people. The beauty and the greatness of nature is also the main focus in Marvell’s “The Garden”, where the poet picks up on various details that the garden offers for emphasizing the attributes of nature. The nature is often personified in Marvell’s “The Garden”, seen as a “Fair Quiet” or her sister, “Innocence”.
For Shakespeare and Marvell both, nature is nurturing love, feeding the lovers with sensitivity, beauty and harmony. In “Sonnet 18”, Shakespeare finds that the person described in the poem is “more lovely and more temperate” (2) than a summer day, therefore, love is stronger than nature. On the other hand, for Marvell the nature is supreme. The love, as powerful and as passionate as it may be, merges in the end with nature and the poet offers several such examples, taken from mythology, which depicts passionate loving couples that turned to nature: “Apollo hunted Daphne so/Only that she might a laurel grow,/And Pan did after Syrinx speed,/Not as a nymph, but for a reed” (Marvell 4).
Therefore, the two poets manifest different attitudes regarding nature, and they reveal their attitudes in different style and content also. As such, while Shakespeare’s style is enthusiastic and the poet is more attracted to the passion of love than to the beauty of the summer day (the nature), Marvell decreases the power of love in the benefit of nature. However, love and nature are not at war, not even in a competition in Shakespeare’s poem, while Marvell’s poem content and style seems to indicate that they are in a competition, a competition for winning the observer’s senses.
Another common theme in both poems is the love. However, the approach on this theme takes different notes in Shakespeare’s poem as compared to Marvell’s poem. As such, while Shakespeare in his “Sonnet 18” illustrates a soft and romantic love, as the entire poem sees to be built on the scheme of a love declaration (“Shall I compare thee to a summer day?/Thou art more lovely and more temperate”), Marvell indicates another type of love, based on sexual passion (“Fond lovers, cruel as their flame”), which is no less romantic, as the essence of romance is kept safe as a sacred covenant in the barks of the trees “Cut in these trees their mistress’ name” (Marvel 3). Marvell’s style seems to depreciate love and love happening in the garden, as something that profanes the holiness of the sanctuary that is nature. On the contrary, the content of Shakespeare’s poem reflects the fact that love is more temperate than the changing nature, appreciating more the beauty of love than the nature.
Time is another significant theme, common to both poems. Both Shakespeare and Marvell present this element as related to nature and love. Shakespeare talks about eternity, positioning it somehow in contrast with the transient nature of the humans and with the changing temper of the nature. “When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st/So long as men can breathe or eyes can see” (Shakespeare 12-13). In “The Garden”, the time element is set aside the nature element, determining the poet to reflect at the passing of the time while meditating and admiring the beauty and softness of nature: “how could such sweet and wholesome hours/Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers!” (Marvell 9).
Marvell’s approach on the time theme seems to be elegiac, as towards the end of the poem, when the time element is mentioned, the tone of the poem takes a sad shift and the poet seems to ask for an explanation for the passing of the time, indicating signs of revolting against the passing of the time, which is made by “sweet hours” (Marvell 9), as it allows for the contemplation of the nature, but they are passing hours, bringing Marvell back to the idea of the transience of life that he disagrees with.
Shakespeare also sees time as an element that works against beauty, youth, and even against nature, as the poet presents nature relating it to the beauty of a summer day, which is exposed to the passing of the time, implicitly the termination of the season, symbolizing the end of beauty, of youth, of love, and implicitly leading to death. But unlike Marvell, who chooses to meditate and simply contemplate with sadness at the passing of time and the transience of life itself, Shakespeare chooses another approach: he fights with the passing of the time by capturing the beauty of the youth, of the summer day, of the love, in a painting. Therefore, while Marvell’s attitude regarding the passing of the time is of sad resignation, Shakespeare creatively develops a strategy for maintaining the beauty of nature, of youth, of love, of the summer day, by capturing it in a painting that transcends through time and has no end.
Overall, Shakespeare’s poem reveals a state of wellbeing; positivity, happiness are transmitted through the content and style of the “Sonnet 18”, and very importantly, a hope for beauty, youth and summer day to transcend through time, through art. On the other hand, Marvell’s poem “The Garden” poses an elegiac tone, as the poet worships nature more than anything and the style and the content of his poem indicates a self-isolation in the garden, contemplating the greatness and solitude of nature, only affected by the passing of the time, which he cannot stop.
Marvell, Andrew. The Graden. Accessed on 5 October 2013, retrieved from http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/marvell/garden.htm. Web.
Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 18: Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer Dream? Accessed on 5 October 2013, retrieved from http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/sonnet-18-shall-i-compare-thee-to-a-summer-s-day/. 1609. Web.