Theme of Love through Metaphorical Language in What Lips My Lips have Kissed and Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?
Although both sonnets Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day? by Shakespeare and What Lips My Lips Have Kissed present love, as both have been written in quite different era which is clear from the theme of love. It is because whereas Shakespeare praises his beloved in a typical style, comparing her with the summer and then making her eternal like “Time” (Shakespeare 13), Millay has expressed love in open terms that is tantamount to promiscuity. However, it also is expressed in metaphorical language and has been compared to rain “tap and sigh” (Millay 4) because now she is no more with her several lovers. This comparison of spiritual love and physical love is quite prominent in both of the sonnets, where one reflects love of Elizabethan era, while the other one demonstrates Victorian standards, which were expanding further, and crossing the boundaries set by familial traditions, religious conventions and social norms. However, the theme of love has been beautifully expressed in both the sonnets whereas it is tinged with nostalgic feelings in Millay, it is of permanent felicity in Shakespeare. Although both the sonnets deal with the theme of love presented in metaphorical language, What Lips My Lips Have Kissed presents love as an amorous escapade, while Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day? presents love as a spiritual experience of praising beloved and making her an everlasting entity.
The theme of love in both the poems has been compared to seasons and in metaphorical language. Millay has compared her love with “rain / Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh” (Millay 3-4), adding that it has made her a tree, which waits in winter standing like “the lonely tree” (9). She stretches this extended metaphor of weather further; saying nostalgically that now it is winter when no traveller comes. The lovers have gone like the gone weather as the situation is that “I cannot say what loves have come and gone” (12) but now the situation has arrived to the point where she can only remember her past promiscuity “I only know that summer sang in me” (13) referring to her past but still in the same metaphorical language. However, this is now merely a pain of the past that “sings no more” (14). She only remembers those loves. However, the situation with Shakespeare in his sonnet Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day? is intense where love has become a spiritual experience after put it in comparison against his beloved which wins at the end. His extended metaphor is not twisted as that of Millay, but his is very much clear that his beloved is compared with the summer season and pales the summer season in her comparison, as she wins “But thy eternal summer shall not fade” (Shakespeare 9). He even goes much ahead that “Nor shall death brag thou” (11). This extended metaphor ends with making his beloved eternal like “Time” (13).
Whereas Millay’s theme of love in What Lips My Lips Have Kissed is amorous and physical, Shakespearean love is more of a spiritual nature, which shows the difference of era that is Elizabethan love and Victorian love. Millay is quite open in admitting her love for everybody, and her character of promiscuity saying form the very start “What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why” (Millay 1) where she is not aware of the place, person or even how it happened. The love is not only physical but also open. Comparing that old love with many of the present moment, she becomes upset, as she is not able to sing any more. If that love was like summer, now she is left as a winter “the lonely tree” (9) that now there is no song and only “quiet pain” (6). However, Shakespeare has only praised his beloved, comparing her with the summer season and its attributes. This is rather spiritual side of love. Though “every fair from fair sometimes declines” (Shakespeare