Exploring Immortality: A Comparative Analysis of Sonnet 18 and Death

Categories: William Shakespeare


In the works of William Shakespeare's "Sonnet 18" and John Donne's "Death," the theme of escaping death is eloquently explored. Both poets posit that the fear of death is unwarranted, as it is intertwined with the continuum of life. Through rich employment of imagery, metaphors, and personification, these sonnets convey profound messages about mortality and immortality. Despite sharing common ground in advocating for the acceptance of death, the two poems diverge in their perspectives on achieving immortality.

Confronting Death: John Donne's Perspective

John Donne, in his poem "Death," fearlessly confronts the personified entity of death.

The speaker challenges the conventional perception of death as mighty and dreadful, asserting its lack of true power. By invoking Christian beliefs, Donne introduces the idea of life after death, countering the notion that death signals the end. The metaphorical comparison of death to "rest and sleep" is particularly striking, as it portrays death as a peaceful transition, akin to a temporary slumber that one wakes up from (5).

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The poet argues that death, in its role as an end to worldly troubles, is a benefactor to humanity. The imagery of the best men finding relief in death underscores the idea that it is a release from the burdens of life (7-8). Donne employs vivid language to depict death as a servant bound by fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, revealing the lack of autonomy death possesses in the grand scheme of existence (9). As the poem progresses, death is associated with poison, war, and sickness, challenging the traditional fear associated with this inevitable part of life.

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Immortality Through Beauty: William Shakespeare's Sonnet 18

Shakespeare, in "Sonnet 18," takes a different route to conquer death by immortalizing beauty in verse. The predominant literary device in "Sonnet 18" is imagery, exemplified by the line "Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May." Alongside imagery, Shakespeare employs personification and hyperbole to reinforce the enduring beauty metaphor of his subject.

The poem begins with an appreciation of beauty, contemplating whether the speaker's beloved should be compared to a summer's day (1). Through vivid imagery, the poet likens the beloved to the splendors of nature associated with summer, emphasizing the allure and radiance of the person in question.

The repetition of the word "more" in the second stanza intensifies the beauty attributed to the beloved, surpassing the transient perfection of a summer day. Shakespeare acknowledges the imperfections of summer, using them as a metaphor to highlight the beloved's eternal nature. Despite the inevitable end of summer and the mortality observed in nature, the poet contends that the beloved's beauty will endure perpetually, thus achieving a form of immortality (9).

The concluding stanzas introduce the metaphor of the poem itself as a life-giving force. As long as people read and appreciate the sonnet, the beauty of the beloved remains alive and immortal. Unlike the fleeting season of summer, the poet's beloved is destined to persist beyond the constraints of time, immortalized in the verses of the sonnet (13-14).

Embracing Immortality: Common Ground in Divergent Views

Both "Sonnet 18" and "Death" share a common thread in challenging the fear of death, advocating for an acceptance that transcends mortal apprehensions. While Donne relies on religious beliefs to emphasize life after death and portrays death as a servant bound by external forces, Shakespeare immortalizes beauty through poetic expression. The poems collectively suggest that mortality is not to be feared, as it reveals the gateway to life after death, be it through religious conviction or the enduring power of art.


In conclusion, the exploration of immortality in "Sonnet 18" and "Death" showcases the poets' distinct approaches to confronting the inevitability of death. Donne's fearless confrontation and portrayal of death as a servant to external forces align with his Christian beliefs, offering solace in the promise of an afterlife. On the other hand, Shakespeare's sonnet immortalizes beauty through the art of poetry, presenting an alternative path to transcending mortality. While divergent in their methods, both poets ultimately encourage a perspective that embraces the continuity of life beyond the threshold of death.

Updated: Jan 04, 2024
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Exploring Immortality: A Comparative Analysis of Sonnet 18 and Death. (2016, Dec 16). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/analysis-of-sonnet-18-by-william-shakespeare-essay

Exploring Immortality: A Comparative Analysis of Sonnet 18 and Death essay
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