3administering that treatment. When we read about the young man’s beauty in Sonnet 18, we arereally reading about the poeticization of that beauty.Moreover, Shakespeare spends the first two quatrains of his sonnet not sowing the youngman in “eternal lines” as he claims but metaphorically critiquing the poetic value of his“summer’s day,” denigrating the metaphor. At the expense of learning about “the beloved’s formor height or hair or eyes or bearing…her character or mind,” we learn about summer’s poeticinadequacies (Boyd-White 142). Most centrally, Shakespeare personifies summer, whichconsequently becomes mortally transient as a lessee whose “lease hath all too short a date” (2).The metaphor here turns summer into a human actor subject to a quickly expiring contract, and,once the contract expires, summer will die and nature will be “untrimmed,” or “stripped of gayapparel” (Greenblatt and Logan 1063) like its “darling buds” (18.3). But what in Sonnet 18 is theimplied lessor to whom summer is bound? The lessor here, I think, is the “eye of heaven” (18.5),or the “sun,
ordainer of seasons
[italics mine]” (Vendler 120). But what is Shakespeare
bycreating a metaphorical lessee-lessor relationship? The conceit through which it’s imagined has avehicle that’s incongruous with its tenor—larger-than-life natural bodies become petty mortalsand cosmic phenomena become petty mortal dealings. Such an incongruity
again draws us awayfrom content and toward the conceit that treats it, toward the poet himself. The poet is reallyflaunting the power of his conceit to diminish the imaginative weight of the natural. Death shallnot brag (11), the speaker says, because “the poet shall brag” (Boyd-White 142) better in death’sstead.
Significantly, Shakespeare does not test the fitness of the lessee-lessor metaphor as he does the fitness of the“summer’s day” metaphor. His diminishment of the natural may therefore be read as less processed than histreatment of the young man, more whimsical, though to act on a whim when rendering the eternal transient is to besupremely audacious. That audacity is also self-reflexive. Testing conceits and inventing audacious conceits are bothstrategies that Shakespeare’s speaker uses to glorify not his subject but himself as a poet.