Shakespeare Love Sonnets
Sonnet 55 “Not marble nor the gilded monuments”
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room,
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.
William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)
William Shakespeare’s poem “Not marble, nor the gilded monuments” brings the reader to the sense of what is not important. His title captivates the reader’s imagination with images of coldness and wealth. But as the true meaning of the poem is made known, we learn that it is a poem about love. Monuments are made for the wealthy who want to keep the memory of someone alive. The tone Shakespeare creates in this poem is that poetry is like a monument in keeping a work of significance but that it is much more immortal being handed down from generation to generation.
The speaker begins the poem with the title emphasizing in the reader’s rational mind of what is worthless to the speaker. “Nor marble, nor the gilded monuments/ Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;.” This is the moment the reader learns of the importance of poetry to the speaker. The image that materializes in the reader’s mind is that a poem will transcend time and will leave behind the material things of this life. Shakespeare continues, “But you shall shine more bright in these contents/ Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.” The reader becomes aware that the speaker is talking to his beloved. He tells her that stone can be altered by the immoralities of time but that she will radiate forever through the use of his words.
“When wasteful war shall statues overturn,/ And broils root out the work of masonry,”now the speaker is trying to conjure the devastating image of war in the reader’s mind. This is an effective technique which has the reader visualizing the work of men being blown apart and statues being toppled to the ground. Shakespeare writes “Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn/ The living record of your memory.” In these lines the speaker proves his point that neither the Roman god’s readiness to fight nor the destructiveness of war will be able to erase the immortality of his beloved in the poem. Shakespeare proceeds, ” ‘ Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity.” Here the speaker informs his beloved that through poetry her memory is protected against death and that she will be unmindful of her enemies.
“Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room” in this line the beloved is informed that through this writing she will travel through time and be glorified in the hearts of men. “Even in the eyes of all posterity/ That wear this world out to the ending doom.” How ironic
that the beloved will even be remembered by future generations that will drag this world toward the annihilation of mankind. It concludes with “So, till the judgment that yourself arise,/ You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.” This is when the reader comes to the realization that even now the beloved in immortal through this poem. She lives in the eyes of lovers whether she believes this to be true or not.
Shakespeare was prophetic in believing that this poem would stand the test of time. This Shakespearean sonnet makes the reader wonder if Shakespeare was writing about his mistress or just his love of poetry. His contrast of love with war made the poem very effective and leaves the reader with the reality that love is the most important thing in life.
Shakespeare,William.William Shakespeare The Complete Works.Sonnet 55:1232.New York:Dorset Press,1988.
Shakespeare,William.The Norton Shakespeare.Based on the Oxford Edition.Sonnet 55:1941.New York:Norton,1997.
Benington,David,ed.The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Sonnet 55:1593.London:Scott,Foresman and Company,1980.