“Sonnet 55” – A poem by W. Shakespeare

Context : The English sonnet contains three quatrains followed by a final rhyming couplet. The lines are in iambic pentameter: 10 syllables and 5 stresses per line.

Themes : Love, immortality and memory. The beloved is glorified and compared to worldy goods and riches; but the message is that the beloved is the one who will live forever. Time is depicted as a slut which has done harm to the stone of monuments made by princes. The Old English word slut is non-sexual here and means only that time has made the stones dirty, blackened them. The narrator’s message is that the beloved in his poem in some sense will outlive all these wasted symbols.

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.

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