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Shakespeare?S Sonnet 55 Essay, Research Paper

The Immortal Work of the Poet as seen in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 55

Since the beginning of recorded time, humanity has attempted to give immortality through art. Great people have attempted to have themselves remembered through statues and other means. The poet too, has attempted the same feat. Capturing within his or her lines the essence and emotion of someone whom he or she loved. During the Renaissance, the sonnet was the poetic form of choice. The sonnet is only fourteen lines in length and generally had ten syllables per line. It was in this form that poets wrote some of the greatest love poems. The poet, especially of the Renaissance, saw poetry as the greatest of all art forms and therefore the most immortal. In Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 55″ he pits the art of the sculptor with the immortal work of the poet.

The poem begins by giving the reader two striking images. These images are “marble and gilded monuments.” Immediately Shakespeare puts an idea into the readers mind. These images imply strength, something solid and sturdy, power, largeness, prestige and wealth. One can easily see the large statues covered in gold and precious metals. The time, care, and hard work the artist used to fashion his work of art is easily pictured. The next line then confirms these meaning by informing the reader that these monuments Shakespeare is writing about are to commemorate princes.

Once Shakespeare establishes the association of power and strength to the work of the sculptor he immediately smashes this notion. These things, he writes, “shall [not] outlive this powerful rhyme” (2). The poem has now created a tension between the idea that monuments imply power and the power of the poets’ verse. Shakespeare now is going to explain to the reader why the poets verse is more suitable than the sculptor’s monument honoring its subject.

The first mention of the poem’s subject comes in line three. The beloved in the poem will “shine more bright in these contents” than in a stone effigy. The “contents” mentioned in line three imply more than just these fourteen lines. In his sonnet cycle, Shakespeare writes many sonnets dealing with the fading beauty and eventual death of his beloved friend. Shakespeare’s sonnets are the beacons to the world reminding them about his friend. The problem with relying on statues and stone effigies is the danger of the elements. The irony is that nature and the elements show no concern for the artist’s talent or the memory and honor of the person enshrined. Time is the enemy of immortality. The time is shown to be a defiler. Shakespeare’s use of the word sluttish suggests time as being immoral. Time is also a slovenly housekeeper that does not clean up after the elements of nature. These elements build up eventually wiping clean any memory.

The second enemy to the work of the sculptor is humanity. War that derives from humanities pettiness destroys anything in its path. Riots and mass quarreling are also the destroyers of immortality. The idea here is that not only is the work of the mason and sculptor destroyed but also its entire existence is “rooted out” of people’s memories. War and riots uproot a civilization and the things that civilization held dear. However, war will not destroy the poets verse and thus the memory of the beloved. Even if war and fire were to literally destroy the poem it still could be rewritten from peoples memory. The works of the sculptor and the mason however, cannot be recreated. The pen is truly mightier than the sword.

The last two lines of the poem are known as the couplet. It is in these last two lines that Shakespeare sums up the theme of the entire sonnet. He finishes the poem by assuring the beloved that until the end of the world his life will continue within the lines of the poem. Every time a person reads this poem and the entire sonnet cycle, “he will dwell in lovers’ eyes.” This last line is both literal and symbolic. The literal aspect is that the eyes will reflect the poem. The beloved will dwell in the reader’s eyes as they read the poems. However, it also implies that he will dwell in the reader’s memories and lives. Every time two lovers come together a piece of him will be expressed through their love.

The poem’s form and rhythm is quite important to the theme. In line two Shakespeare talks of his powerful rhyme. The poem’s rhythm is iambic pentameter, which is the natural rhythm of the English language. The power is this verse comes from the way in which it flows so simply over the tongue. When spoken aloud, the poem has a cadence that is easy to remember and quite soothing. The length of the poem is another of its strengths. The condensed nature of the sonnet helps to create a strong emotional impact upon the reader. This makes the poem quite easy to remember and in a sense allowing it never to be forgotten.

Shakespeare’s sonnet is a beautiful mixture of rhythm and imagery. He has fashioned a wonderful poem that explores the artist’s ability to immortalize a person. In the end, it is the poet and the poet’s verse that will live until the end of time.

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