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The search for immortality has troubled philosophers
since the dawn of human race. Numerous historic figures,
including Ramses XV of Egypt and Julius Caesar of Rome,
have tried to achieve physical immortality through various
superficial measures. Magicians of the ancient kingdoms
have struggled to find a way to stop the aging process of a
human being. All those attempts have proved to be
unsuccessful and as of today there is no proven method that
enables a person to live forever. However, the Renaissance
age brought radical changes to human perception of life. No
longer a person could remain passive about the course that
their life takes. Renaissance man was expected to strive
for higher achievements in every aspect of life. This
included political, financial and cultural aspects. These
ideas paved way for a new concept of immortality -
immortality through art. Da Vinci painted ?Mona Lisa? and
became immortal through legacy that he left behind him.
Beethoven wrote his ?5th Symphony? and he is still
remembered for it. These ideas of eternal life were
mirrored in poetry of William Shakespeare – the Renaissance
man of England. In a number of his sonnets Shakespeare
talks about immortality from diverse points of view. It is
a wonder how Shakespeare can take an issue and approach from
different perspectives and each time the same issue is
presented in new light, and charged with new emotions.
There are two basic ways in which Shakespeare relates
to the idea of immortality. In first approach the author
describes eternal life through a chain of comparisons and
multiple meanings of the same words. In sonnet number 5
poet associates a person with a flower. A flower that is
beautiful in its younger years yet as the time
Will play the tyrants to the very same,
And that unfair which fairly doth excel;
it makes unattractive that which now excels in beauty, and
eventually leads to flower?s death. The sonnet goes on to
mention the process through which fragrances are extracted
from flowers, and it further states that even after the
flower is long gone, it is remembered every time someone
recognizes its sweet smell. In this poem, Shakespeare
makes a direct comparison with real life, because just as a
plant is remembered for its attractive smell, people are
remembered for their good deeds even long after their death.
Similar ideas are presented in sonnet number 54. In this
sonnet the author talks about people who are beautiful on
the outside, but empty and unattractive inside. The poet
states that as life goes on, the outer beauty fades, and
death follows, and only those people who were more then
empty shells, will be remembered.
And so of you, beauticius and lovely youth,
When that shall fade, by verse distills your truth.
Another way through which Shakespeare perceives
immortality is by writing directly about it. There is a
number of poems in the author presents eternal life in plain
and precise language. In sonnet number 15 the author says,
And all in war with time for love of you,
As he takes, I engraft you new.
It is obvious that what poet means is that even though time
makes people older, poetry can rejuvenate a person by
bringing back memories about the past. It can even
resurrect a dead person in human mind, every time that the
poem about that person is read. In his writings,
Shakespeare truly believes that poetry brings immortality to
people. In sonnet number 16 he writes,
But wherefore do not you a mightier way
Make war upon this bloody tyrant, time,
And fortify yourself in your decay
With means more Blessed the my barren rhyme
thus asking a simple question, ?What better way to
immortalize yourself then through poetry?.? Eternal life
seems to be perceived by the writer as a gift from beyond,
a blessing that only a few chosen will receive. It can be
traced further in sonnet number 18, which states that once
a poem about someone is written, that person is immortal
for as long as human eyes can see. This is a very
optimistic approach to poetry but it raises some questions.
Besides the fact that a person must be able to see in order
to read, a person should also have at least nominal
interest in what he is reading. Shakespeare tends to
overlook this fact. Finally in Sonnet number 55 the writer
Not marble nor the guilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive the powerful rhyme,
This is a direct statement, that says loud and clear that
even after the greatest of deeds are destroyed by time and
forgotten, poetry will still remain a part of human
folklore. Nothing can destroy a word because it is not a
The concept of immortality through legacy is described
colorfully in the sonnets. The author uses various
techniques to approach the issue. He employs comparisons as
well as direct language. The ideas presented in
Shakespearean poems are clear examples of changes in human
mentality that occurred during Renaissance period of
European history. The poetry of William Shakespeare is
coherent with and reflective of, the time epoch of its
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