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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;

(5.3-4)

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.

(54.13-14)

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.

(15.14-15)

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

(16.1-4)

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

states,

Not marble nor the guilded monuments

Of princes shall outlive the powerful rhyme,

(55.1-2)

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

material subject.

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

production.


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