From the years 1593 to 1601, English poet and playwright William Shakespeare wrote a series of 154 sonnets. The sonnets were broken up into two sets, 126 of them were about an unnamed young man referred to as “Fair Youth” and the others were about whom Shakespeare referred to as a “dark lady”. Sonnet 55 is about time and being immortal through poetry. Shakespeare wrote the poem with a platonic love towards the young man saying that even though the world will one day fall he will forever live through Shakespeare’s words and in the eyes of anyone that has ever loved him until the Day of Judgment comes. Shakespeare shows his true love and affection for whomever the poem is about, praising him by writing this poem for him making sure that he forever lives even after he is dead. The works of Shakespeare in this poem also relate to those of Horace and Ovid, both Roman poets.
No one really knows exactly whom the writing was about. The entire sonnet series has a dedication to someone Shakespeare refers to as “Mr. W.H.” no one knows exactly who this person is and if this poem is about him. Shakespeare starts the poem with the line “Not marble, nor the gilded monuments of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme”. He wants the person that the poem is about to know that not even monuments and statues made of marble, stone and gold, which take longer aging, will not outlive the “powerful rhyme” of this sonnet. He uses the word powerful to describe the rhyme to show how much sentimental value the poem has. Shakespeare tells the young man that no matter how amazing or permanent these monuments and statues are they will not be more amazing and monumental than the words that he wrote. “But you shall shine more bright in these contents than unswept stone besmeared with sluttish time” means that of all the things he described before nothing will shine brighter or live longer than these words dedicated to him, even the stone that hasn’t been touched by anything but the hands of “sluttish” time. Sluttish in this sense has a closer meaning to dirty or disgusting rather than the actual meaning of the word itself. In the line 5 and 6, “When wasteful war shall statues overturn, and broils root out the work of masonry”, Shakespeare speaks about how war is very destructive and ruins things just as well as time does and how “broils”, or fights, will also do damage. Line 7 continues this statement saying “nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn” which means that neither Mars, the god of war, or the fire from war shall burn “the living record of your memory” which refers to the poem itself. The lines of the sonnet are so powerful that nothing will be able to “kill” it. The poem switches in lines 9 and 10 where Shakespeare tells the boy that even against death and “all-oblivious enmity”, such as wars that will eventually be forgotten, he will continue to pace forth and live on, the praise from the poem continuing. Shakespeare says that the boy’s praise will still find its way into the eyes of “all posterity” which means anyone that reads the poem. “What wear this world out to the ending doom” symbolizes how we, as humans, will where this world we live in out until there is no more. The lines combined say how even though we will eventually “wear out the world” the legend of the boy the poem referring to will still live on.
By starting the last two lines with the word “so”, we know that the poem is coming to a close. “So, till the judgment that yourself arise, you live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes” is a statement from Shakespeare to the young man saying that until Judgment Day that he arises and is resurrected he will forever live in this sonnet and in the eyes of everyone that has ever read it. To sum the entire sonnet up, Shakespeare writes to tell this young lad that no matter what happens around the world, no matter how old, dirty or hectic things may get, he will forever live on in these words.
The rhyme scheme of this sonnet is abab cdcd efef gg, with the last two lines rhyming with each other to make up a couplet. The poem itself is written in iambic pentameter, five iambic feet per line, which means that each line has 10 syllables with an unstressed, stressed pattern such as that in Shakespeare’s more famous sonnet, Sonnet 18. The unstressed, stressed pattern resembles that of a heartbeat with a small sound followed directly by a larger sound. Shakespeare wrote the poems using metaphors such as in lines 3 and 4 “But you shall shine more bright in these contents than unswept stone besmeared with sluttish time” and alliteration in almost every line of the sonnet associating with the iambic pentameter meter, adding stress to certain words to make them stick out more. Shakespeare used large amounts of imagery in the poem from the beginning references to gilded monuments to Mars, the god of war, his sword and the wasteful wars.
William Shakespeare is a poet unlike any other. His poetry and plays have inspired many others to follow along his footsteps and his word choice makes readers actually think about what he is saying instead of just reading words. With this sonnet he wanted whomever it was about to know that he values them, and that even though one day we all will die, as well as the boy, as long as the words of Sonnet 55 are still living so will his memory.