The idea that human beings can immortalize themselves in their art is popular among artists and writers and serves as an alternative to notions of immortality rooted in an afterlife or in one’s progeny. In antiquity, Horace and Ovid held this belief, just as today many poets do. Shakespeare also subscribed to this idea of creative immortality, and made it the topic of many of his poems. In Sonnet 19, one of a number of sonnets which praise the beauty of the Earl of Southhampton, the speaker desires that the young man he writes about never age. The speaker explicitly addresses Time, asking it to spare his beloved, and then, after acknowledging the impossibility of that, states that his love will live on in his poetry regardless of Time’s effects.
We can think about the desire to have our creative work live on past our deaths as a feature of evolution. That is, our work functions in a way like our children. It comes from us, and after we die we have no say in how it will behave or how others will respond to it. The first four lines of the sonnet remind us not only of our mortality but of our animal nature, and how it, rather than our souls, minds, or the work that we produce, is the real enemy of time.
Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;...
(The entire section is 1279 words.)
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