Please explain the meaning of the "Sonnet LV"  by William Shakespeare. Not marble, nor the gilded monuments Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme; But you shall shine more bright in these...

Please explain the meaning of the "Sonnet LV"  by William Shakespeare.

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments

Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;

But you shall shine more bright in these contents

Than unswept stone besmear'd with sluttish time.

When wasteful war shall statues overturn,

And broils root out the work of masonry,

Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn

The living record of your memory.

'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity

Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room

Even in the eyes of all posterity

That wear this world out to the ending doom.

So, till the judgment that yourself arise,

You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.

Asked on by albulena

2 Answers | Add Yours

carol-davis's profile pic

carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

"Sonnet LV" by William Shakespeare has two themes: the passing of time and the immortalizing of a young man. The first half of Shakespeare's sonnets dealt with his love for a young man and forever keeping him alive through the sonnets that Shakespeare wrote.

This poem is narrated from the first person point of view.  The poet speaks directly to the youth referred to in the sonnet.  The tone of the poem is serious and confident in the ability of the sonnet to commemorate the youth's life.

The Shakespearean sonnet has fourteen lines with three quatrains[four lines] and a rhyming couplet or the last two lines.  The rhyme scheme follows this pattern: ABABCDCDEFEFGG. Usually at line 9, the poem changes directions slightly in its theme.

The first quatrain points up the idea that neither royal marble or gold monuments will be able to outline the power of poetry.  The young man will out shine even the graveyard stones that are damaged by the elements and time. 

But you shall shine more bright in these contents

Than unswept stone besmear'd with sluttish time.

The second quatrain accentuates that when the destructive wars are fought and damages art work and statues  and the battles ruin the work  of the architects and the brick masons...neither the Roman god of war nor his mighty weapons who cause the wars to break out and fires caused in battle...none of these things will burn away the memory of your life.

The third quatrain speaks to the fact that the young man will outlive death and oblivion in the eyes of future generations and even until the end of time.

The final couplet states that when Judgment day comes, you will be taken by Christ to heaven; until then,  you will live on in this sonnet and in the eyes of lovers.

Shakespeare did understand the power of the written word. It has been over four hundred years since the poem was written, and the Sonnet LV about the young man is still being read.

billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I would just like to point out a beautiful use of language in one line of Shakespeare's Sonnet LV. This is to be found at the end of the line "When wasteful war shall statues overturn..." The normal syntax would be "When wasteful war shall overturn statues," but by reversing those two words Shakespeare creates a more vivid image of statues being toppled. The bottoms of these statues seem to come falling ahead of the tops.

It should be noted that Shelley does something similar in his "Ode to the West Wind" in the following two lines:

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing.

The normal syntax, of course, would be:

Thou, from whose unseen presence the dead leaves

Are driven, like ghosts fleeing from an enchanter.

The effect Shelley achieves by reversing the last two words of each of the above-quoted lines is--besides being a stroke of pure genius--to make the imaginary leaves seem to be tumbling over each other, so that those in back overtake the ones in front in their panic to flee from the invisible enchanter.

The beauty and the value of Shakespeare's sonnets is to be found in the words, the lines, the imagery, the conceits. These things are far more important than the answers to or guesses about such questions as "Whom was the speaker addressing?" or "Who was the dark lady?"

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,917 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question