William Shakespeare wrote Sonnet LV following the form of the English sonnet. This type of sonnet has fourteen lines with three quatrains and a terminal couplet. This sonnet is one of several poems dedicated to a young English Lord. The tone of the poem is loving, despite the reference to war. Its purpose is to ascribe immortality to the subject of the poem.
In essence, the poem discusses time and the power of poetry. No monument will outlive this poem. But the young man will stand out even more than the verse. His excellence will outlast the dusty gravestones which have been damaged by time.
When war has ruined statues and broken the mason’s bricks, the man and this poem will live on.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry....
War personified shall not circumvent these words about his memory. Future generations will praise him even unto the end of time when the Lord will arise from his grave on Judgement day.
Personification is a figure of speech in which an inanimate object or abstraction is endowed with human qualities or abilities. In this poem, personification is used when referencing the marble monuments' capacity to have life.
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
In addition, the poetry is given the ability to have power and life. In the second quatrain, war is wasteful and granted the capability to overturn statues and ruin brick work.
In the third quatrain, the poem is alive according to the poet.
There really is no setting for the poem other than some critics have said that the marble and gold monuments might have referred to Westminster Abbey. There is no specific place that the graveyard mentioned might be found. The poet expresses his profound love and admiration for this young man who outshines the most beautiful of statues.