Expert Answers
bmadnick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'd like to give you a paraphrased, line-by-line translation of the poem, so you're able to compare Shakespeare's language to our modern version. I assume you have a copy of the original poem.

Not marble, nor the gold-plated shrines
Of princes shall outlive the power of poetry;
You shall shine more bright in these verses
Than on dust-covered gravestones,ravaged by time. When devastating war shall overturn statues,
And conflicts destroy the mason's handiwork,
The cause of war (Mars) nor the effects of war (fire) shall destroy
The living record of your memory (this poem).
Against death and destruction that causes people to be forgotten,
You will push onward; you will always be praised,
Even in the eyes of future generations
That survive until the end of humanity.
So, until judgment day, when you will rise again
You live in this poetry, and people will still love you.

Explaining the sonnet in this way helps my students to be able to better understand Shakespearean language. This is a translation I've had for a few years. Hopefully, it helps you as well.

brendawm eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare begins sonnet 55 with the profound declaration that the stone upon which the sonnet is carved will out last the living, but confidently asserts that “You” will  "outlive this mere stonework" of the sonnet.  Nothing, not even war or time can destroy the sonnet, but “God's Judgment Day places a limit on the sonnet's power to transcend those natural, historical, and human forces that diminish and dissolve memorials carved in stone.” The original form of the sonnet will remain until that final reckoning, when the beloved youth will surely be resurrected, in order to touch hearts of those who read it. In my opinion, I wonder if the is maybe some symbol of Jesus Christ?  I may be totally off base here, but, hey it is open for interpretation, right?  Please check the link below for a more detailed analysis of this sonnet.  It is wonderfully helpful.

cmcqueeney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The basic idea of the sonnet is that poetry is eternal, and whoever a poet chooses to write about becomes eternal/immortal along with the poem.  In Sonnet 55, Shakespeare goes through images of war, kingdoms, and structures which will all die away, but he claims the words he writes to his love will live on forever.  For more information about the imagery, check out the link below.