What was the thought of Shakespeare in "Sonnet 55"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This excellent sonnet is preoccupied with a common concern that runs throughout Shakespeare's collection of Sonnets: how poetry can give immortality to the beauty and love of the person that the sonnet is written to. Note how this sonnet begins by comparing the ability of this poem to preserve the beauty of the loved one to the "gilded monuments / Of princes." The speaker asserts that:

But you shall shine more bright in these contents 
Than unswept stone besmear'd with sluttish time.

The poem here is being compared to one of those "gilded monuments" in its ability to preserve. However, the poem will exist eternally, compared to the monuments that, through the ravages of "sluttish time" are destined to destruction. As the poem continues the speaker develops this theme. War will overturn statues and destroy them, rendering the memory of the great people they were supposed to commemorate obsolete. However, being captured in verse spares the memory of the loved one. The final couplet clinches this theme of the poem:

So, till the judgment that yourself arise, 
You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.

Being remembered through this poem assures that the loved one that is addressed in this poem will "live on" until the end of time itself and judgement day.

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