Where is the volta located in Sonnet 55?

While there is debate about the location of the volta in Sonnet 55, some argue that it comes in line 13, the beginning of the final couplet, when the speaker's thoughts turn from human history to the spiritual realm.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The volta is the point in the sonnet where the thought "turns," or changes. In a Petrarchan sonnet, the volta usually comes after the first 8 lines, or octet, with the change beginning in line 9, the beginning of the final sestet. In Shakespearean sonnets, however, the volta usually comes in the turn of the final couplet.

There's a debate in this sonnet about whether the volta comes at line 9or line 13, as the final couplet begins. I put it at line 13. Up until this point, Shakespeare's speaker has been talking about his beloved's immortality in the worldly realm. He says that because he is immortalizing the beloved in the words of his poetry, this individual will outlast the statues and buildings that are overturned by war.

This assertion of verse as more permanent than monuments lasts for the first 8 lines, then continues in the next 4 as the speaker declares more broadly that the beloved's memory will last into all "posterity," or living history. The theme, in my mind, in all 12 lines, revolves around the beloved lasting to the end times—to the end of history—because of the poetry the speaker is writing.

The volta (turn or break) comes in line 13, as the speaker contemplates the spiritual realm. It is not until the judgment day, when the speaker is assured his beloved will rise to heaven, that memory will fade, because the earth will no longer be as it is. But until that time, the beloved will live in verse and in the speaker's eyes.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on