Not Marble Nor The Gilded Monuments Summary

Write the summary of the poem "Not Marble Nor Gilded Monuments" by William Shakespeare.

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Jane Ames eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Stated simply, this is a love poem. (Sonnets often feature love as their central subject matter, though it is by no means necessary.) Shakespeare speaks to a specific love in this poem, though he does not tell us if it is a human or more abstract love (perhaps poetry itself?). The speaker (Shakespeare) immortalizes the subject of this poem such that physical objects seem flimsy in comparison, telling his subject that "you shall shine more bright in these contents / Than unswept stone besmeared with sluttish time." To be more substantial and brilliant than a gold-coated statue is a miraculous feat indeed. The subject of this poem is a love which will surpass life and death itself.

Regardless of the fact that the subject of the poem will "pace forth" towards death, the speaker will preserve them in this poem forever, "even in the eyes of all posterity." The speaker is not necessarily boasting of his own writing skills, but of the power of poetry to endure the test of time and the potency of his love for the subject (whatever or whoever they may be). 

The final couplet in a sonnet often indicates a change in tone and/or mood. In the preceding lines, the speaker whisked through descriptions of this poem's perseverance and the resulting preservation of the subject. Now the lines slow down a bit, and the speaker is calmer and a bit joyful when he says "So, till the Judgement that yourself arise, / You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes." For the subject's entire life, they will be able to rediscover themselves and their love, eternalized, in this poem. 

Shakespeare's final words hold a certain double meaning. As the speaker ostensibly gazes at his subject, the subject of the poem will "dwell in lovers' eyes." It also refers to the potential readers of this poem and how they themselves will either possess a loving quality or feel drawn into the atmosphere of love created by the poem. 

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This Shakespearean sonnet makes a very bold claim about the power of the speaker's poetry, but it would seem that the fact that we are still reading the poetry today proves that he was right!

Sonnet 55 begins with the claim or thesis that neither "marble, notguilded monuments of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme." He extends this idea by explaining that the goodness of the unnamed person he is writing about in this poem about will last forever and not be "besmeared with sluttish (dirty) time."

He continues his point in the next quatrain when he explains that wars destroy things that are made by men, but the person who is the subject of this poem will not be wrecked, but live on in the poem which will serve as a "living memory."  The last quatrain continues this theme, saying that because of the poem, even the death of the person will not end him or cause oblivion (being forgotten) because he or she will "pace forth" in the words of the poem until "the ending doom."  This last line in a reference to Doomsday or the Final Judgement Day saying that as long as people are around to read the sonnet(s) then the person will "live in this"(sonnet).  The last words of the poem say that the person will "dwell in lover's eyes."  I suspect that Shakespeare is commenting on the stereotype that it is lovers who tend to read the sonnets, and it is through lovers or lovers of poetry that the memory of the person will live on.