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Shakespeare Sonnet 55: "Not marble, nor the gilded monuments"

Updated on December 12, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source

Introduction: The Permanence of Truth and Beauty

In sonnet 55, the speaker addresses the poem itself. Readers have observed that this speaker often addresses his muse or his own talent. Often he obsesses over the writing process, especially during times of dryness that result in writer's block.

However, this clever speaker always has the resourcefulness to overcome any blocking by simply addressing the issue. It becomes especially dramatic when the speaker addresses his poem.

This speaker always has a multifaceted purpose for each dramatic act. He knows his poems are praiseworthy; thus, he sets out to offer them the highest praise he can muster.

The crafty speaker thus insists on allowing his poems to become aware that they are eternal because they are replete with truth and beauty.

These outstanding, praiseworthy sonnets will outlast even the strongest building materials because they are born of inner truth which is based on soul reality.

Reading of Sonnet 55

First Quatrain: "Not marble, nor the gilded monuments"

The speaker of Shakespeare sonnet 55 is proclaiming that his poem will remain more powerful than "marble" and "gilded monuments."

No prince has anything on a poet when ringing out truth is concerned: "Not marble, nor the gilded monuments / Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rime." The poet/speaker believes strongly in his own sonnets.

This speaker is certain that his poetic creations will last longer than the stone statues which become "besmear’d with sluttish time."

A stone or marble monument merely becomes some obscene gesture, as it is contrasted with the written monumental creations of the poet. These written tributes to beauty and truth will remain throughout eternity.

This poet/speaker understands that truth remains inspired by the soul; thus it will remain throughout eternity.

Second Quatrain: "When wasteful war shall statues overturn"

The second quatrain finds the speaker asserting that nothing can obliterate, "The living record of your memory." The memory of the poem remains constant and everlasting.

As "wasteful war" might "overturn" "statues" and "broils root out the work of masonry," still a poem remains ethereal. A poem once written and recorded will maintain itself as a permanent artifact recorded in memory.

"The living record" continues to include much more than just paper and ink. "The living record" will always include the power of thought which has been born in each human thinking, mind.

A seer/poet who is true to his own vision will create that living record in his poems, and each poem will remind his fellows that truth is inborn. Truth is beautiful; it is also eternal and cannot be ambushed, even as "wasteful war shall statues overturn, / And broils root out the work of masonry."

Third Quatrain: "'Gainst death, and all oblivious enmity"

The poem that contains beauty and truth will remain throughout eternity. Such a poetic piece of art will remain, "'Gainst death." No enemy will be able to gain success against that soul-inspired truth.

The speaker then asserts, "your praise shall still find room / Even in the eyes of all posterity / That wear this world out to the ending doom."

As readers have observed many times before in his sonnets, this talented speaker has complete confidence that his poetic creations will continue to enjoy lasting fame, as they circulate far and wide across the landscape and down through the centuries.

Future generations of readers, who are the "eyes of all posterity," will be appreciating, reading, studying, and commenting on these works. The speaker possesses an ever deepening faith in his own talent.

This confident speaker remains certain that future readers will continue to remain fans of his works: "[e]ven in the eyes of all posterity / That wear this world out to the ending doom."

The Couplet: "So, till the judgment that yourself arise"

Finally, the speaker tops his assertions by insisting that the beauty and truth dramatized in his poems will become part of the culture of future generations.

The speaker's future readers will not only appreciate his works but those works will become part and parcel of the culture.

This speaker is prescient to the fact that his works will enjoy many allusions, and quotations will abound that point to the truth and beauty of his tireless efforts.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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