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Sonnet 55: Not marble nor the gilded monuments

BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

 About the Poet


 About the Sonnet
 Summary
 Literary devices used in the Poem
 Explanation in Detail
 Probable Questions
About the Poet
About the Poet
William Shakespeare
Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon,
Warwickshire, in 1564. Very little is known about his
life, but by 1592 he was in London working as an
actor and a dramatist. Shakespeare wrote plays and
poems. His plays were comedies, histories and
tragedies. His 17 comedies include A Midsummer
Night’s Dream and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Among his 10 history plays are Henry V and Richard
III.
About the Poet
The most famous among his 10 tragedies
are Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. Shakespeare’s
best-known poems are The Sonnets, first published in
1609.
Between about 1590 and 1613, Shakespeare wrote at
least 37 plays and collaborated on several more. Many
of these plays were very successful both at court and
in the public playhouses. In 1613, Shakespeare retired
from the theatre and returned to Stratford-upon-
Avon. He died and was buried there in 1616.
About The
Poem
About the Sonnet
Sonnet 55 is one of the most famous works of
Shakespeare. Here we find an impassioned burst of
confidence as the poet claims to have the power to
keep his friend’s memory alive evermore. Sonnet 55
builds up on Horace’s theme of poetry outlasting
physical monuments to the dead. In Horace’s poetry,
the poet is himself immortalised by his poetry but in
this sonnet, Shakespeare seeks to build a figurative
monument to his beloved, the fair lord. The fair lord is
not described or revealed is any way in this sonnet.
Instead, the sonnet just addresses the idea of
immortality through verse. The ravages of time is a
recurrent theme in the sonnets of Shakespeare.
Summary of
the Poem
Summary
Sonnet 55 is one of a collection of 154 sonnets written
by William Shakespeare and expresses one of the
major themes of these sonnets: Poetry is eternal and
will immortalize the subject of the poem. The tone of
the first quatrain, or first four lines, reflects the
extreme confidence of the poet: His “powerful rhyme”
is compared to durable marble and solid, gilded
memorials that mark the graves of princes. The
monuments for the Elizabethan royals and aristocracy
often consisted of a full-length portrait of the
deceased carved in high relief on the stone cover of a
coffin.
Summary
The poet asserts that his portrait of the young man, written
in verse on fragile paper, will outlive even the marble
memorials of princes, which will inevitably become
neglected, “unswept stone” with the inexorable passage of
time. In this sonnet, Shakespeare gives time a character. In
this case, time is “sluttish,” suggesting that it is dirty and
careless. Time, then, cares for no individual; it is immoral and
will, in its slovenly manner, pass. The grand memorials will
become eroded, and the people memorialized will eventually
be forgotten. However, the subject of the poem will “shine
more bright” than the time-smeared monuments and live
not in effigy but in Shakespeare’s verse.
Explanation of
the Sonnet
Explanation of the Poem
Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone besmeared with sluttish time.

princes - a word which was used to refer to all royalty and rulers,
male and female.
powerful - in the sense of being able to withstand time's
destruction, and perhaps to confer immortality.
So princes will live longer than this poetry.
unswept stone - a stone monument left uncared for. Those in cathedrals
and churches would generally be kept clean and polished. But older
monuments in churchyards gradually would be forgotten and fall to ruin,
as the living memory of its builders and inhabitants died out.
with sluttish time - by filthy time.
Here Shakespeare personifies Time as the unkempt woman.
Explanation of the Poem
The first stanza talks about how time will not destroy
the poem, though it will destroy the world’s most
magnificent structures. He wishes to say that poetry is
stronger than these structures. At the very beginning,
the poet says that whether it is marble or gold plated
monuments of princes, all will get destroyed but the
magnificence of his poetry will live. The subject of
poetry will remain bright and will shine forever in
comparison to a neglected stone monument which is
spoilt with Time. Time is compared to a slut who loses
her glow and beauty with time. Shakespeare
compares Time unfavourably to a female subject.
Explanation of the Poem
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.

wasteful war - war devastates city and country, hence a useless


war will ruin statues
broils = tumult, fig
Neither the sword of Mars (the God of war), nor the searching fire
of war.
living record = the memory of you among those currently alive; the
memory of you which continues after you are dead; the written
record of your life.
Explanation of the Poem
These lines begin with a new idea. Shakespeare has so
far spoken of two destructive forces : time and war. He is
here describing war destroying stone structures, which
relates back to the ‘marble’ and ‘gilded monuments’ in
line 1, that likewise do not last. The poet says that when
destructive wars will take place, they will destroy statues
also and due to its tumult all the work of the masons
will be destroyed. Even the Sword of Mars, God of war,
or the destructive fires of war will be able to destroy
your memory. The poet is basically saying that even
wars will not destroy the written memories of your life
for they will survive even after deadly wars.
Explanation of the Poem
’Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the Judgement that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.
'Gainst = against.
all-oblivious enmity- the war and decay that would render the subject of the
poem forgotten.
Shall you pace forth = you shall stride forwards
your praise = praise of you, praise which is due to you.
still = constantly; for ever, despite all.
find room = be given time and space (whereas most things disappear or are lost
with the passage of time). you will stride out, and praise will follow you
Explanation of the Poem
all posterity = all future generations
the ending doom = the last judgement. According to Christian mythology,
the fate (doom) of all humans who have ever lived is finally decided on
the day of judgement.
live, dwell - words connected with 'to live' ,counteracts the effect of
death, war and destruction.
in lover's eyes - a reminder that this is also a love poem, and a reminder
of the power of love to transcend mortality.
This stanza does not talk about survival, but of human appreciation. The
poet continues to praise his subject. There is still a suggestion of survival,
but survival of human appreciation and not of the verse itself. Doom
refers to the Judgement day, suggesting that this poetic record of his
subject will survive and be praised to the end of time. Slight deviation of
the metre in the words ‘‘Even in’’ creates emphasis for this permanency.
Explanation of the Poem
The poet is saying that death and enmity destroys everything but poetry
written on the subject will survive, will move ahead, find place and will
be immortalised for all generations to come. Everything else will be
judged on the Judgement Day. The ending couplet is a summary of the
survival theme. The couplet not only summarises the rest of the sonnet,
but also seems to contradict itself. ‘‘Judgement’’ goes with the talk of the
judgement day in the last stanza, but implies that the subject is alive and
will be judged on that day, but ‘ dwelling in lover’s eyes’’ suggest that the
subject is love itself. Thus Shakespeare seems to consider the subject so
lovely that he is a personification of love, which could be conquered and
to which no poetry can do justice. So the theme of the sonnet is that the
subject will be honoured forever in the verses, though the verses are
unworthy of them.
Literary Devices used in the Poem
Literary Devices used in the Poem
Personification:- The practice of attributing human qualities, character or
personality to inanimate things in such a way that they appear to be
human beings is termed personification. Time has been personified as a
‘slut’ to indicate that it is heartless and cruel.
Alliteration:- the repition of consonant sounds at the beginning of or
successive words and within words is termed alliteration.
‘Not marble, nor guilded monuments…’ here there is a repition of ‘m’, ‘n’,
‘l’, and ‘r’ sounds.
Imagery refers to the use of descriptive language that evokes sensory
experience that can appeal to any of the five senses. The poem is full of
images of life, death, decay and destruction
‘you shall shine more bright’…. ‘your praise shall find room’… etc
Literary Devices used in the Poem
Epithet is an adjective phrase used to define the special quality of a
person of thing. In the phrase ‘sluttish time’ ‘sluttish emphasises the
ensnaring and destructive quality of ‘time’.
Allusion is an indirect reference or suggestion to a wellknown person,
place or thing. The poet refers to Mars, the Roman God of War and the
biblical belief in the Day of Judgement.
Probable Questions
Probable Questions
Why do you think the rich and powerful people get monuments and
statues erected in their memory?
Answer: The rich and powerful often get monuments and statues
erected in their memory. This practice has continued even in modern
times. Such people often want them to be remembered by people of
future generations.

Describe how the monuments and statues brave the ravages of time.
Answer: Monuments and statues brave the ravages of time in various
ways. They withstand the vagaries of nature and get somewhat tarnished
in the process. Some of the monuments may survive for a few hundred
years; like the Taj Mahal. Some of them may survive for a few thousand
years; like the pyramids. While doing so, these monuments often tell us
about their glorious days.
Probable Questions
Why does the poet refer to Time as being sluttish?
Answer: In this case, the poet is referring to the tarnishing
effect which time can have on many things. For example;
what once may have been a magnificent monument is no
more than ruins; in the name of some of the famous
historical monuments, e.g. sphinx and pyramids.

The poet says that neither forces of nature nor wars can
destroy his poetry. In fact, even godly powers of Mars will not
have a devastating effect on his rhyme. What quality of the
poet is revealed through these lines?
Answer: The poet if confident about the timeless nature of
great works of art and literature.
Probable Questions
The poet uses alliteration to heighten the musical quality of the
sonnet. State some examples of alliteration in the poem.
Answer: When words beginning with same consonant are
repeated in a line or stanza, this is called alliteration. Example:
Marble and monuments, Prince and powerful. Many more
examples can be found in this poem, e.g. shall shine, wasteful war,
wear this world, etc.

Identify Shakespeare's use of personification in the poem.


Answer: Powerful princes have been personified in gilded
monuments. Ravenous nature of time has been personified in the
word ‘sluttish’.
When something is personified by some other thing (usually some
inanimate thing) this is called personification.