Sonnet 55

Sonnet 55

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 besmear'd with sluttish time.
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.
'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 judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lover's eyes.

Sonnet 55 is one of 154 sonnets written by the English playwright and poet William Shakespeare. It's a member of the Fair Youth sequence, in which the poet expresses his love towards a young man.


Sonnet 55 starts by boldly proclaiming that the sonnet will outlive "marble" and the "gilded monuments of princes", both symbols of grandeur, power, and eternity. To Shakespeare, mere words on a page carry more power and live longer than any physical ornamentations or edifices.:But you shall shine more bright in these contents
:Than unswept stone besmear'd with sluttish time.
It is, in a way, an affirmation to the Fair Youth that although the sonnet is not a richly decorated, gaudy monument or object, it will last much longer. The sonnet continues one of Shakespeare's principal themes of the eternity of his works, and how the young man, his lover, will live forever in them. The final couplet is an assurance that until his death, the young man will live in his sonnets, and "dwell in lover's eyes."


Shakespeare’s Sonnet 55 deals with the idea that the subject will be made immortal in these verses, though everything else will be kept by war, or “sluttish” time, or other violent forces. Shakespeare elevates poetry as superior, and the only assurance of immortality in this world, but lowers this particular sonnet itself as being unworthy of his subject. Thus, his theme is that everything will be destroyed and forgotten except the subject, who will be praised forever, because he is immortalized in these lines. The first stanza talks about how time will not destroy her, though it shall destroy the world’s most magnificent structures. Thus, poetry is stronger than these structures. The second stanza says that war will not destroy her; the third states that she will not only be always remembered, but also always honoured. The couplet sums this up, and also suggests that the subject is love itself. Thus, the thesis of this sonnet is that the subject will be honoured forever in the verses, though the verses themselves are unworthy of her. At the very beginning, Shakespeare suggests that his sonnet is magnificent by using very magnificent comparisons in lines 1-2:

:Not marble, nor the gilded monuments ,:Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;

In contrast, he uses the word “rhyme” at the end of line 2, which is often used to signify common and mediocre, even bad, poetry, which suggests that it is the subject of his sonnet that lends magnificence to the verses. This is only confirmed in lines 3-4:

:But you shall shine more bright in these contents :Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time. Shakespeare comments that his subject will be brighter in his sonnet than an old and dirty stone, again suggesting, by equating his poem with dirt, that his sonnet does not live up to the subject. He likewise calls Time “sluttish”, clearly comparing it unfavourably to his female subject. Also, the reference to stone recalls the structures alluded to in line 1.

Lines 5-6 (a new stanza) begins a new idea:

:When wasteful war shall statues overturn:And broils root out the work of masonry,

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.

Lines 7-8 continue the war theme:

:Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn:The living record of your memory. These lines talk of more war, and how it shall not destroy the poem. "Mars his sword" is a possessive, using the his genitive. “Living” contrasts with the destruction of the non-living structures in lines 1 and 5-6, meaning that the subject lends not only magnificence, but a living soul to these verses.

The next stanza does not talk about survival, but of human appreciation. He continues to praise his subject: :‘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. There is still a suggestion of survival, but survival of human appreciation, and not of the verse itself. “Doom” refers to Judgement Day, suggesting in the context of the rest of the poem that this poetic record of his subject will survive, and be praised, to the end of time. The slight deviation of the meter in the words “Even in” creates emphasis for this permanency.

The ending couplet is a summary of the survival theme:

:So ‘till the judgement that yourself arise, :You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.

The couplet not only summarizes the rest of the sonnet, but also seems to contradict itself. “Judgement” goes with the talk of Judgement Day in the last stanza, and implies that the subject is alive and will be judged on that day, but “dwelling in lovers’ eyes” suggests that the subject is love itself. Thus, Shakespeare seems to consider the subject so lovely that he is a personification of Love, which cannot be conquered and to which no poetry can do justice.

External links

* [,pageNum-116.html Cliffsnotes on the sonnet]

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