The Immortal Work of the Poet as Seen in Shakespeare's Sonnet 55
Since the beginning of recorded time, humanity has attempted to give immortality through art. Great people have attempted to have themselves remembered through statues and other means. The poet too, has attempted the same feat. Capturing within his or her lines the essence and emotion of someone whom he or she loved. During the Renaissance, the sonnet was the poetic form of choice. The sonnet is only fourteen lines in length and generally had ten syllables per line. It was in this form that poets wrote some of the greatest love poems. The poet, especially of the Renaissance, saw poetry as the greatest of all art forms and therefore the most immortal. In Shakespeare's "Sonnet 55" he pits the art of the sculptor with the immortal work of the poet.
The poem begins by giving the reader two striking images. These images are "marble and gilded monuments." Immediately Shakespeare puts an idea into the readers mind. These images imply strength, something solid and sturdy, power, largeness, prestige and wealth. One can easily see the large statues covered in gold and precious metals. The time, care, and hard work the artist used to fashion his work of art is easily pictured. The next line then confirms these meaning by informing the reader that these monuments Shakespeare is writing about are to commemorate princes.
Once Shakespeare establishes the association of power and strength to the work of the sculptor he immediately smashes this notion. These things, he writes, "shall [not] outlive this powerful rhyme" (2). The poem has now created a tension between the idea that monuments imply power and the power of the poets' verse. Shakespeare now is going to explain to the reader why the poets verse is more suitable than the sculptor's monument honoring its subject.
The first mention of the poem's subject comes in line three. The beloved in the poem will "shine more bright in these contents" than in a stone effigy. The "contents" mentioned in line three imply more than just these fourteen lines. In his sonnet cycle, Shakespeare writes many sonnets dealing with the fading beauty and eventual death of his beloved friend. Shakespeare's sonnets are the beacons to the world reminding them about his friend. The problem with relying on statues and stone effigies is the danger of the elements. The irony is that nature and the elements show no concern for the artist's talent or the memory and honor of the person enshrined. Time is the enemy of immortality. The time...