Sonnet 55

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According to multiple scholars, sonnet 55 is a poem about time and immortalization. The speaker claims that his poem will immortalize the beloved, in this case the young man. According to Alison Scott, the speaker is seeking to “give” the gift of immortality to the young man through his poetry, adhering to a larger theme of giving and possessing that runs through many of Shakespeare’s sonnets.[1] David Kaula, however, emphasizes the concept of time slightly differently. He argues that the sonnet traces the progression of time, from the physical endeavours built by man (monuments, statues, masonry), as well as the primeval notion of warfare depicted through the image of “Mars’ sword” and “war’s quick fire,” to the concept of the last judgment. The young man will survive all of these things through the verses of the speaker.[2]

In the first quatrain, these monuments, statues, and masonry reference both Horace’s Odes and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Lars Engle argues that echoing the ancients, as the speaker does when he says “not marble, nor the gilded monuments / of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,” further solidifies the speaker’s claim about the longevity of written word. However, while Horace and Ovid claim the immortality for themselves, the speaker in sonnet 55 bestows it on another. Engle also claims that this is not the first time Shakespeare references the self-aggrandizement of royals and rulers by saying that poetry will outlive them. He frequently mentions his own (political) unimportance, which could lead sonnet 55 to be read as a sort of revenge of the socially humble on their oppressors.[3]

While the first quatrain is referential and full of imagery, in the second quatrain Ernest Fontana focuses on the epithet “sluttish time.” The Oxford English Dictionary gives “sluttish” two definitions: 1) dirty, careless, slovenly (which can refer to objects and persons of both sexes) and 2) lewd, morally loose, and whorish. According to Fontana,...
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