Sonnets for Advent 9: Sonnet 55

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One of the recurring themes in Shakespeare’s Sonnets is the power of his verse to help the beloved triumph against time. Here he conjures a surreal image of the beloved, pacing forth like a resurrected being among the ruins and in the face of death. Poetry itself enables this and will go on making the lover fully alive – even until the Second Coming, or Judgement Day. This sonnet happens to be the first one I ever came across of my own accord. My dear sister gave me a copy of the Complete Works one Christmas and the first two lines of this sonnet were used as an epigraph.

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 lovers’ eyes.

Click on the post below to hear Sonnet 55 read by Georgie Cockerill, one of the Shakespeare and Creativity students at The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham.

You might like to visit a similar Shakespeare for Advent project led by students at the University of Tubingen by clicking here.

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson
  • David Basch

    Dear Prof. Paul Edmondson:

    Sonnet 55 contains embedments of Christopher Marlowe’s motto (Quod me Nutruit me detruit). S obviously wished to commemorate his fellow dramatist, of whom he obviously held in high esteem, a challenge against those who slandered him. To see this, please send an email address that will accept a PDF file.

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