Monday, April 21, 2008

close reading: Shakespeare's "Not marble, nor the gilded monuments"

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contéents
Than unswept stone, besmeared 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 judgement that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lover's eyes.

This sonnet explores a classic poetic theme in a classic poetic form. The english sonnet is structured as such; two sestets followed by a couplet. The concluding couplet is sometimes refered to as the turn, and as we see here it gets its name from a twist of theme, revelation, or change of mood. The rhyme scheme is abab/cdcd/efef/gg. The first two sestets build on the importance of the subject of Shakespeare's poem using metaphors and imagery. He builds an atmosphere of monuments, stone, the sword of Mars, and fire that serve to contrast the main theme of love, as expressed though the look that "dwell[s] in lover's eyes" (14). Although the first twelve lines of the poem are ambiguous as to what the subject of the sonnet will be, the effect we get from learning it is about love in the couplet makes the poem all the more enjoyable. Love is personified by Shakespeare, as he refers to it in the 2nd person throughout the sonnet. It seems as if the subject might be a woman becuase of the use of personification, but the couplet implies the subject is love in a general sense.

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