Shakespeares sonnets Sonnet 115 Those lines that I have writ before do lie William

Shakespeare (1599) Though many of William Shakespeare's sonnets engage in the monumentum aere perennius (from the poet Horace, a monument more lasting than bronze) trope, this poem does so in a novel and unique manner, combining two themes of the sonnet sequence: immortality through procreation and immortality through artistic creation. The trope figures the poem as a verbal or textual monument, which will outlast both the sonnet's speaker and the object of desire. In other cases in the sequence, the speaker has encouraged the young man to beget children and thereby create a lasting monument to himself in the images of his own children, but here the love that the speaker has for the young man, exemplified through the poem itself, is described as an immortal and ever-growing child.

The poem begins with an appeal to the past, wherein the speaker claims that all previous monumental poems he has written to the young man, which said that "i could not love you dearer" (l. 2), "do lie" (l. 1). The love the speaker feels for the young man increases as time goes on, yet there is no reason for the speaker to believe that his love "should afterwards burn clearer" (l. 4).

The poem moves into a self-referential register in the second quatrain. Grammatically, the second quatrain is simply a description of the activities or "accidents" of personified Time. King's decrees change, beauty fades, and vows are broken, all by time. The self-referential move comes at the end of the quatrain, anticipating the traditional volta between lines 8 and 9. Line 8, "[Time's accidents] Divert strong minds to th' course of altering things," thematically reflects the purpose of a volta, as the accidents of time change the course of the poem. However, the actual volta does not come between lines 8 and 9; rather, it occurs immediately before the final couplet, in line 12. By referencing the "proper" place for the volta within the fiction of the poem, Shakespeare shows his awareness of the Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet convention that he is breaking, but he is also drawing the audience out of the sonnet's fiction. By making the audience aware of the poem as a poem, he highlights the artificial and monumental nature of the sonnet, which itself refers back to the idea of immortality through artistic creation.

The first quatrain deals with the past, showing that any statements of monumental love from the past are false, and the second quatrain shows that the future cannot be decided because all things, even the most certain, eventually fall prey to time. The third quatrain focuses wholly on the present and is wholly in the form of a question about the legitimacy of saying "Now i love you best" (l. 9). The present moment is not the final or ultimate expression of the speaker's love for the lovely boy, for the hanging doubt of the first two quatrains is embodied in the fact that the present is questioned. The answer to the question comes in the couplet.

"Love is a babe" (l. 13) is a phrase that works on at least three levels: It points to the conceit that the love between the speaker and the young man is still in its infancy, it appeals to the traditional image of cupid as

Love, and it implicitly references the procreative urge found in the rest of the sequence. The speaker's love, like a child, "Still doth grow" (l. 14), and with the love the speaker's ability to create a monument in verse will grow as well.

See also Shakespeare's sonnets (overview).

Andrew Bretz

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