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Sonnet 55 by William Shakespeare Essay

In this paper, different perspectives of the nature of poetic language will be illustrated by using a stylistic analysis of a poem, „Sonnet 55‟, written by William Shakespeare (see Appendix for full poem). In the stylistic analysis, the use of sound and rhythm to convey complement meaning by Shakespeare will be in focus here.

Poetic function in poem
Poetic language is a type of language that commonly found in poetry1. According to Jakobson (1960), formalists believe poetic function of language is closely connected to literariness2. There are three perspectives to look at the literariness of poem including inherency, cognitive and sociocultural.

In inherency perspective, poetic function can be found within the poem intrinsically. It focuses on writer‟s skill in manipulating the sounds, words, phrases and overall linguistic form of the poem3. This always makes the poem foregrounded in the mind of the reader which is achieved by deviation and parallelism3. This perspective will be used in this paper.

In cognitive perspective, it focuses on the engagement of readers including how the readers comprehend the poems and relate to their past knowledge and experience. In sociocultural perspective, social and ideological factors are used to understand the role of poem in society as most of work of the literature takes particular social and historical reasons into account3. As a result, poetic can be changed over time.

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.

In line 10, the word „pace‟ means a calm stability that contrasts with the violence of war in the previous lines while also creating alliteration „pace and praise‟ and assonance „pace and praise‟ with the word „praise‟.

Poetic orthography

The use of diacritic marks and spellings in poetry are known as poetic orthography10. The apostrophe is used to indicate that a potential syllable must be suppressed in performance10. The vowel „e‟ is deleted in „besmear’d‟ in line 4. Since the deleted vowel is a tense marker, information is recoverable from the context easily9. This is also applicable to the deletion of the vowel „a‟ in “ ‘Gainst” in line 9, but is it a preposition. Thus, we can get the correct number of syllables in every line.

Silent Stress

Semi-colon in line 10 acts as a silent stress. This can avoid the heavily metrical reading which would otherwise place an ictus on the word „your ‟10. Also, this can bring out that the line has 2 clauses which express different but closely related.  Foot, line and grammar

The metrical line and grammatical structure are closely related. Normally, the line-end coincides with a major syntactic boundary or a tone-group boundary10. In line 1, it is obvious that there is still more information coming after the words „gilded monuments‟ as we only have the subject. Hence, the line-end interrupts the grammar flow10. This arresting of enjambment results in foregrounding and it appears in the poem for a few times.


There are four important words in the poem which are phonetically parallel and matches with the theme, including „outlive‟ in line 2, „living‟ in line 8, „all-oblivious‟ in line 9 and „live‟ in line 1411. By using the word „live‟ throughout the poem, Shakespeare emphasizes his authorial intentions11 that the youth is still living in his poem and the lovers‟ eyes.

Fineman, Kelly (2009) „Sonnet 55 by William Shakespeare‟, Blogspot. Available from
http://kellyrfineman.blogspot.hk/2009/09/sonnet-54-by-william-shakespeare.html (Accessed on 26 October 2012).
Jakobson, R. (1960) „Closing statement, linguistics and poetics‟, in T. SEBEOK (ed.) Style in Language, Cambridge MA, MIT Press, pp. 356.
Maybin, J. and Pearce, M. (2006) „Chapter 1: Literature and creativity in English‟ in Goodman, S. and O‟Halloran, K. The art of English: Literary creativity, Palgrave Macmillan in association with The Open University.

Mabillard, A. (2000) „An Analysis of Shakespeare‟s Sonnet 55‟, Shakespeare Online. Available from http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/55detail.html (Accessed on 26 October 2012).
Miller, A (2008) „Intro to Lit: Not Marble, Nor the Gilded Monuments‟, Blogspot. Available from
http://amandasreaction.blogspot.hk/2008/07/not-marble-nor-gilded-monuments.html (Accessed on 26 October 2012).
Poetry for Students (1999) „Sonnet 55‟, Encyclopedia.com. Available from http://www.encyclopedia.com/article-1G2-2691300028/sonnet-55.html (Accessed on 26 October 2012).
Shapiro, M. (1998) „Sound and Meaning in Shakespeare‟s Sonnets‟, Language, Vol 74, No. 1 (Mar., 1998), Linguistic Society of America, pp.81-103. Available from
http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.lib.ouhk.edu.hk/stable/pdfplus/417566.pdf?acceptT C=true (Accessed on 26 October 2012).
Short, M (1996) „Chapter 2: More on foregrounding, deviation and parallelism‟, EXPLORING THE LANGUAGE OF POEMS, PLAYS AND PROSE, Longman, pp. 36-79.
Short, M (1996) „Chapter 4: Sound, meaning and effect‟, EXPLORING THE LANGUAGE OF POEMS, PLAYS AND PROSE, Longman, pp. 106-124.

Short, M (1996) „Chapter 5: Rhythm and metre in the reading of poetry‟,
Thornborrow, J. (2006) „Chapter 2: Poetic language‟ in Goodman, S. and O‟Halloran, K. The art of English: Literary creativity, Palgrave Macmillan in association with The Open University.
Wikipedia (2012) „Stylistics (literature)‟, Wikipedia. Available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stylistics_(linguistics) (Accessed on 26 October 2012). Wikipedia (2012) „Sonnet 55‟, Wikipedia. Available from

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonnet_55 (Accessed on 26 October 2012).

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