Who better to close out National Poetry Month than William Shakespeare? In Sonnet 55, with the sublime assurance and arrogance of an obscure but true poet, he realizes that the great ones of this world will fade and dwindle, while his words will grow to overshadow them all. Ironically, though he assures his beloved of immortality through his rhymes, no one knows to whom this poem was addressed, or if it was in fact addressed to an actual person at all. There have been endless and mostly pointless attempts to figure out who the beloved was. I’m always amused by critics who insist the Sonnets must describe actual events in Shakespeare’s life, like fourteen-line diary-entries in rhymed iambic pentameter; he turned out to be the world’s greatest dramatist, and who knows why he decided to inhabit these particular situations? Whatever he was describing, it only exists for us because he described it so well. Lover and beloved are long dead, but he was right about his immortal words. Here endeth the lesson.
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this pow’rful rhyme,
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
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 Judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.
– William Shakespeare