Immortality is often a religious question, and the religious poems considered in this section (rather than the ones in “Religion”) are those that are concerned specifically with immortality. The poems in “Time and Change” are also closely connected with this theme. But many other fine poems consider other ways of achieving immortality apart from the notion of eternal life with a creator. Most famous of these are Shakespeare's sonnets, many of which offer immortality to a loved one through the sonnet itself.
Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, the well-loved “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?” (1609) turns on the perfect moderation of the loved one in comparison to the vagaries of summer weather, which is often too windy, too hot, or too fleeting. In the “eternal lines” of the poem, the beloved's beauty is offered a permanence not found in the seasons: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see/So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” Sonnet 19, “Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paws,” concludes in the same way but the poem is addressed to Time rather than the loved one, and the images are much more violent. The cruelty of Time's inexorable passing is reflected in the images Shakespeare chooses to be devoured: Time blunts the lion's paws and makes the earth, like a lioness, “devour her own sweet brood.” Time causes the “fierce tiger's jaws” to give up the beast's “keen teeth,” and even the phoenix, promised a life of 500 years according to legend, is “burn[ed] … in her blood” by all-devouring Time. From these images of destruction, all associated with violent death, the poem moves in the second quatrain to milder images of Time as “swift-footed,” bringing about the short-lived seasons and the “fading sweets” of the world. In the third quatrain Time is seen at work on human life, and the image is of the wielder of a pen that is more like a knife as it carves wrinkles and lines
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Publication information: Book title: Thematic Guide to British Poetry. Contributors: Ruth Glancy - Author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 2002. Page number: 97.
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