Sonnet 54

Reading Sonnet 54 was a lovely experience. Shakespeare uses metaphors about nature to compare roses and flowers to the inner beauty of humans. By beginning the sonnet with a claim stating that beauty is much more beauteous when it comes with truthfulness, the speaker sets the stage for the rest of the sonnet to focus on this statement. The first comparison is made when the speaker says, “The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem/ for that sweet odor which doth in it live.” (ll. (3-4). These lines mean that while we regard roses as physically beautiful, their true beauty and uniqueness is in the sweet scent they give off. This compares to how humans can be seen as beautiful, but what is truly beautiful about them are the individual traits they have, such as integrity and truthfulness. Shakespeare continues this thought when he writes that other flowers, such as “canker-blooms” have all the same physical qualities as roses, such as thorns and seasonal blooms, but they don’t emit a sweet scent like roses, so they “live unwooed, and unrespected fade,/ die to themselves.” (ll.10-11). This is where the similarities between the flowers stop. Roses are loved for their physical beauty, and the love continues due to the scent of the flowers. The other flowers however, are only physically beauty, and end up dying alone. This shows Shakespeare’s thoughts behind physical beauty versus hidden beauty. He believed that while physical beauty was a good quality to have, the real depth to a person lies within their personality traits, or the things that can’t be seen with the eyes. However, the speaker does compare the death of the canker-blooms to roses again by saying that while canker-blooms die quietly and don’t emit a scent, the strongest scent of roses comes from when they die, making that stage of their lives the most poignant. The couplet at the end states, “And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth;/ When that shall vade, my verse distills your truth.” (ll.13-14). Such is the case with a good deal of his sonnets, Shakespeare ends this sonnet with the promise that it’s subject will live on in his words. It’s a beautiful promise, and it essentially guarantees immortality, considering how many years these sonnets have been studied since they were written. Sonnet 54 is one of the more beautiful ones, and promises that just as roses and their scents are beautiful, the subject’s physical beauty along with their honesty and integrity are beautiful as well.

~Allison Spradley




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