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Themes in Sonnet 5
Themes Examples in Sonnet 5:
"substance..." See in text (Sonnet 5)
Throughout the sonnets, Shakespeare’s references to “substance” allude to the work of Plato, who viewed the world through the binary of “shadow” versus “substance.” According to Plato, the reality we perceive is false, a collection of ever-changing images. Below shadow—or “show,” as Shakespeare puts it in this line—lies “substance,” the stratum of true, constant forms which constitute the world. Physical beauty is a shadow, subject to change and decay. The speaker’s hope is to capture in verse the youth’s undying substance.
"Nor it..." See in text (Sonnet 5)
“It” in this context is the substance of the beauty. This line completes the speaker’s thoughts on the distillation of beauty: without distillation, the beauty and memory of the beauty will be lost. Within this argument the speaker ironically displaces the beauty. He is no longer talking about the physical referent but the distillation of that beauty, his words about the youth or the collective memory of the youth. In this way, the speaker suggests that beauty can only truly exist when it is pulled out of time and context; the truth of beauty is the memory of its substance rather than its actual physical form.
"summer's distillation..." See in text (Sonnet 5)
These lines compare the fair youth to a summer rose whose essence is distilled as rosewater. The metaphor of distillation draws on the poem’s nature imagery while touching on the theme of meta-poetics—poetry about poetry. In the shift from summer to winter, the youth’s external form will die. If distilled, however, his essence will live on.
"never-resting time..." See in text (Sonnet 5)
A central theme in Shakespeare’s Sonnets is the passage of “never-resting time.” It is the ephemerality of life that necessitates the very project of the sonnets: to distill the beloved through poetry, thus protecting him from the ravages of time.