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Symbol Analysis

Images of destruction dominate this poem, giving it the feel of a dystopian nightmare. Oh, did you think you were reading the sonnet equivalent of The Notebook? Try Hunger Games. Although most of it's set in some unspecified future time, there's no question about the scale of this upcoming apocalypse. All art will be destroyed, either by the slow workings of "sluttish time" or by the slash-and-burn of future wars. But what's that we see? A silver lining in the big gray storm cloud? There's one thing this violence can't touch: the speaker's love that lives inside this poem. That's why the beloved conquers both death and enmity in line 9 and goes on to live eternally in line 14. And with all this talk of poetry and life and love, it looks like this might be more of a Notebook than we thought.

  • Line 4: Time, personified as a repulsive servant who's forgotten to sweep out the church, decays everything. "Besmear'd" here points up the sliminess of this unswept stuff, covering up any grave memorials with growing mold.
  • Lines 5-6: Here we get a more violent decay caused only indirectly by time. Now it's war that destroys the monuments to human life.
  • Line 6: This amazing lineup of O's in line 6 gives you an idea of how these buildings look after the "broils" or "battles" are done with them: full of holes. Anything made of stone is smashed up, reminding us yet again that even the most permanent materials will eventually be destroyed. 
  • Lines 7-8: The sword and fire bring back the destruction of lines 1-6, but here they're slapped with a couple "nor"s and told where they stand. No killing or burning here, suckers. This poem's not made of stone, so you can't smash it. 
  • Line 9: A similar thing happens here. We've got the bad guys, death, and enmity, but the "against" at the beginning shows us where things are at: these two may have been on a rampage, but they can't make a single move when it comes to the beloved.

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