Number 55, or “Who knew time could be ‘sluttish’?”

On this, the last day of National Poetry Month, and 449 years and one week after its author was born, a sonnet.


The inspiration for this particular post comes from college pal TCJ, who, last week–two days after his own birthday–participated in the 3rd annual Shakespeare’s Birthday Sonnet Slam in Central Park, at which 154 people recited the 154 sonnets.  When he told me he’d be reading number 55, I immediately flashed back to an English lit class I took as a sophomore.  Our text was the 4th edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, still in residence on my den bookshelves all these years later. Sonnet 55 is on page 805; three and half lines are underlined in pencil.

Sonnet 55
Notations of a college sophomore

I can’t remember if I made the markings on my own while reading, or if the professor made specific comments about them in class one day.  What I do remember is that the fourth line made a particular impression on me.  It’s certainly the first time I’d ever heard the adjective ‘sluttish’ used to characterize something other than an individual, and thus a great example of how language, when used in unexpected ways, can be particularly illustrative and/or revealing.   I love the sibilance of the repeated ‘s’ sounds: “unswept stone besmear’d with sluttish time.”  And I also just really liked the word besmeared.

The words of Shakespeare: the gift that keeps on giving.

Frayed cover, but still an indispensable volume in my library.
Frayed cover, but still an indispensable volume in my library.

Bonus #1: The Norton Anthology celebrated its 50th anniversary last fall, an event discussed in this article from the 26 August 2012 New York Times Book Review.

Bonus #2: If you live within striking distance of NYC, check out some of the offerings of the New York Shakespeare Exchange.


  • Yes, it is amazing how timeless the works/words of Shakespeare. No matter how many times I see his plays, I am always discovering something new and relevant to our age.


  • A trip to Stratford-upon-Avon is wonderful experience. To sit on the patio beside the river Avon waiting to see the Royal Shakespeare Company (alumni include John Kasinski!) perform is delicious. I remain uplifted by the performance by Derek Jacobi in “Much Ado About Nothing.”


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