Edmund Spenser’s Sonnet 75
Analysis of Edmund Spenser’s Sonnet 75 This poem is one of the eighty-nine sonnets that Edmund Spenser wrote about his courtship and marriage with Elizabeth Boyle. By reading through some of them we can get a clear picture of what was their relationship like and how Spenser could put into verse his deep emotions that he cherished towards his wife. In this essay I will analyse this sonnet by examinig and interpreting its formal and contextual structure.
First of all, I will analyse the formal structure of the poem by studying the rhyme scheme and the rhythm of the sonnet . Then I will talk about the literary context in which this sonnet appears. In the final part of the essay I will analyse the poem itself very detailed by interpreting the lines and the main message of the sonnet. To begin, I would like to give a formal analysis of Sonnet 75, which – as being a Spenserian sonnet – has a different formal structure in comparison to other types of sonnets for instance, Petrarchan or Shakespearean.
Edmund Spenser introduced the interlocking rhyme scheme with the help of which the stanzas of the sonnet are linked making it easier to read and understand the poem. The rhyme scheme of Sonnet 75 is ABAB BCBC CDCD EE in which the interlocking property appeares between the quatrains, such as in But came the tide, and made my pains his prey. Vain man, said she, that doest in vain assay (4-5). The sonnet is made up of three quatrains and an ending rhyming couplet.
It was written in iambic pentameter meaning that every line of the poem consists of five iambic feet, which are the small groups of syllables in which the rhythm of the sonnet is measured. After this formal analysis I would like to discuss the sonnet cycle to which Spenser’s Sonnet 75 belongs. This sonnet cycle is called Amoretti which is a sequence of Spenser’s sonnets about love and his relationship with her second wife, called Elizabeth Boyle, probably written between 1592 and 1594. The title Amoretti already tells us that this is something dealing with love, since Amor (in Latin) is the god of love.
In these sonnets the love that Spenser is describing is similar to that of Petrarch was writing about in his sonnets, and it is referred to as Petrarchisam, as Reed Way Dasenbrock said : Petrarchisam can be defined as the way of writing love poetry derived from Petrarch’s poems to Laura, his Canzoniere ( 38). This is exactly what Spenser does in his sonnets, but he shows it from a different aspect and turns this love into another type of love, as Dasenbrock writes He makes his Amoretti trace a parallel turn, away from the instability of Petrarchism toward the stability of a more serious conception of love (46).
What also proves that Spenser love poetry draws on that of Petrarch is what Carol Thomas Neely said At the opening of the Amoretti, the poet-lover’s humility, awe, and tenderness are quintessentially Petrarchan. The lady is described in utterly coventional terms (372). So Spenser follows the Petrarchan representation of love and he also shows his own conception of love in the sonnets.
Sonnet 75 can be found in the second half of the sonnet cycle, and as Neely says The second half of Spenser’s Amoretti chronicles is the beginning of a reciprocal, sexual relationship – a courtship leading toward marriage (374). Now my essay turns to the discussion and close reading of Sonnet 75 itself. To begin, I would like to mention an interesting data about the female character of this sonnet that We learn in sonnet 74 that Spenser’s beloved is named Elizabeth, conveniently also the name of his mother and his queen ( Neely 368).
As a consequence, it is the first sonnet in which we know with absolute certainty that the woman in his sonnets is Elizabeth, his second wife. From the first line One day a wrote her name upon the strand (1) we already know the plot and the topic of the poem. The her name refers to the woman who is his beloved, and strand tells us the exact venue where the story takes place. Then in the second line it continues with the word but which carries contrast in itself and suggests that something will happen to the name written on the strand.
And what happened is came the waves and washed it away (2), so in the first two lines something negative happens, which implies that this will have an effect on the whole sonnet, and we can also feel some kind of tension in this first two line. After his first attempt was defeated by the waves, he tries it once more Again I wrote it with a second hand” (3) since he is very determined and does not let the water stop him from having his beloved’s name written in the sand of the beach. But came the tide, and made my pains his prey. 4) so what happened at his first attempt is unfortunately repeated here. So this first quatrain is about a man – the poet – who attempts to make his beloved woman and their love eternal by writing her name in the sand, but he did not choose the perfect place for it, since the waves of the sea wipe away everything that they reach, so this was a senseless idea from the man. And this is how the second quatrain starts Vain man, said she, that doest in vain assay (5), meaning that it was a vain attempt from the first.
This is when the beloved woman joins in the conversation and tries to open the poet’s eye because it is useless A mortal thing so to immortalize (6). From this line we can understand what is the man’s aim by writing the woman’s name in the sand. He wants to immortalize his beloved by making her name eternal. The name represents the woman itself, so he attempts to immortalize the beloved woman. But the woman tries to explain him that since she will die, it is pointless trying to make her name last.
She cannot convince the man who says as a reply that Not so (quoth I), let baser things devise To die in dust, but you shall live by fame: (9-10) stating that the woman is such a divine existance that she will live forever even after her physical death. In the line of My verse your virtues rare shall eternize (11) he claims that by writing the woman in a verse, she will become immortal since the verse keeps her for the eternity.
The poet goes further and he employs a seemingly perfect means by turning to heaven and a divine help And in the heavens write your glorious name (12) with the help of which he can perpetuate her person. In the final couplet Where whenas Death shall all the world subdue, Out love shall live, and later life renew (13-14) he talks about death as something that brings an end to the world and everything on it except love that is eternal and provides the possibility of new and later lives.
In this essay I tried to interpret Edmund Spenser’s Sonnet 75 as a whole, by examining its rhyme scheme which links the lines in a way that makes the sonnet a complex whole and as a consequence gives the reader a more easily comprehensable meaning. Then I discussed the Amoretti cycle that presents the love and marriage of Spenser and his beloved wife in a way that is similar to that of Petrarch, but at the same time it is also a contrast and a second step of that type of love.
In the end I interpreted the sonnet itself and tried to describe the poet’s resolution to immortalize his beloved wife and their love by using every possible means that a poet can. Works Cited Neely, Carol Thomas. The Structure of English Renaissance Sonnet Sequence. English Literary History. 45. 3 ( 1978) : 359-389. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Web. 21 October 2011 Dasenbrock, Reed Way. The Petrachan Context of Spenser’s Amoretti. Publications of the Modern Language Association. 100. 1 ( 1985) : 38-50. Modern Language Association. Web. 21 October 2011