Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) - Sonnet 75 (1595)

The poem is from the sonnet sequence Amoretti
line 3: second hand = handwriting
line 5: assay = try
line 8: eek = also
line 9: quoth = said
What distinguishes Spenser's poem from earlier poetry is the personal note it strikes. The poet places himself in the centre of the poem, telling us about his personal situation, emotions and convictions. Such poetry, which expresses the poet's emotions, is called lyric. Lyric poetry became very popular in Spenser's time, the Renaissance, because people began to be interested in the individual. In de Middle Ages man was seen as a part of a community. In the sixteenth century he came to be seen as an individual, unlike every other man. This individualism is reflected in Elizabethan poetry, of which Edmund Spenser is one of the greatest representatives.
In this sonnet, addressed to his wife, Spenser claims to give her immortality in his verse. He does so by starting from a very ordinary, very charming incident that may occur any day in summer by the seaside. The situation is therefore a general one, but Spenser handles it in such a way as to make it intimately personal. His imagination creates a picture of tender young love through the conversation between his lady and himself, absorbed in each other, against the background of the eternal sea. He would like to preserve this experience for ever, but the waves wipe out her name just as cruel time destroys every man-made thing. Nevertheless he feels confident that he is able to immortalize his love by a different kind of writing, his poetry, no matter how short life on earth may be. At the same time the writing of the lady's name, which is the central image of the poem, is transferred from earth to heaven. Love, poetry and religious belief are closely associated.
Technically, Spenser's poetry is at a very high level. He uses simple words so skilfully that they create a complete, harmonious picture. After the action of the first quatrain he switches to the dialogue in the second and third, to conclude with the couplet which summarizes the theme of the sonnet. Spenser's perfect handling of vowels and the wavelike rhythm of his poem can only be appreciated when the sonnet is read aloud so as to bring out its melody. His frequent use of alliteration binds the poem together.

From: 'Enjoying Literature' by H.J. van Moll and N. Kortland, pages 44-46
published by Tjeenk Willink/Noorduijn b.v., The Netherlands, 1982 (5-th edition).

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last modified: 2 January 2002