Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti: Sonnet 1

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Although we are only reading a small selection from Edmund Spenser’s sonnet cycle Amoretti, a clear arc can be traced throughout the poems with respect to the speaker’s developing love for a woman. Note: For the purpose of consistency, I will now refer to “the speaker” as “Spenser”, although this does not necessarily mean that Spenser is the intended speaker.

“Sonnet 1” serves both as an introduction to Spenser’s intended purpose for the cycle and as a declaration of love. This sonnet employs many types of figurative language, including allusion and synecdoche, but the most prominent is personification. Spenser personifies the poems of his cycle, and they become the main subject of his first sonnet. Although the sonnets are written about a woman, Spenser’s choice to direct his words at his poems instead of the woman allows him to describe her qualities in better detail. Spenser wills the poems to be happy once he has given them to her because, not only will the woman hold Spenser’s “life” in her “lilly hands,” she will now also “handle” the poems “in loves soft bands” (lines 1-3). There is a hopefulness in Spenser’s description of his poetry at the beginning of the sonnet that almost causes one to overlook the details he provides in the second quatrain. In these lines, Spenser presents his hopes that the woman “will deigne sometimes to look / And reade” about “the sorrowes of [his] dying spright” (line 6-7). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “deigne” as it is used in this context most likely means “to think fit,” so it is possible that Spenser is alluding to unrequited love. If this is the case, then it is likely that Spencer hopes the woman will eventually choose to look at his sonnets and see that he loves her even if she does not love him. In the third quatrain, Spenser alludes to the Greek Muses and to the Bible to describe his inspiration behind his rhymes, but he also mentions that he believes the woman came from “Helicon”, so the two become intertwined (line 10). Spenser then states that if his words win over the woman, he will “care for other none” (line 14). Depending on how one interprets this last line, this could be a declaration of love for the poems or for the woman, but I think it is meant to be for both. Spenser will love the words for winning over the woman, and he will love the woman for being his Muse.

After establishing this arc of emotion, I was curious as to whether or not these words were written about a real person or an imaginary one. As we discussed in class on Friday, it is known that Renaissance poets would often write love poems about imaginary subjects to show off their talent of writing love poems, but Spenser’s this case, I believe the woman to whom he alludes in his sonnets did exist. I have provided a link to Edmund Spenser’s page of the Encyclopedia Britannica below, which I used to gather information about Spenser’s life. According to the encyclopedia, Amoretti is a “marriage ode celebrating his marriage to Elizabeth Boyle.” If this is true, is it possible that Elizabeth is his Muse from “Helicon” (line 10) and is the inspiration behind the Spenserian sonnet? To put it more simply, could Spenser have been trying to impress Elizabeth when he created his new rhyme scheme?

 

Some sources for further reading:

 

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