‘My Love is like to ice, and I to fire’ by Edmund Spenser is a fourteen line sonnet that conforms to the pattern of a traditional Spenserian sonnet. This form of sonnet writing was pioneered by the poet himself and is marked by three interlocking quatrains and a concluding couplet. The lines rhyme, abab bcbc cdcd ee. Additionally, a reader should note that the first twelve lines pose three different questions to the reader. These are then answered in the final couplet.
As was Spenser’s habit, the sonnet is composed in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats. The first of these beats is unstressed and the second stressed.
This sonnet, ‘My Love is like to ice, and I to fire,’ is also known as ‘Amoretti: XXX,’ or Sonnet 30. It was one of 89 sonnets Spenser wrote to celebrate his marriage to Elizabeth Boyle. Due to these passionate love lyrics, Spenser’s poetry has come to represent true passion displayed through a fresh form.
Summary of My Love is like to ice, and I to fire
‘My Love is like to ice, and I to fire’ by Edmund Spenser describes the contradictory but also complementary personalities of the speaker and his lover.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that he is like fire and his lover is like ice. Although they are different from one another their love is strong. It becomes clear as the poem progresses that it is due to their differences that their love succeeds.
The first three sets of four lines contain questions the speaker, Spenser himself, poses to the reader. These are not meant to be answered. Instead they are included to emphasize the “miraculous” nature of the relationship. The woman’s ice is not melted by his fire, nor is his fire “allayed” by her cold.
The poem concludes with a couplet that answers all of the speaker’s questions. It is love that has given their relationship the power it needs to succeed. Love has the ability to overcome all types and kinds.
My Love is like to ice, and I to fire:
How comes it then that this her cold so great
Is not dissolved through my so hot desire,
But harder grows the more I her entreat?
In the first four lines, or quatrain, of this piece the speaker, who is known to be Spenser himself, begins with the statement that would come to represent this poem. Although it is numbered as “Amoretti XXX,” the phrase “My Love is like to ice, and I to fire” is us to distinguish it from his other works.
In this line the speaker is saying that his “Love” is comparable to ice. In contrast, he states that he is the same as “fire.” Before any other details are provided a reader is able to understand that the two lovers are fundamentally different people. That has not stopped them from coming together though.
In the next three lies Spenser poses the first of his questions regarding how the love he shares with his future wife is possible. Due to the fact that they are so completely opposite, he continues the analogy he began in the first line. The speaker asks how his lover’s “cold so great” is not “dissolved through” his “so hot desire.” This strange rearrangement of words makes the lines sound more dramatic than they would otherwise. It also forces the phrases to conform to Spenser’s chosen pattern of iambic pentameter.
The love they share does not dissolve away, like fire melting ice, but instead “harder grows.” With greater time spent alongside one another their love only improves. The speaker is continually baffled by this fact. Although these lines are posed as a question, it is rhetorical. He does not expect the reader to have an answer.
Or how comes it that my exceeding heat
Is not allayed by her heart-frozen cold,
But that I burn much more in boiling sweat,
And feel my flames augmented manifold?
The next quatrain contains the second question of the text. The speaker’s comparison of himself to fire and his lover to ice is continued.
Here, he turns the previous question around and asks how his own impact on his lover does not destroy their love. The speaker’s own “heat” is not impacted by “her heart-frozen cold.” It is important to note at this point that the comparison to fire and ice might have more to do with their actual personalities than it initially seemed.This is seen through the woman’s heart being referred to as “frozen.”
Perhaps this is how Spenser first saw her. He expected this fact to turn him away, instead it made him “burn much more.” These lines also say something about the Spenser’s love for his wife. It seems to be un-containable and as if it is being consistently fanned.
The final line brings the section around to the actual question. He asks how it is possible that her coldness only make his “flames” increase in number. They are “manifold.”
What more miraculous thing may be told,
That fire, which all things melts, should harden ice,
And ice, which is congeal’d with senseless cold,
Should kindle fire by wonderful device?
In the final four line section the speaker takes note of the importance of his love. He believes that his relationship is so unusual and original that it verges on “miraculous.”
He begins by reiterating the lines he used previously. Spenser wants to make sure that his reader is clear on why he/she should care about their love. He states again that “fire, which all things melts” has instead “harden[ed] ice.” Then, that “ice, which is” made up of “senseless cold” has “kindle[d] fire.” These changes to their natures have improved them as people. Together they are becoming different.
Such is the power of love in gentle mind,
That it can alter all the course of kind.
The final couplet works as all of Spenser’s conclusions do. It could serve as an answer to a question or as a carrier of a different opinion. Here though, the speaker concludes that the answer to all the previously posed questions is that “love” has the power to change everything. When it exists within a “gentle mind” it has the ability to “alter” everyone’s life.