Sonnet 75 by Edmund Spenser

Sonnet 75 is part of Amoretti, a sonnet cycle that describes Spenser’s courtship and marriage to Elizabeth Boyle. Amoretti was published in 1595 and it included 89 sonnets and a series of short poems called Anacreontics and Epithalamion. The volume was titled “Amoretti and Epithalamion. Written not long since by Edmunde Spenser”.

Particularly, Sonnet 75 depicts the lyrical voice’s attempts to make his loved one immortal. A scene is described in which the lyrical voice has a conversation with his loved one about this particular topic. This poem is a Spenserian sonnet, formed by three interlocked quatrains and a couplet. It has an ABAB BCBC CDCD EE rhyme scheme and it is written in iambic pentameter. The main themes in Sonnet 75 are immortality and love.


Sonnet 75 Analysis

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,

But came the waves and washed it away:

Again I write it with a second hand,

But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.

The first quatrain depicts the lyrical voice’s attempt to immortalize his loved one. The stanza starts by setting the scene: “One day”. The lyrical voice writes the name of his loved one on the sand of a beach but the waves wash the writing away (“I wrote her name upon the strand,/But came the waves and washed it away”). The lyrical voice writes the name in the sand again, but, as before, the waves wash the name away (“Again I write it with a second hand,/ But came the tide, and made my pains his prey”). The action of the wave symbolizes how time will destroy all man-made things. To emphasize this action the waves are personified as they “washed it away” and “made my pains his prey”. Notice also, the way in which the lyrical voice refers to his own writing (“my pains”) and how this works as a metaphor (“his prey”) for the relationship that the words have with nature and time.

Vain man, said she, that doest in vain assay,

A mortal thing so to immortalize,

For I myself shall like to this decay,

And eek my name be wiped out likewise.

The second quatrain describes a dialogue that the lyrical voice has with his loved one. The woman reacts to the writing and tells the lyrical voice that his attempts are in vain (“Vain man, said she, that doest in vain assay/A mortal thing so to immortalize”), as mortal things such as herself cannot live forever. The woman introduces a new perspective to Sonnet 75, as she criticizes the lyrical voice’s actions and words. She emphasizes her mortal nature because she will also disappear like the words in the sand (“For I myself shall like to this decay/And eek my name be wiped out likewise”). Thus, it is useless to write her name because she, as the words in the sand, will eventually disappear.  Time and nature are cruel and destroy man-made things.

Not so, (quod I) let baser things devise

To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:

My verse, your virtues rare shall eternize,

And in the heavens write your glorious name.

The third quatrain presents the lyrical voice’s response to what his loved one said. In this stanza, there is a volta (turn) and the tone of Sonnet 75 changes. Up to this moment, both the lyrical voice and his loved one emphasized on the mortal nature of them and their creations. Nevertheless, the lyrical voice says the opposite in this stanza. The lyrical voice tells the woman that the “baser things” will disappear, but she will live on (“Not so, (quod I) let baser things devise/To die in dust, but you shall live by fame”). Notice the alliteration in these lines: “devise”, “die”, and “dust”. The lyrical voice, a poet, will immortalize his loved one in his poems and, because of that, she will live forever (“My verse, your virtues rare shall eternize, And in the heavens write your glorious name”). By immortalizing his loved one, the lyrical voice puts her on a heavenly space, as she will be “in the heavens” with her “glorious name”. Now, the alliteration is made with “v”sounds (“verse”and “virtues”), and they are much softer than the “d”sounds in the previous lines.

Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,

Our love shall live, and later life renew.

The final couplet summarizes the message of the poem. According to the lyrical voice, even if everything comes to an end (“Where whenas death shall all the world subdue”), their love will survive (“Out love shall live, and later life renew”). There is alliteration in the first line with a “w”sound (“Where”, “wheneas”, and “world) and with an “l”sound in the second line (“Love”, “live”, “later”, and “life”). The immortal quality in love and death is contrasted to the briefness in life. Notice how, throughout the poem, there is a very melodic and stable rhythm that is formed with the regular rhyme scheme and the iambic pentameter. These devices make the sonnet calm and pleasant to the ear, while creating a very detailed picture.


About Edmund Spenser

Edmund Spenser was born between 1552 and 1553, and died in 1599. He was an English poet. Spenser’s best known work is The Faerie Queene, an epic poem that celebrates the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. Spenser was deeply influenced by Irish faerie mythology. With the Faerie Queene, he intended to build an English national literature, following the examples of the great epic writers (such as Homer and Virgil). The Faerie Queene is one of the longest poems in the English language and it originated the Spenserian sonnet form.  The Faerie Queene’s first books (1-3) were published in 1590 and the rest of the books (4-6) in 1595. The poem can be read in a literal level, but also in a fantastical allegorical level.

Moreover, Edmund Spenser is considered to be one of the greatest English poets of all time. He wanted to create poetry that was strictly English, and he had Chaucer as his main inspiration and reference. Between 1579 and 1580, Spenser got directly involved in Sir Philip Sidney’s literary circle. This set him on the literary course that he pursued throughout the rest of his life. Around that time, Spenser wrote The Shepheardes Calender, his first major poetic work. The Shepheardes Calender is a cycle of pastorals that are greatly influenced by Virgil’s Eclogues. He used archaic spelling to relate his work with medieval literature and, particularly, Chaucer’s works. In 1591, Complaints, Containing Sundrie Small Poemes of the Worlds Vanitie was published, and some years later, in 1595, Amoretti and Epithalamion was published.

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