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For Valentine’s: Spenser’s Amoretti Sonnet 75

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Here’s a poem fitting for Valentine’s Day coming up and fitting for young lovers everywhere. The poet in love writes his beloved’s name in the sand and at the same time writes it in the heavens (while also writing it down on paper in this poem).

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Edmund Spenser (1552?-1599): Amoretti: Sonnet 75 (1594)

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.

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.

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.

Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,

Our love shall live, and later life renew.

Unlike other famous sonnet sequences in the English and Italian Renaissance, Edmund Spenser makes sure to create, here and in all of the Amoretti sonnets, more psychological interest in the woman and her nature than in the conflicts of the lover himself who celebrates in these poems his courtship and ultimate marriage to his admired lady. Spenser himself married Elizabeth Boyle and then wrote his famous Epithalamion to celebrate his wedding day itself.

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In Sonnet 75 Spenser presents the common philosophical theme, popular in his day, that claims the poet’s art, or this poem especially, will outlast time and actually will give immortality to the beloved. He’s right so far, anyway. So the poet implicitly likens the beloved to the art of poetry and ultimately to the principle of beauty itself. Thus he confers upon the woman an ideality she herself in line 8 tries to deny.

Now, go back and read this poem again, preferably out loud and think lovers’ thoughts.

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Paul Varner

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