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Edmund Spenser

English Renaissance Poet and Sonneteer (1552-1599)


Best known for his epic fantasy poem The Fairie Queene, Edmund Spenser was among the most celebrated authors of the English Renaissance. While much of his work presents thinly veiled celebrations of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, his series of sonnets, Amoretti, dedicated to a different Elizabeth — a woman he eventually married — endure as some of his most accessible works today. 

X

Unrighteous Lord of love, what law is this,

That me thou makest thus tormented be,

The whiles she lordeth in licentious blisse

Of her freewill, scorning both thee and me?

See! how the Tyrannesse doth ioy to see

The hugh massácres which her eyes do make,

And humbled harts brings captive unto thee,

That thou of them mayst mightie vengeance take.

But her proud hart doe thou a little shake,

And that high look, with which she doth comptroll

All this worlds pride, bow to a baser make,

And al her faults in thy black booke enroll:

  That I may laugh at her in equall sort

As she doth laugh at me, and makes my pain her sport.

The series begins in the manner of Petrarch with unrequited love, yet transitions to a celebration of a satisfying relationship. Spenser’s form of the sonnet uses the typical 14 line structure with a rhyme scheme and meter derived from his longer works. 

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XVI

One day as I unwarily did gaze

On those fayre eyes, my loves immortall light,

The whiles my stonisht hart stood in amaze,

Through sweet illusion of her lookes delight,

I mote perceive how, in her glauncing sight,

Legions of Loves with little wings did fly,

Darting their deadly arrows, fyry bright,

At every rash beholder passing by.

One of those archers closely I did spy,

Ayming his arrow at my very hart:

When suddenly, with twincle of her eye,

The damzell broke his misintended dart.

  Had she not so doon, sure I had bene slayne;

Yet as it was, I hardly scap’t with paine.

Even when describing his most personal emotions, Spenser uses the language of fantasy and royal power that characterized his more famous works. If this detracts from the realism of the relationship, it celebrates a certain vision of love and romance. At the very least, Spenser was consistent with his poetic interests. 

XXXIX

Sweet smile! the daughter of the Queene of Love,

Expressing all thy mothers powrefull art,

With which she wonts to temper angry Iove,

When all the gods he threats with thundring dart,

Sweet is thy vertue, as thy selfe sweet art.

For when on me thou shinedst late in sadnesse,

A melting pleasance ran through every part,

And me revived with hart-robbing gladnesse;

Whylest rapt with ioy resembling heavenly madness,

My soule was ravisht quite as in a traunce,

And, feeling thence no more her sorrowes sadnesse,

Fed on the fulnesse of that chearfull glaunce.

  More sweet than nectar, or ambrosiall meat,

Seem’d every bit which thenceforth I did eat.

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