This second quatrain of the first sonnet sets the tone for much of the sonnet-cycle. The speaker has addressed his poetry, blessing it on its journey to the beloved. He hopes that she will read it and, in so doing, come to sympathize with his pain at living without her. As is common in Amoretti, the beloved is described by focusing on her "lamping eyes," for they are the only means through which the suitor's written words can reach her heart and mind. That his is a "bleeding book" emphasizes both the speaker's pain and the fact that it his lifesblood that he has put within these pages.
For lusty spring now in his timely howre,
is ready to come foth him to receiue:
and warnes the Earth with diuers collord flowre,
to decke hir selfe, and her faire mantle weaue.
Sonnet IIII is one of two New Year's Day sonnets in Amorett. Here as in the second, the New year is considered the doorway from winter to spring. American and European readers might find this hard to reconcile, as January 1st is generally in the heart of winter, but Spenser and his readers celebrated the New Year on March 22nd, marking the passage of time from the end of winter's death to the rebirth of spring's life. This celebration of spring also finds itself interwoven throughout the sonnets, as Spenser falls back upon his classical training to depict his passion in terms of pagan religious rites and classical mythology.
Dayly when I do seeke and sew for peace
And hostages doe offer for my truth:
she cruell warriour doth her sefe address,
to battell, and teh weary war renew'th.
This sonnet marks the beginning of Spenser's war motif as he applies it to his relationship with the beloved. Although he is the one assailing her with requests for her hand in marriage, he depicts himself as suing for peace from a hostile attacker. He places her in the aggressive position, developing this stance later by explaining that her beauty is so overpowering it is as if she were assaulting him daily with love. That the beloved is called a "cruell warriour" serves to place the responsibility of causing harm in her hands, while he is merely a victim of her loveliness. He would have peace, but she refuses and starts the battle anew.
So doe I weepe, and wayle, and pleade in vaine,
whiles she as steele and flint doth still remayne.
Spenser regularly makes use of the motif of hardness when referring to his beloved. She is compared to steel, stone, and flint. But whereas steel can wear out from use and flint can be eroded by rain, his beloved is made of harder stuff and will not weaken in the face of his repeated pleas. The speaker candidly admits t weeping and wailing, but the woman will not be moved. This reversal of roles, similar to Spenser's reversal of attacker and victim in the war motif sonnets, is the poet's way of extolling the singular strength and beauty of the beloved while confessing himself a man of passion who has fallen to her charms. Even here the speaker attempts to find some small comfort in the fact that stone and metal can eventually wear down; though he does not see it happening soon, he realizes that these processes take time.
So euery sweet with soure is tempred still,
that maketh it be coueted the more:
for easie thngs that may be got at will,
most sorts of men doe set but little store.
Following a list of beautiful or tasty plants that have harmful or poisonous parts, the speaker draws this conclusion: if something is difficult to get, the process of acquiring it makes it that much more precious. By contrast, things that are easily obtained are considered of little worth. The beloved is indeed a rose surrounded by thorns, but it is those very thorns--an the pain and suffering they cause--that makes the rose all the more valuable. Similarly, few will attempt to get that which they know will cause them pain in the process; only by enduring the pain to arrive at the beauty does the speaker prove himsel worthy of his beloved's affections.
What then remains but I to ashes burne,
and she to stones at length all frosen turne?
In another of his contrasting pairs, Spenser depicts the beloved as ice and himself as fire. He finds, however that his passionate heat cannot melt her frozen hardness; he will eventually burn out and turn to "ashes." She, on the other hand, grows harder and more invincible, eventually being as unchanging as "stones." This contrast of heat and cold accentuates the basic problem in his relationship with his beloved: he is overcome by powerful emotions, while she stands stoically by. It is not that she hates him; in fact, it is much worse--she simply does not care about him at all.
So since the winged God his planet cleare,
began in me to moue, on yeare is spent:
the which doth longer vnto me appeare,
then al those fourty which my life outwent.
Spenser appreciated the passage of time, both in its chronologically absolute sense and in its subjective interpretation by those seeking to measure it. Here he notes that, although he fell in love one year ago, the time it takes Cupid's "planet" to revolve around the sun (a planetary year) feels longer than the forty years preceding that moment. Spenser's later biographers here have one of the few clues to Spenser's age and birthday--at the writing of this sonnet, he was forty-one years old (forty years old when he fell in love, and now a year has passed). But Spenser's immediate message is that love (or other strong emotions) can make time change its flow, just as planets other than Earth take longer or shorter times to make the same journey of an astronomical "year."
What trophee then shall I most fit deuize,
in which I may record the memory
of my loues conquest, peerelesse beauties prise,
adorn'd with honour, loue, and chastity.
The tone of the sonnet-cycle has changed from one of primal desperation to almost arrogant satisfaction. Spenser here reverses the earlier portrayal of the beloved as victor and himself as captive; now he is the conqueror, seeking some suitable trophy to commemorate his capture of his beloved. His self-confidence turns him yet again to his poetry as the most fitting memorial to his beloved, alone fit to "tell her prayse to all posterity."
The speaker's attitude has gone through a drastic metamorphosis. Whereas he once feared he would die alone due to his beloved's cruelty, now that she has agreed to marry him he is a conquering hero from the epics of old, proudly singing of his victory because no other bard is fit to commemorate it.
Neuer had man more ioyfull day then this,
Whom heauen would heape with blis.
Make feast therefore now all this liue long day,
This day for euer to me holy is,
Poure out the wine without restraint or stay,
Poure not by cups, but by the belly full,
Poure out to all that wull,
And sprinkle all the postes and wals with wine,
That they may sweat, and drunken be withall.
Immediately following the somber wedding ceremony before the priest, Spenser turns his poem back to its dominant paganism in a call for wine and debauchery to celebrate his marriage. He moves from declaring this day sacred to urging his guests to get drunk; in the pagan mind, there would be no conflict here, but to Spenser's Protestant theology, combining the sacred with something so profane would be unthinkable. Like most Elizabethan gentility, Spenser had no difficulty reconciling the two as different aspects of a life well-lived.
But for this time it illordained was,
To chose the longest day in all the yeare,
And shorteset night, when longest fitter weare:
Yet neuer day so long, but late would passe.
The passage of time recurs in Spenser's work, particularly in Epithalamion with its attention to chronological detail. The longest day of the year, the summer solstice, was chosen as a wedding day in part because it was believed that children conceived on the solstice would live prosperous lives favored by fortune. Here Spenser criticizes his choice of wedding-day, frustrated as he is that the long daylight means a longer delay prior to the bliss of his wedding night. He is aware, too, that the night will be the shortest of the year, and so his nuptial pleasures will be cut shorter than they might have been any other night.
Spenser’s Amoretti and Epithalamion Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Spenser’s Amoretti and Epithalamion is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.