Spenser's Amoretti and Epithalamion Summary and Analysis
Amoretti Sonnets 44 through 57
Summary of Sonnets 44 through 57
The speaker contrasts himself with the mythical Greek figure of Orpheus, who was able to keep the crew of the Argo on course to find the golden fleece by playing music more beautiful than the song of the sirens who sought to bewitch them into sailing into deadly rocks. But whereas Orpheus was able to end the Greeks’ strive (line 4), the speaker’s own music (perhaps his poetry) only makes his own internal strife the more violent. He describes his efforts upon a “tuneless harp” (line 9), continuing the theme of self-abasement in is poetry, and notes tht when he plays his music, he renews his grief and passions “to battaile fresh against my selfe to fight” (lines 11-12). His efforts to calm his struggle—these very poems—are only serving to increase “their malice” (line 14).
The poet urges his beloved to stop looking at herself in her mirror and to instead behold herself as he sees her. He admits that his heart can hardly show “thing so diuine to vew of earthly eye” (lines 5-6), but also boasts that it can keep “the fayre Idea of your celestiall hew” intact forever (lines 7-8). Here Spenser’s Platonism steps forth, with his beloved’s archetypal beauty enshrined in his heart more perfectly than any earthly mirror can reflect. He furthers the Platonic concept by insisting that her perfect image has been “dimmed and deformd” by her cruelty (lines 9-11); were she to end her cruel treatment of him, her image would appear “clearer then christall” (line 12). He hopes that she will see her true self in his expression of her, and thereby remove the rejection of love that darkens her “fayre beames” (lines 13-14).
The beloved and heaven (both the sky and the celestial realm) are compared in this sonnet. Heaven sends “most hideous stormes” (line 3) to keep him wehere he is, while his beloved bids him to foolow her. He is torn between obedience to heaven or to her (line 5) and confesses that “the heauens know best what is the best for me” (line 6) while she is his “lower heauen” and has the stronger pull on his heart. He begs the heavens to stop sending these storms, “or else both you and she,/will both together me too sorely wrack” (lines 11-12). He can only endure one of these trials, and chooses it to be “the stormes, which she alone on me doth raine” (line 14).
This sonnet begins in a critical vein with the speaker urging himself (and perhaps others) not to trust “the treason of those smyling lookes” (line 1) because they are “lyke but vnto golden hookes” to catch “foolish fish” (lines 3-4). With her “flattring smyles” she tempts “weake harts” to their “decay” (lines 5-6); eventually she kills her prey “with cruell pryde” (line7) and takes pleasure in the act, for even while “her bloody hands them slay/her eyes looke louely and vpon them smyle” (lines 9-10). Her eyes have an anesthetic affect upon her prey, causing the victims to “take pleasure in [her] cruell play” and removing their pain (lines 11-12). He marvels at this contradiction, that her “mighty charm” causes men to love “theyr bane” and cause them to die “with pleasure” or “liue with payne” (lines 13-14).
Referring again to himself as a writer, the speaker mourns the loss of “Innocent paper” which his beloved “did sacrifize vnto the greedy fyre” (lines 1-4). Something in what he wrote angered her, so she destroyed the pages she had been given. The speaker concentrates on the loss of his written word, wishing they had met a better fate than that “for hereticks ordained” (line 6). He attempted to “vtter forth th’ anguish of his hart” that she so far had not heard when spoken aloud (lines 11-12). Still, he claims his words will live forever, “though against her will” (lines 13) and speak well of her even if she rejects them. Again the enduring power of the written word (and possibly poetry in particular) is set up above all that could destroy it, even the fire of his beloved’s wrath.
In this sonnet the speaker begs for mercy from his “Fayre cruell” beloved (lines 1-3). He asks her to turn “the power of [her] imperious eyes” against her enemies, not him (lines 6-8). He compares her disdainful looks to the gaze of the mythical cockatrice, which had the power to kill its prey at a distance. He pleads that he lies humbled at her “footstoole” (line 11) and therefore should be shown the mercy due a servant or captive, not harmed as she might an aggressor. He finishes by reminding her that “Such mercy shall you make admired to be” (line 13), thus addressing himself to either her good nature or her vanity to make his case.
Here the speaker suffers a “double malady” which afflicts both his heart (emotions) and his body. The physician has tried in vain to “apply/fit medicines for my bodies best reliefe” lines 3-4), but in vain. The heart is “of all the body chiefe” (line 7) and so only by curing his wounded heart can his body find rest (lines 10-11). He knows this is beyond the skill of any doctor, so pleads that his “lyfes Leach” would reveal the skill to heal both his heart and body “with one salue” (lines 12-14). Whether this higher physician is God or his beloved remains unclear.
Just as beautiful statues can be carved from “hardest Marble” (lines 1-2) so that their beauty will not face over time, his beloved’s “hardness” (line 6) means her beauty will not fade. Again the poet turns to the motif of his beloved as some hard, unyielding material (in this case marble) that he hopes to “soften” and “her stubborne hart to bend” (lines 10-12). He also returns to his usual follow-up conclusion: that her love, being difficult to gain, will reward his pain and perseverance by making his joy at winning it all the greater (line 14).
This sonnet uses the image of a captive soldier in a defeated army to represent the speaker (his beloved being the captor, as is usually the case). Here he turns to simile (“I goe lyke one that hauing lost the field:/is prisoner led away with heauy hart”—lines 2-3) to express his sorrow. He is deprived of “warlike armes” and “shield” (line 4). But whereas other sonnets have made her the direct captor of his heart, here it is her absence that makes him feel “exylde” (line 7). He turns from military images to a religious one in the final couplet, seeing the effect of her absence upon his heart as “penaunce” (line 13). This suggests the speaker feels remorse over something he has done; possibly it is his perceived sin that has driven her away from him. In context of the previous sonnets, their relationship may still be reeling from whatever the beloved saw in the papers he gave her (which she subsequently destroyed—Sonnet 48).
The image of predator and prey dominates this sonnet, this time in the form of a direct comparison between the speaker’s beloved and a “Panther” (possibly a leopard, as the term “panther” is used for an entire family of big cats). As the Panther hides his dreadful face “within a bush” so that other beasts may be drawn to the beauty of its “spotted hyde” (lines 1-3), so does the beloved’s beauty draw him in to a hidden danger. She allures him to his own “decay” and shows him “no mercy” in causing him harm (lines 7-8). He thinks this situation a “Great shame” that her beauty, “so diuine in view” should be used as bait to drawn in the hapless prey (lines 9-12). To use her beauty in such a way seems, to the speaker, a poor use for her lovely appearance. Instead “mercy doth with beautie best agree” (line 13), as is evident from the character of “theyr maker,” God. (line 14).
For the first time in the Amoretti, the speaker turns to the conceit of the theater to describe his situation. This world is a “Theatre in which we stay” while his beloved is “lyke the Spectator” watching idly as the speaker presents his “pageants” – short, dramatic parade-like affairs in which the scenes of some drama were presented, usually in still set-pieces rather than through acting—before her (lines 1-4). He attempts comedy “when glad occasion fits” (line 5), then turns to tragedy “when my ioy to sorrow flits” (line 7). Unfortunately, his beloved “delights not in my merth no[r] rues my smart” (line 10). She is moved to respond the opposite of what is expected: “when I laugh she mocks, and when I cry/she laughes” (lines 11-12). In light of his utter failure to touch her heart, the speaker concludes “she is no woman, but a sencelesse stone” (line 14), again returning to the image of his beloved as some hard, unyielding material that is invulnerable to his best efforts.
This sonnet is another catalogue of how incomparable the beloved’s beauty is. Here the speaker takes into account both her attractiveness and her cruelty, marveling “of what substance was the moule/the which her made attonce so cruell faire” (lines 3-4). She is not composed of earth, for her thoughts are “more heauenly;” nor of water, for her love burns “like fyre.” She is not of air, for “she is not so light or rare,” nor is she fire, for she “doth friese with faint desire” (lines 5-8). Finding none of the four classical elements fit substance for her, he claims there is “another Element” that makes up her nature: “the skye” (lines 9-10). The sky alone can be the material of her composition, for “to heauen her haughty lookes aspire;/ and eke her mind is pure immortall hye” (lines 11-12). As is often the case, the poet then ends with a direct plea to his beloved: since she is most like “heauen” (both the sky and the celestial realm), she should “be lyke in mercy” as well. Her virtues come from heaven—she should allow the virtue of mercy to reside in her as well, displacing the vice that is her cruelty.
The contrast between the beloved’s beauty “Fayre ye be sure” (line 1) and cruelty is expressed here in a series of similes. She is like “a Tygre that with greedinesse/hunts after bloud” (lines 2-3); like “a storme, that all things doth prostrate” (line 6); and like a “rocke amidst the raging floods” (line 11). In each case the thing she is compared to finds a victim: the tiger finds “a feeble beast” to devour (line 4); the storm encounters a lone trea and “beats on it strongly it to ruinate” (lines 7-8); and the rock stands firm in the raging water so that “a ship of succour desolate/doth suffer wreck both of her selfe and goods” (lines 11-12). In each case, the victim is innocent and undeserving of such treatment, as the poet considers himself to be a hapless victim of his beloved’s cruelty. That she will not miss the comparison, he states directly “That ship. That tree, and that same beast am I,/whom ye doe wereck, doe ruine, and destroy” (lines 13-14)
The poet takes up the conceit of his suit as a battle, addressing his beloved as “Sweet warriour” and asking when he shall “haue peace” with her (line 1). He wants the war to be over. He depicts his beloved as the aggressor, claiming he can no longer bear her “incessant battry” (line 4), nor can his heart survive the “thousand arrowes” shot at him from her eyes (line 8). He asks her what glory she can gain “in slaying him that would liue gladly yours” (line 13) and ends by suing for peace and grace, “That al my wounds will heale in little space” (line 14). Here, again, is irony in that the poet turns his repeated efforts to woo the woman into a defensive stance against her “attacks,” which are in fact merely her refusal to accept his proposal.
Analysis of Sonnets 44 through 57
This set of sonnets continues the ongoing struggle the speaker suffers in dealing with an unresponsive beloved. He reiterates previous motifs, such as the battle and the contrast of fire and ice. He also introduces another motif of analogies: predator and prey. The beloved is the hunting beast, ferocious and bloody, while the suitor is her prey, helpless and--in one case--submissive to her attack. He knows he will be devoured; he wants only to stay the pain in favor of a quick kill.
The speaker also voices desperation at his beloved's enduring indifference to his love. He goes so far as to seek solace in the fact that she continues to torment him with rejection: if she continues to speak to him, even negatively, it is perhaps because she cannot resist interaction with him. On this increasingly precarious ground the speaker stands, desperate to squeeze some hope out of his miserable plight.
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