In Amoretti love is often depicted as a conflict. In some sonnets it is a battle waged between the beloved and the suitor: "she cruell warriour doth her sefe address,/to battell, and teh weary war renew'th"; in others it is the natural conflict between predator and prey. The speaker never loses his desire for the beloved, but often sees the pain involved as almost too great for the reward he hopes to find at the end.
The Blason Convention
A common convention in Spenser's day was the blason, a poetic form in which a beautiful woman's features are described using metaphors for each specific body part. In some sonnets and in Epithalamion, he makes such a list of his beloved's physical features; in others he inverts the blason by taking one feature of the beloved and comparing it to several different items, as when he compares her beauty to that of a rose, eglantine, and juniper--all flowers whose beauty is protected by sharp thorns or briars.
Pride and Humility
In both the Protestant Christian tradition and the classical Greek tradition, pride is often referred to as the greatest sin a person can commit. Spenser deals with pride in Amoretti, sometimes criticizing his beloved for her proud stance, but more often defending her pride as an outward manifestation of her inner perfection. That she seems proud to lesser men is true only because these men (including the speaker) are truly lesser beings than she. She is not arrogant--she merely is who and what she was created to be.
Her humility, on the other hand, is also asserted. The speaker claims she humbles herself to accept his proposal, and questions why one so celestial in nature would join herself to one so clearly mundane. Others seem incapable of appreciating her humility, however; they see her pride and are moved to either envy or awe at her overpowering self-confidence and the innate virtue of her being.
More often than not, Spenser describes the beloved in Amoretti as simultaneously beautiful and destructive. She is a "cruell warriour," "a Panther," or the rocks upon which unwitting ships may wreck themselves. She is compared to a rose, her beauty accessible only through thorns. Her glance brings life or death, while her refusal to accede to the suitor's request threatens to kill him.
Even in Epithalamion Spenser cannot resist describing her inner beauty as something so awe-inspiring that those few who ever apprehend it would be struck motionless as one having seen mythical Medusa's face and turned to stone.
The Passage of Time
Spenser often used his poetry to mark time, as if her could prevent its passage by freezing it in verse. Amoretti encompasses tow New Year's Day celebrations, the second of which becomes an occasion for Spenser to reflect on both the past year and his past forty-one years of life. In Epithamalion, Spenser meticulously records the hours of the day from before dawn to late into the wedding night. The ode also encompasses the passage of a year in its 365 long lines, corresponding to the days in a year. The ode's content progresses from the enthusiasm of youth to the concerns of middle age by beginning with high hopes for a joyful day and ending with an eye toward the speaker's legacy to future generations.
Though firmly entrenched in the Protestant Christian tradition, Spenser followed the artists of his day in admiring the work and beliefs of the ancient Greeks. Nowhere is this more evident than in Amoretti and Epithalamion, where the driving emotion--love--is given free rein to roam the fields of nymphs and drink deeply in the bowers of Bacchus. Spenser uses the most lusty of pagan traditions to emphasize his full-bodied passion for his bride and for life itself. In Spenser's poetic world, there is no division between spirit and flesh; to exalt one is to exalt the other.
Spenser's verse is permeated with references to "memorials" meant to outlast the person or even memorialized by eons. His beloved in Amoretti may one day find her beauty fading, but his lines of poetry, in which he has recoreded her beauty and virtue more accurately than any other art can devise, will survive as long as does the written word. A similar dedication to the persistence of poetry occurs in Epithalamion, but here Spenser's concern with his legacy becomes more blatant: the ode ends with several stanzas exhorting the gods to make his wife fertile and grant that they can conceive a child on their wedding night. The second to last stanza describes a multitude of descendants who will inherit "heavenly tabernacles" and rise to the celestial realms, giving Spenser's focus on progeny a cosmic significance.
Spenser’s Amoretti and Epithalamion Questions and Answers
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