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The sonnet sequence “Amoretti” was written by the English poet Edmund Spenser. In 1595, it was printed as a part of the collection “Amoretti and Epithalamion.” Since “amoretti” means “little loves” in Italian, it is clear that the poetry in this collection is about love. The 89 sonnets in Spenser’s “Amoretti” are significant for their form and structure since they follow the traditional Petrarchan sonnet format. The poems discuss the poet’s pursuit of Elizabeth Boyle and ultimately marriage to her, and they depict themes of love, commitment, and the difficulties involved in seeking a fulfilling relationship. The collection, which is regarded as a major addition to Elizabethan poetry, demonstrates Spenser’s talent for creating graceful and lyrical poems.
About the poet
English poet Edmund Spenser, who was born between 1552 and 1553, is most remembered for his epic work The Faerie Queene. Spenser aspired to create English national literature, inspired by the great epic poets like Homer and Virgil and was influenced by Irish faerie mythology. The poetry of Spenser can be interpreted both literally and allegorically. Between 1579 and 1580, he was part of Sir Philip Sidney’s literary community, which led him on a literary path that he continued throughout the rest of his life. The Shepherd’s Calendar, Spenser’s first significant piece of poetry, is a cycle of pastorals inspired by Virgil’s Eclogues. He compared his writing to Chaucer’s writings and medieval literature by using ancient spelling. The publication of Complaints, Containing Selected Small Poems of the World’s Vanitie in 1591 was followed by Amoretti and Epithalamion in 1595.
One day I wrote her name upon the strand, But came the waves and washed it away: Again I wrote it with a second hand, But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
The speaker narrates a scene in which he writes his beloved’s name on the beach in these lines. But the name is lost in the waves. He tries again with a second hand, unafraid, but the tide again overtakes his attempts.
In the lines, the speaker expresses his wish to maintain their love and leave a lasting memory by writing the name of his lover on a strand of hair. This action symbolizes his endeavor to immortalize his love through writing. The natural forces of nature, however, that oppose his attempts at permanency are symbolized by the waves and tide. The first line establishes the speaker’s determination and desire to leave a lasting impression, and the waves stand for life’s fleeting nature and its capacity to wash away even the most sincere expressions. The deed is repeated with a “second hand” in the second line, implying persistence and resoluteness. However, the tide once more gets in the way, highlighting how change is inevitable and how it is impossible to keep things the same. These phrases emphasize the passage of time and the transience of all things while expressing dissatisfaction and the fleeting nature of human existence. The speaker makes futile attempts to etch the name of his beloved onto the strand, but in futile; this emphasizes how brief and delicate human emotions and connections are. These lines effectively convey the idea of love’s fleeting nature and people’s desire to make lasting memories.
"Vain man," said she, "that dost in vain assay, A mortal thing so to immortalize; For I myself shall like to this decay, And eke my name be wiped out likewise."
The beloved answers to the speaker’s unsuccessful attempts to make her name eternal in these lines. She ignores his attempts, saying that she too would soon fade and vanish, just like her name.
The speaker attempts to inscribe the beloved’s name on the strand, but the beloved reacts with a realistic and cynical viewpoint. She calls the speaker a “vain man,” meaning that his efforts to make a mortal object eternal were in vain. She accepts the speaker’s desire to make her eternal, but she rejects this as impractical. She also accepts that she will deteriorate and die, just like all other mortal beings, emphasizing how inevitable death and decay are. She declares that her name will be removed as a metaphor for that all things are temporary, including love and the people involved. These lines offer an opposing viewpoint to the speaker’s desire for lifelong love and immortality, implying that his or her efforts to protect and immortalize love are ultimately ineffective because both love and the people involved are prone to deterioration and oblivion.
"Not so," (quod I) "let baser things devise To die in dust, but you shall live by fame: My verse your vertues 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."
The speaker rejects the beloved’s assumption that both she and her name would deteriorate and be forgotten in these lines. He conveys his conviction that he can immortalize her virtues and ensure that their love endures even after death through his verse.
The speaker rejects the beloved’s claim of temporariness and decay by asserting that “baser things” are the ones that pass away and decompose. He is adamant that his poetry would secure her immortality and declares that his verse will preserve all of her outstanding and rare virtues. Symbolizing the celestial zone where her great name would be engraved, he thinks that her name will be written in the skies. This enhances her worth and implies a transcendence above the bounds of the earth. The speaker argues that their love will remain and renew even after death has conquered the world and all else has perished away, expressing their confidence that their love transcends mortality and persists beyond physical existence. Overall, these lines demonstrate the speaker’s determination to reject the beloved’s argument that everything is transient and subject to fading away, viewing poetry as a way to preserve her qualities and their love.