Sonnet 75 Poem by Edmund Spenser Summary, Notes and line by Line Explanation in English for Students


The poem makes it apparent that despite the speaker’s intense affection for his beloved, time will inevitably pass. Time passes without stopping, as evidenced by the speaker’s continuous writing of his beloved’s name “upon the strand” (or shore), only for the ocean to swiftly sweep it away. The idea of her name vanishing from the shore also illustrates how ephemeral people’s imprints are on the world—time will eventually erase any evidence of her existence after she passes away.

About the poet

“Sonnet 75” was released as a part of Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti, a collection of 89 love sonnets he penned in 1595 for Elizabeth Boyle, his second wife. Spenser worked during the English Renaissance, a period when poets in England experimented with new forms and techniques while simultaneously returning to old languages and ideas. Part of his attempt to establish English poetry as a major literary form was seen in The Faerie Queen, his best-known composition and the first epic poem produced in contemporary English.


This sonnet has three quatrains (stanza containing 4 lines) and one couplet (stanza containing 2 lines). It follows the pattern of an iambic pentameter.


Stanza 1 

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,

But came the waves, and washéd it away:

Again I wrote it with a second hand,

But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.

The main tension in Spenser’s Sonnet 75 is introduced in the first four lines, which express the speaker’s wish to immortalize his beloved in opposition to the passing of time. In a transient gesture that represents the transience of existence, he writes her name on the beach (“strand”). It is washed away by the harsh ocean’s unrelenting waves, symbolizing the transience of everything on Earth.

Stanza 2

‘Vain man,’ said she, ‘that dost in vain assay

A mortal thing so to immortalise;

For I myself shall like to this decay,

And eke my name be wipéd out likewise.’

The skeptic’s response is introduced in lines 5-8 by his lover. She refers to his efforts as “torments” and “pains,” contending that since she is a mortal, she will eventually fade away too. She compares herself to “baser things” that are destined to expire and asks dismissively why he would attempt to “immortalise” something that is bound for decay.

Stanza 3

‘Not so,’ quod I, ‘let baser things devise

To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:

My verse your virtues rare shall eternise,

And in the heavens write your glorious name:

Still, the speaker doesn’t back down. Lines 9–12 demonstrate his unwavering faith in his poetry’s ability to transcend temporal boundaries. Unlike “mortal things” that end up in dust, he claims, his beloved’s virtues should be recognized for eternity. He says that he will “etonize” her in his verse, so keeping her memory alive in the sky, “where Winner’s Death shall all the world subdue.” This striking picture implies that their love’s enduring legacy will triumph over even death.

Stanza 4 

Where, whenas death shall all the world subdue,

Our love shall live, and later life renew.

The poem’s impactful climax is presented in the final couplet. Declaring that their love will not only endure but also “live and later life renew,” the speaker breaks with the cycle of reincarnation and death. His poetry turns into an ode to their love, guaranteeing that their memory endures despite the passing of time and changes in their surroundings.


“One day I wrote her name upon the strand” is the speaker’s simple gesture of writing his beloved’s name on the beach. However, the unrelenting sea quickly undoes his work (“But came the waves and washed it away again”). This creates tension between the speaker’s wish to immortalize his love and the fleeting nature of existence. With a hint of cynicism, the beloved wonders why such efforts are made (“Said she that dust in vain do I assay”). She cautions him that time will eventually erode her memory and her, too (“For I myself shall like to this decay”). Time marches forward, even for magnificent monuments like “marble tombs.”

The speaker doesn’t give up despite her doubts. He contends that his love is more than just a material item (“Not so, quasi let baser things devise / To die in dust”), in contrast to “baser things” doomed to perish in the dust. Because his verse is filled with her “virtues rare,” he feels it can accomplish something that neither graves nor marble can (“My verse your virtues rare shall etonize”).

The speaker states his bold optimism in a closing couplet that soars: “And in the heavens write your glorious Name / Where wicked Death shall all the world subdue.” He imagines her name being carried by his poetry into the everlasting domain of the stars, beyond the grasp of mortality. The love between them, immortalised in his verse, will endure forever, even when death triumphs over all material.

Spenser therefore explores the conflict between love’s enduring strength and life’s eventual conclusion through the poem’s form and imagery. The speaker finds comfort in the idea that, despite the difficulties, his words have the power to grant a sort of immortality, preserving the memory of his loved one even after the waves have erased the writing in the sand.