Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spenserian Sonnet

Sonnet 1 by Edmund Spencer

Happy ye leaves whenas those lily hands,
Which hold my life in their dead doing might
Shall handle you and hold in love’s soft bands,
Lyke captives trembling at the victor’s sight.
And happy line, on which with starry light,
Those lamping eyes will design sometimes to look
and read the sorrows of my dying spright,
Written with tears in harts close bleeding book.
And happy rhymes bathed in the sacred brook,
Of Helicon whence she derived is,
When ye behold that Angels blessed look,
My souls long lacked food, my heavens bliss.
Leaves, lines, and rhymes, seek her please alone,
Whom if ye please, I care for other none.

In “Sonnet 1” Edmund Spencer uses figurative language to describe his love for a woman whom he loves but she torments him. He juxtaposes her “lily hands” with their “dead doing” might in lines 1 and 2. At her hands, he both is soothed and strangled simulations. In lines 3 and 4, he does the same thing by contrasting “love‘s soft bands” with “captives trembling.” This sets the tone of the poem. He loves this woman and she is his muse but she is also killing him because he loves her so much.
Though the tone is somewhat dismal, when it is read it has the feel of a love poem because of the soothing word choice or euphony. This further juxtaposes the message of the poem with the feel of the poem when it is read. In doing so, he once again presents his love for her and the pain that his love for her has created.
Spencer also alludes to “Helicon.” Helicon is the name of a huge mountain in ancient Greece. It was considered a sacred place because it was favored by the Gods and Goddess. However, it was particularly favored by the Muses. This allusion implies that the women whom this poem is written for is his muse. She inspires him to write. This is supported in the last lines where he dedicated this poem to her. “Leaves, lines, and rhymes, seek her peace alone/Whom if ye please, I care for other none” (lines 13-14).


Lauren said...

Who do you think he wrote this poem for? Do you think it was an actual person?

Charlie said...

"Lily hands" and "dead doing might" is also kind of a paradox as how could something beautiful and natural cause destruction.

A polyptoton was also used in "hands" and "handle." A polyptoton beingthe stylistic scheme in which words derived from the same root are repeated (e.g. "strong" and "strength"). I mainly think he used it for practical purposes, to create rhyme and rhythm and repetition without becoming boring.

As for your question. I did some research and apparently he was either married to or wooing a woman named Elizabeth Boyle so this sonnet could definitely be for her. Poets often write about experiences in their life as it allows for greater depth and meaning to their poems. Love is something that happens within almost everyone and the emotions he described are not unique or rare in any way.

kerrym7 said...

It definitely makes sense that he wrote this for a specific woman. He says he "cares for others none." Also, her "blessed look" is his "soul's long lacked food." It seems like he is longing to be with the one he loves. Going off of Charlie's research, this can be seen as a way to "woo" Elizabeth Boyle.