the "little love poems" dedicated to Elizabeth Boyle, Edmund Spenser's wife, the poem details the second year of their courtship. As part of the structural time scheme inherent in the overall Amoretti sequence, this poem is set during the Lenten season, the period of fasting and penitence that begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter ("This holy season fit to fast and pray," l. 1). The poet compares his devotion to his beloved with his religious devotion, elevating her to
"my sweet Saynt" (l. 4), following in the style of Italian and French love lyrics and sonnets. Instead of comparing her to a goddess, as is common in other English sonnets and the Italian predecessors, Spenser keeps the focus on the woman's spiritual beauty, a concept that he continues in Epithalamion (the marriage poem) and expands upon in his epic poem The Faerie Queen.
The poem uses the Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet form, setting the situation up in the octave, although it employs the Spenserian sonnet rhyme scheme. During the holy season of Lent, men's attention should be focused on their devotion; therefore, the speaker seeks some appropriate way to give service to his "Saynt," who is his beloved and the object of his devotion. Instead of residing in a church, this saint's image resides in a temple located in the speaker's mind, so that day and night he can attend to her just as the priests attend to the statues of the saints found in churches. By setting up this comparison, the speaker clearly conflates religious and secular love.
After setting up this ideal picture of the beloved, the turn of the sestet takes the speaker down a non-Christian path with a higher form of sacrifice. He announces a plan to build for her, the source of his happiness, an altar that will "appease" (l. 9) her anger, with the implication that the only reason for her "ire" (l. 10) is his love for her; on that altar his heart will be sacrificed, burnt by the flames of "pure and chaste desire" (l. 12). If the beloved, who is now referred to as "goddess" (l. 13), accepts this offering, it will be one of her most precious mementos. The imagery found here in the sestet is more traditionally associated with the Petrarchan convention from which Spenser is writing. The archaic spelling he uses in the sequence allows a play on words of heart with "hart" in line 11, which continues with dearest and "deerest" in line 14 to expand the possible interpretations of the sestet from a figurative to a literal sacrifice.
See also Amoretti (overview).
Peggy J. Huey
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