One Day I wrote her Name upon the Strand
Sonnet 75 Edmund Spenser Context
Sonnet No. 75 (One day I wrote her name upon the strand) is taken from The Amoretti (‘little loves’) which consists of 79 sonnets. They describe the course of Spenser’s wooing of Elizabeth Boyle whom he married in 1594. The Amoretti was printed together with his marriage song Epithalamion and was published in 1595. The sonnets of The Amoretti maintain some of the Petrarchan conventions like love’s warfare with its ambush (lying in wait to make a surprise attack), siege ( armed operation to surround and capture a fortress), and archers, and the cruel tyrannical mistress. Through Sonnet No 74 the poet pays compliments to three Elizabeths- his mother, the Queen of England and his beloved. His sonnets belong to a variety of the Elizabethan form and each one consists of three interlinked quatrains (abab bebe cded) rounded off (=brought to a satisfactory conclusion) with a couplet (ee).
Sonnet 75 Edmund Spenser Summary
1-4 : One day I (the poet) wrote her name upon the strand, but the waves came and washed it away. I wrote it again, with a second hand, but the tide came and made my pains (labor) its prey.
Lines 5-8 : She (the ladylove) said “Vain man that does assay in vain so as to immortalize a mortal thing, for I myself shall be like this decay and my name eek shall be likewise wiped out.”
Lines 9-14 : I (the poet) quod, “Not so. Let baser things devise to die in dust, but you shall live by fame. My verse shall eternalize your rare virtues and write your glorious name in heaven, whereas death shall subdue all the world, our love shall live and renew later life.”
Sonnet 75 Edmund Spenser Theme
The theme of the sonnet (No. 75 from Amoretti), One day I wrote her name upon the strand, revolves around the poet’s keenness to immortalize his love. His attempts to write his lady’s name on the strand were foiled by the high tide of the sea that washed it away. This seems a vain effort, for the ladylove who is mortal and cannot be immortalized. Yet, sincere love alone has faith and conviction to stand and shine against the inevitable mortality of the world. In his intense and genuine passion of love, the poet feels confident of making his love ever alive. He asserts that baser elements may decay and die, but his love shall not. She ‘shall live by fame’ and his verse ‘shall eternise’ her ‘virtues rare’
Indeed, the sonnet is inspired with the high ideal of devoted love and the bold faith in the power of literary art to immortalise love and triumph against the mighty and mortal blow of time. While the world turns to destruction and dust, devoted love triumphs and vindicates its worth through great art. Spenser’s concluding couplet sums up this robust theme of the rare virtues of love and art
“Where whenas death shall all the world subdew,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.”
This seems anticipatory of Shakespeare’s claim to immortalize his love by the power of his verse, as echoed especially in the Sonnet 18.
Sonnet 75 Edmund Spenser Analysis
Spenser’s sonnet-sequence Amoretti occupies a distinctive position in Elizabethan poetry, although this may not have as much appeal as Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella or Shakespeare’s immortal sonnets, addressed to his young friend. Spenser, as a poet, remains great and his sonnets bear out the characteristic excellence of his poetry as well as his originality in the treatment of the sonnet-form in English.
The sonnet, One day I wrote her name, is one of the graceful, inspired sonnets of the sonnet-series Amoretti, which is supposed to be related to Spenser’s own love-affair with Elizabeth Boyle, whom he married subsequently. The sonnet marks both the thematic idealism and the technical excellence of the sonnet-series.
The central theme of the sonnet, of course, is love. This is the usual theme of the conventional Elizabethan sonnets which are patterned after Petrarch. The present sonnet expresses the poet’s desire to preserve his love. He tries to write his lady’s name on the strand, but finds it washed away by the rolling waves of the sea. He does not, however, yield to despair, although the lady makes fun of him for his ‘vaine assay’. His conviction of the power of love is sound enough. His love is no base thing to be lost in “dust’. It is potent enough to enliven her with fame. This conviction is strengthened by the poet’s firm faith in the power of his verse to preserve his love and eternalize her virtues. The poet’s assertion in this respect is inspired and unequivocal –
“My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,
And in thy heavens wryte your glorious name.”
Spenser’s sonnet here has a unique feature to glorify both his love and his art. In no other Elizabethan sonneteer, prior to Shakespeare, such a positive statement is pronounced, such a defiance of death by the deification of love and art is heard:
“Where whenas death shall all the world subdew,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.”
Spenser’s sonnet certainly appears idealistic. Its purpose is to indicate the triumph of his love through the triumphant vindication of the power of his art. Spenser here comes closer to Shakespeare and transcends Wyatt and Sidney. His tone is all warm with love and hope.
Sonnet No 75 is a fine specimen of Spenserian sonnets and possesses the essential unity of a great sonnet. The poet’s argument, imagery and melody serve to emphasize his lo all through the sonnet, and this is the emotion of love which culminates in the poet’s unfailing faith in the power of his art to immortalize his love in a mortal world.
Spenser’s sonnets are said to lack in the intense sincerity that marks Sidney’s or Shakespeare’s. This may be partly true in regard to some of the sonnets of Amoretti. But so far as the present sonnet (No 75) is concerned, there is perceived no ring of artificiality. The sonnet is intimately personal, intensely sincere. A note of sincere devotion is patent all through. The pet’s tone, though somewhat metaphysical, bears a true zeal, and his assertion is impelled by the depth of his love
“Not so,” quod I. “let baser things devize
To dy in dust, but you shall live by fame”
Spenser is a master technician in sonnet-writing. His grand imagery, wonderful melody and metrical novelty are unique feats in the realm of English sonnets. Though a follower of Petrarch, the sonneteer in Spenser is no imitator and has displayed his originality, particularly in the structure of the sonnet. His sonnets, as evident in the Sonnet No. 75, are mostly formed of three quatrains, alternately rhymed, and a concluding couplet. Moreover there is the rhyme of the last line of every quatrain with the first line of the succeeding quatrain to achieve an effective melody. But the number of rhymes in his sonnet is restricted, after the Petrarchan fashion, to five – a, b, c, d and e. The structure of the Spenserian stanza may be shown from the Sonnet No. 75 – ab ab (first quatrain), bc bc (second quatrain), cd cd (Third quatrain), ee (concluding couplet).
What is more, the sonnet 75, has no want of grace and sweetness, and possesses the rare melody of the great musician, Spenser. In short, this sonnet remains simple, sincere, sensuous and sonorous, and is warm with faith and feeling, happiness and hope. It is a representative sonnet of Spenser, a great sonneteer of a great age of sonnet-writing.
Spenser’s Sonnet 75 is notable for the progress of the story of the lovers in a dramatic way which has been highlighted by the occasional use of the dialogue. The beloved’s teasing of the lover for his vain attempt to immortalize an earthly being is aptly answered by the lover’s declaration that he would do so not in the mundane sphere but in the sphere of art, in the firmament of poetry, where she would blaze like a shining star and where their love, remaining beyond the reach of time and death, would live ever fresh and untarnished, and continue to inspire later lovers with a force that would rejuvenate them for a long time to come. The poem has attained high success with this reference to the renewing power of love.
Sonnet 75 Edmund Spenser Line by Line Analysis
Lines 1-4: Her name– the name of his ladylove, probably Elizabeth Boyle.
Upon the strand on the sea– beach.
One day…..strand- the poet tried to preserve her name on earthly elements. So he wrote her name on the strand.
NB. It is suggested that he wrote her name on the sea-beach, because the lady might have lived near the sea. Elizabeth Boyle actually lived close to the sea.
But came the waves – but the waves came.
NB. This is a line instance of hyperbaton. Of course, the sea (through the waves) is also personified.
Washed it away– swept away the name.
NB. To write names on the sand is a popular literary usage, and an old practice in love-making.
Agayne wrote – if the poet made another attempt. His eagerness to preserve his love on earth led him to make the second attempt.
With a second hand– this seems to mean ‘with the other hand, but the second time’ may be a better interpretation.
But came tyde– but once again the high tide came. Here tide also refers time.
Made my…pray– made the poet’s pains his prey. The sea washed away his second effort to write her name on the strand.
NB. The expression is here metaphorical. The poet’s labour to write his lady’s name on the sandy shore was the prey to the devouring sea. Of course, the implication is plain enough. The poet’s labour was turned to naught by the rolling waves of the sea. Human efforts are negligible before the eternal flow of nature.
Lines 5-8 : Vayne man– foolish person who makes vain efforts. N. B. Of course, this ‘vain man is the poet himself.
Sayd she– this is the ladylove.
That doest… assay– who attempted in vain. The attempt of the poet to write her name on the strand was futile for the sea would always wash it away in no time.
A mortal thing– mortal being i e, the lady herself.
So to immortalise– in order to make her immortal.
A mortall thing…to immortalize – the poet’s attempt was to immortalize a mortal being.
Vayne man….immortalize– the ladylove sharply criticized his attempt to write her name on the strand. It was all in vain, for a mortal being would not be immortalized. The poet, according to her, made a vain assay, for a mortal being, like herself could not be immortalized.
I myself – the lady herself.
Shall lyke…, decay- shall decay alike.
I myself….. to this decay– the lady herself would be subjected to decay in the like way.
And eek…..out lykewise– her name is also certain to be removed alike. Just as the waves washed away the name of the lady, written by the poet on the strand, her very name would be obliterated altogether from the world.
NB. The mortality of all earthly creatures is here emphasized. Of course, the lady voices here the desperation of the mortal world that is subjected to decay and death.
Lines 9-14 : Nor so this is not so– The poet’s love is not so mortal.
Quod I-the poet said in reply.
Baser things– gross physical elements.
Devise to dy in dust– is subjected to decay and death in dust.
Let baser….dust-gross material elements are subjected to decay and death,
Dy in dust– turn to dust after death.
- “Dust thou art, to dust thou returnest.” The poet hints at the superiority of his love to other material elements, including physical bodies.
But you shall live by fame– the poet is quite confident. His ladylove shall not be subjected to decay. She will ever remain in the poet’s verse that shall make her famous.
My verse– the poet’s verse written in her praise.
Vertues rare– exceptional qualities.
Eternize– turn eternal, make immortal.
My verse…..eternize– the poet’s verse, celebrating his love, shall immortalize the rare virtues of his beloved woman.
NB. The poet has a firm faith in the power of his verse to immortalize his love. This is, of course, a quite original aspect of Spenser’s sonnet, for no other sonneteer before him is found to express the robust belief to eternise love by the power of verse. Spenser is here seen to anticipate Shakespeare. Cf. Shakespeare’s
“And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,”
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand”
(Sonnet No. 60)
In the hevens– this may mean ‘to eternity’, but a more appropriate sense is, perhaps, ‘in the sky!’
Wryte your glorious name– the poet record his ladylove’s name as an everlasting element of glory.
Your glorious name– of course her name will be made glorious by the poet’s verse.
NB. The entire faith is prompted by an intense passion of love.
Where whenas- whereas, while. Death shall-death is here personified as a destroyer of all. Of course, this is a common poetic practice.
All the world subdew-overpower all other elements in the world.
Death…subdew– death triumphs over all and destroys all.
Our love shall live– their love shall not perish.
NB. Faith and hope here mark the poet’s tone.
Later life renew– make life fresh and new.
Our love shall….renew– the poet feels definite of the survival of his love through his verse. This love will live ever fresh and new in his verse.
NB. This is a bold and original assertion of the power of verse to celebrate and immortalize love. While all other things are doomed and pass away, love remains and lives ever fresh and new, in the poet’s verse. This assertion is an indication of Spenser’s faith not only in the power of his verse to eternise love but also in the permanence of love in this mortal world. Here Spenser seems to echo Shakespeare. Cf. Shakespeare’s (Sonnet No. 116)
“Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.”