Amoretti, Sonnet 34 by Edmund Spenser

Like as a ship, that through the ocean wide,
By conduct of some star, doth make her way,
Whenas a storm hath dimmed her trusty guide,
Out of her course doth wander far astray:
So I, whose star, that wont with her bright ray
Me to direct, with clouds is overcast,
Do wander now, in darkness and dismay,
Through hidden perils round about me placed;
Yet hope I well that, when this storm is past,
My Helice, the loadstar of my life,
Will shine again, and look on me at last,
With lovely light to clear my cloudy grief.
Till then I wander careful, comfortless,
In secret sorrow, and sad pensiveness.

Summary

The poet says my position is like a ship that sails through the wide ocean with the help and guidance of some star; but when that star is dimmed by a storm, the ship wanders astray from her course and thus loses the true direction. My condition is similar; the bright star that used to direct my way is now overcast with clouds, and I wander in darkness and dismay with hidden dangers surrounding me all around. Yet I am hopeful that when this storm is over, my Helice, the pole star of my life will shine again and look on me with lovely light and the clouds of grief will disappear. Till then I wander, full of worries, comfortless in secret sorrow and pensiveness

Analysis

Spenser draws heavily on Petrarch as regards the metaphors of sea voyages, sea storms and ships. As the ship goes astray when the pole stars disappears behind the clouds, so is the condition of the lover whose guiding star has disappeared leaving him in the stormy seas. Clouds of doubts, indecision and indifference have dimmed her sight. Perhaps she has lost all interest in him. The ship of his life is now in turbulence caused by desire and greed. He is surrounded by darkness and frustration.

Through the images of the sea and the storm Spenser tries to present sensual temptations that separate the lover from his beloved and destroy the bodily ship. Spenser uses the traditional allegory of the tempted ship of the body. Hidden perils recall Homer’s Odyssey where Scylla and Charbydis endanger the passage of Odysseus’s ship. The beloved is the bright star, God-figure or Christ who guides the lover, ennobles him so that he can attain divinity and be united with his beloved—with his God.

There are many temptations which do not enable the lover-ship to see the guiding star. Like storm-ridden ship, the lover is surrounded by doubts, despair and dismay and thus has drifted away from her and finds himself in a precarious situation. Here the poet combines or mixes the Platonic concept of an ideal woman (as the courtly lovers believed and presented their beloveds as angels, goddesses etc.) and the Christian concept of the union of the Christ and the Church. In order to attain divinity, the lover must check his passions and desires and become pure and virtuous. The hidden perils that now checkmate him will disappear as the guiding star reappears with the same glory and splendor. He hopes that the storm will soon blow over and his Helice will shine again as brightly as it did.

Thus there is note of optimism with which the poet consoles himself. However till the storm lasts, he has to bear with the tragic and miserable situation, full of cares and worries. The sonnet has religious connotations too. The sea stands for sensual pleasures. As long as the lover is engrossed in Worldly pleasures and is guided by stormy passions, he cannot be unified with his God—the beloved. He must, like a true Christian, bear with suffering, and should not complain or grieve. Patience is the need. His guiding star will reappear and shine on him once again. But before that the lover has to undergo the ritual of purification—of all base and low sensual desires and appetites. Once his heart and mind are purified, his soul will be purified—and this ritual will pave the way, clear the storm, and bring his Helice once again original brilliance.

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