One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Agayne I wrote it with a second hand;
But came the tyde, and made my paynes his pray.
“Vayne man,” sayd she, “that doest in vaine assay
A mortall thing so to immortalize;
For I my selve shall lyke to this decay,
And eke my name bee wyped out lykewize.”
“Not so,” quod I; “let baser things devize
To dy in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your vertues rare shall eternize,
And in the hevens wryte your glorious name.
Where, when as death shall all the world subdew,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.”
Summary and Analysis
Edmund Spenser in Sonnet 75 “One day I wrote her name” talks about immortalizing his love for the beloved in glowing terms in his verses (sonnets). The Sonnet 75 of Amoretti is not only a celebration of the poet’s love for the beloved but also his verses. It is true that it is because of the love for the beloved that the sonnet sequence sees the light of the day and it is also true that without the beloved the poet-lover would not have created the verses which can immortalize their love. Thus the verses and the love for the beloved are dependent on each other in an organic way leading to the Sonnet 75 of Amoretti be a celebration of both the poet-lover as well as the beloved.
It is a well known belief and also probably a fact in this world that true love can transcend all boundaries of mortality and can look forward to being immortal. We know many immortal love stories – whether they be of Romeo and Juliet or that of Heer-Ranjha. Not only that these are the two stories, but in each folk lores, we will find numerous such love stories which are immortalized. Immortality is love is a well known fact and it is to that immortal love that the poet-lover is aspiring to in this sonnet. And when we are reading this poem today, it has become a truth that Edmund Spenser’s love for his beloved has become immortal as does his beloved.
The sonnet starts with the poet-lover writing the name of the beloved on the sand in the beach and the sea wave comes and washes it away. The lover writes the name for the second time and yet again the wave does the same. The imagery is significant in not only understanding love of the poet-lover for his beloved but also the nature of human existence. The significant ideas that the first four lines (quatrain) of the Sonnet 75 deals with are –
- The poet lover seems to be so engrossed with the beloved that he cannot think of anything else but the beloved. So even when he is on a sea beach, instead of having the pleasure of viewing the grandeur and sublime beauty of the sea waves, he is engrossed in the thoughts of the beloved which is making him write her name on the sand. This shows that the lover whole heartedly loves the beloved and cannot but think of anything else but of her.
- That human life is finite and similar to the sea waves, death will come one day and wash us away from this world. As the name of the beloved on the sand is a momentary affair, similarly, human beings life in this world is also momentary and after that one necessarily will encounter death leading to an end to one’s existence in this world.
- The image of Sea is presented to be very ‘masculine’ as it comes with all its might and washes away the name of the beloved which the poet lover painfully writes on the sea shore.
The next quatrain (four lines) is the beloved’s response to the vain efforts of the lover as he tries to etch her name on the sand of the sea shore. The beloved tells the lover that it is his vain effort to try to immortalize her mortal self. The beloved has a fine understanding of the poet lover’s desire to immortalize the love and the beloved and therefore his action of writing name on the sand on the seashore is being read correctly by the beloved, which suggests that the beloved is a sensible as well as intellectual being who can read the mind of the lover very well. But at the same time the beloved is also very practical and rational; as instead of being blown away by the romantic act of etching out the beloved’s name which the waves are washing away, the beloved remind the lover that she is also subject to decay (and eventual death) as all mortal beings are. The comparison that the beloved does about the wiping out of the name and that of the beloved’s life (death) is very poetic in its expression.
These four lines suggest the way in which the lover and the beloved are thinking in a similar fashion. The lover trying to etch out the beloved’s name so as to find ways to immortalize her and the beloved reading the mind of the lover says that he cannot do so as she lives in the realm of the mortal world. Thus the lover and the beloved though are thinking about the same thing; but their worldviews differ a lot as the lover is thinking of ways to transcend the mortal world and the beloved has accepted mortality as a fact of human existence.
In that way, it can easily be said that the sonnet surpasses the theme of love to talk about far greater significant aspect of mortality which is an essential fact of human life and the Renaissance concern for humans is very much evident from the poem. Furthermore, it is also to be understood that the Renaissance poets and dramatists were very much concerned with man’s existence in this world and his relationship to God where the omnipotence of God and the finiteness of human lives were significant concerns of their discourses. The sonnet 75, in such a way makes an attempt to talk about the way in which love can transcend us from this mortal world to the world of immortality – from the finite world to the world of infinity.
In the next six lines (sestet) the last part of the poem, this is the theme that is being discussed by the poet lover as he ponders over the ways in which he can immortalize their love. To the concern of mortality of the beloved that she mentions in the earlier quatrain, the lover says that it is true that “baser things” (people of lower order) think in terms of death and thinks that after death they become “dust.” But the beloved is not one from the “baser things” – she belongs to the higher realm of society. Moreover the poet lover tries to assert the fact that his love for the beloved has transcended her from the baser things to a higher realm and therefore she cannot merely think in terms of death and mortality as all human beings do.
The poet lover also knows the fact that the beloved is going to die one day; that she is mortal; but he feels that before death comes as a final act in their lives, he should devise some ways by which she can be immortalized. The poet asserts again that the beloved “shall live by fame” – signifying that her fame will be such that even after her death people will carry on remembering her and she will thus be immortal. The means that the poet-lover has devised to make her immortal are his verses (poems/ sonnets). The beloved has many virtues which the poet will “eternize” – make eternal – through his poems. Thus the Sonnet 75 provides the readers with the objective of Edmund Spenser’s poems in general and Amoretti in particular. The poet intends to write the “glorious name” of the beloved in heaven with his poems.
In doing this, the poet shows some of the following things –
- The poet lover has firm faith in himself as a poet which makes him think that his verses will be immortal and that through that his beloved too will achieve fame forever.
- That the poetry has power in it to go beyond the realm of the finite world and reach infinitude. Literature or poetry, following Plato’s banishing of poets from the Greek city states for it being not rational enough to provide humans with the adequate knowledge of things, was also taken by the Puritans of the Renaissance England to demonize theatre and poetry. As against the Puritan belief, Edmund Spenser is putting across the value of poems and is stating how poetry can be a means through which we can transcend this world of mortality to reach some kind of infinitude.
- The poet also has faith in the beloved that her virtues are so that they can not only be immortalized in his poems, but also will remain to be virtues across people of different generations and therefore she is an epitome of being a virtuous woman.
Therefore in the last two lines of the poem, the poet lover acknowledges the greatest human truth that the whole world is subdued by death – that we all succumb to death some time or the other; but in spite of it, the poet lover has the power through his verses not only to immortalize their (lover and beloved) love. The most important aspect comes in the last three words of the poem – “later life renew” – where the poet states that their love is such that it can renew their lives and thus make them eternal. Thus the poet’s love as well as his verses has the power in it to go beyond this world to find the world where there are no qualms of mortality.