(i) Title: Sonnet LXXV
(ii) Poet: Edmund Spenser (c. 1554-1599)
(iii) Date of Composition: 1592-1594
(iv) Collection: Amoretti and Epithalamion
(v) Poetic Genre: Spenserian Sonnet
(vi) Setting: A Beach
(vii) The Speaker: A lover and poet
(viii) Content: Ocean, love, immortality and the great power of the almighty Poetry.
2. Lines 1-2
One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away;
These lines set the scene: the speaker and his beloved Elizabeth Boyle are chilling at the beach. The speaker decides to get all romantic and write her name in the sand. However, the waves wash her name away. The writing on the sand refers to the lover's insistence on making a worldly impact on his beloved. The waves are metaphorically used to represent the futile attempt by man to fight back against the infinite vortex of time. In short, these lines showcase the speaker's pessimism of confronting time.
3. Lines 3-4
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide and made my pains his prey.
The speaker is pretty intrepid. He writes his beloved's name in the sand again. The tide comes in and washes her name away again. The reattempt of the speaker represents the continual meditative quality of humanity to contemplate the thought of not dying, yet it also seems to defy the logic because he knows that her name will be erased shortly after the waves hit. The speaker refers to his writing as "his pains" which are the "prey" of the cruel waves. He basically imagines that the waves are like a mean old predator, just waiting to pounce on his poor defenseless writing.
4. Lines 5-6
Vain man (said she) that dost in vain assay
A mortal thing so to immortalise;
These lines show that the sonnet is a dialogue. The beloved says to the speaker that he is narcissistic and his attempt to preserve her name in the sand is silly and futile. She is telling him that his gesture will never work, that he is being proud in thinking that his writing is more powerful than the forces of nature. He is trying in vain to make her name immortal, when in fact it is mortal. In short, that beloved thinks that the speaker is making his bid for immortality out of vanity and self-satisfaction.
5. Lines 7-8
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise.
These lines are the continuation of the beloved's speech. She says that she, too, will decay and disappear, just as her name has disappeared from the beach. She, too, will be "wiped out". In Spenser's day, the word "eke" meant "also". It is one of those words that have been wiped out by the waves of time. So to summarize, the beloved thinks that the speaker is being a little silly by continually writing her name in the sand, and she recognized that, like her name, she won't live forever. However, she does not grasp the concept of life after death.
6. Lines 9-10
Not so (quod I); let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame;
At this point in the sonnet, we get a classic volta, in which the poem changes its tune. So far, the poem has been all about mortality -- how nothing and no one can live forever. But now, the poem begins to say that actually, yes, some things do live forever. The dialogue shifts from the beloved to the speaker himself. He tells his beloved that the things that are less important than her will die and become dust. However, she will live forever by fame. In other words, the speaker thinks that death is for suckers and his beloved is most definitely not a sucker.
7. Lines 11-12
Mere verse your virtues rare shall eternise,
And in the heavens write your glorious name:
In these lines the speaker describes how his beloved will forever. He says that his verse i.e. poetry will "eternise" all of his beloved's virtues, and that it will write her name in the heavens, not in the sand. The writing in the sand is just a child's play. However, poetry does all the heavy lifting in making someone eternal. His poetry will be so awesome that it will make her immortal. In short, the speaker wants to immortalize the glorious name and spiritual loveliness of his beloved through his poetry.
8. Lines 13-14
Where, when as Death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.
In this couplet the speaker either reveals himself to be the most loving boyfriend ever, or the most clueless one. He says to his beloved that death will kill everyone in the whole wide world. However, their love will go on forever because of his poetry. In other words, even though their physical love will die with their bodies, the essence of their love will exit forever in the enigmatic cosmos by renewing itself into the hearts of new lovers through the words of his poetry. In short, words eternalze a person and he or she can live on beyond the boundaries that apply to most humans.
9. Literary Devices
(i) Rhyme Scheme: ABAB/BCBC/CDCD/EE.
(ii) Meter Check: Iambic pentameter
(iii) Alliteration: "Waves and washed", "pain and prey", devise, die, and dust", verse and vertues", "where and whenas", and "love, live, and later life".
(iv) Symbols: Name (beloved), tide (time), sand (memories)
(v) Metaphor: Tide (predator)
(vi) Imagery: strand, name, waves, tide
(vii) Tone: Calm, resolute, and optimistic
(viii) Themes: Immortality, love, Literature and writing
Through his use of poetic techniques, Spenser succeeds at his experiment with literature. The surface narrative of the sonnet is about a lover expressing his love for a woman, however, the poem is actually about the contradiction between mortality and immortality - permanence and temporariness. The poem encapsulates the power of language in the sense that master poets have the ability to manipulate the English language in such a way that enables them to make grand assertions about life's most important questions in such short and beautiful lines. Even with the limitations of the human conditions, Spenser proves that poetry has the capacity to make one immortal. In short, it is one of the most famous sonnets Spenser ever wrote.