Epithalamion by Edmund Spenser was very confusing to read because of the way it was written. The way words were spelled made it difficult for me to find and follow the pace of the poem. Because I had to pay more attention and read the poem much more closely, I was able to catch that the speaker, the groom, mentions Greek Gods during most of the poem, but during the wedding itself, the ceremony is of Christian beliefs. This caught my attention because I thought that Christianity frowned upon Pagan beliefs, then why does the groom make comments to various Greek Gods to make the wedding day go smoothly as well as to shower the bride and groom with blessings and gifts of children. Not only that, but he also makes comments that compare himself and his bride to the Gods.
I assume that Edmund Spenser was a Christian man, therefore the Christian wedding; however, I believe his use of Greek mythology in the poem brought another dimension into the reading. That is probably why he chose to rely so heavily on it throughout the piece. The use of Greek Gods almost gave the wedding day and its events a fairy tale scenario, which is something that most weddings strive for.
Because so much Greek mythology was used in this reading, I sometimes found it difficult to know exactly what he was referring to. I believe an easier way to approach this poem would be to brush up on what each of the Greek Gods mentioned represent. This would make it easier to know what the groom was making references and connections to.
As I mentioned above, the language used in this poem was difficult to read because of its old English style, however I believe it worked well with the poem. One simply would need more time to understand and digest it, so to say.
Christopher Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to His Love was a fairly quick and simple read. The stanzas fully used end rhyme and had the fairy tale bounce sound to it. I expected the lines to rhyme with one another but I did not expect, however, the semi dark undertones. It made me think of a reverse fairy tale where the maiden is tricked into a situation, which she does not anticipate to be as horrible as it ends up being. The rhyme makes the words sound easy-going and a world in which the girl can be carefree. Contrary to the structure and flow of this poem, the meaning gave me a feeling of unease. Courtship etiquette does not include eloping or trying to convince ladies to run away with a man. I know that even today many families frown upon that type of practice. My own family would not be pleased if I were persuaded to run away with a man. One of the stanzas, for example:
A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.
Had me thinking about the type of man this speaker is as well. Material possessions, such as fancy jewelry, may provide instant gratification but do not have lasting effects in the things that matter. It is almost as if this man is bribing the lady to be with him. Although I initially smiled at this love poem, I realized after a second and third read that it has some darker undertones and implications. Another thought that popped up into my head was that this could simply be a man who has a feelings for a girl and simply wants to express his feelings toward her and how he feels she should be treated.
Epithalamion. Where do I even start?
Epithalamion is, without a doubt, the longest and most difficult poem I have ever read. Each time I set out to write these blog posts, I think of the prompt question “what made you stop in your tracks while you were reading?” For Epithalamion, I stopped before I even started. Realizing this poem was a full ten pages was so incredibly discouraging that I closed my book and procrastinated for at least two more days. Then I finally started and it took me an embarrassingly long time to get through it, only to realize that I actually had absolutely no idea what I read. Not only was the length a challenge, but the wording was indecipherable to me as well. Had this poem been written in Modern English, I probably would have flown through it and maybe even enjoyed it, but the Old English writing was troublesome. Admittedly, I put the book down again and gave up a second time.
What I realized later was that the only way to get through this poem was to do it in increments, and, unfortunately, by translating line for line. I ended up doing it one stanza at a time, with copious amounts of breaks and gummy bear rewards. The only thing that I was able to hold on to each time that I read the poem, was the final line in each stanza, about the ringing eccho. Despite my struggles with the poem, having a repeating line at the end of each stanza to grasp on to made the form and intent clearer, and made it manageable.
As far as “ideas to overcome these difficulties,” I have very little. Like I said, line-for-line translations are probably the best way to go, as well as breaking up the amount of time you try to spend with one poem before you end up ripping all your hair out.
At first glance, Christopher Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to His Love seems like a poem about a pure love. He wants to move to the country side with his lover and he promises her “beds of roses,” buckles of the purest gold,” “coral clasps and amber studs,” and many other extravagant and romantic things. He acts as if he has the capacity to give her all of these things and that he will only bring her happiness if she moves with him to the “valleys, groves, hills, and fields.”
If I only read the poem through once, I would have ended my opinion of the poem at that. However, after repeating the poem aloud, I realized that there is a turn of events at the second to last line of the poem,
“If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.”
I did not think much of these last two lines. However, the keyword here is “if.” When I first read the poem, the catchy rhymes and smooth flow had me completely overlook the subtle turn around. After around the third time of reciting the poem, my tone changed at the last two lines without myself realizing. The word “if” made me realize that he is promising all of these things for the mere purpose of getting the girl to come with him. He may give her all of these things-only he will know-but from the context I felt that he is making empty promises. It made me think of the saying, “promises are made to be broken.”
Epithalamion was quite a difficult to poem to understand in totality. I thoroughly enjoyed the word choice and the way the sounds blended together, especially the refrain:
“So I unto my selfe alone will sing,
The woods shall to me answer and my echo ring”
Unfortunately due to a select few characteristics of the poem, I had more difficulty than I expected in capturing the full meaning of the poem.
First, and most obviously, was the difficulty aroused by the antiquated vocabulary that was used. While the words individually were not all that difficult to translate, attempting to get a feel for the flow of the poem while reading was extremely difficult because I had to stop quite often to think about a particular line for awhile to parse out it’s meaning, for example: “. This is true of many poems however even those written in modern day English. So what makes this so much tougher? I believe that the length of the poem relative to many of the other poems we have read thus far contributed to the aforementioned difficulty of understanding. 433 lines and 24 stanzas is no easy task when the English itself is not familiar. My solution to both of these issues was to read the poem multiple times, however I still failed in my mind to grasp the complete context of the poem.
I then tried to look at rhyme scheme to gain more understanding of the poem. I looked at the rhyme scheme of each stanza, ABABCCDCDEEFGGFFGG. I am still unsure as to how the writer picked this particular rhyme scheme, but it only served to confuse me further, because it did not help put any perspective on the poem. My theory is that the rhyme scheme started more chaotic with a line of separation between the rhyming pairs, and then towards the refrain, became more concise with the pairs in consecutive lines. This gave the stanza a feeling of conclusion, which in conjunction with the repeating last line helped provide placeholders in the poem.
Epithalamion read as an epic tribute to the speaker’s beloved in celebration of a long-time love realized. “For lo the wished day is come at last.” The 23 stanzas of the poem are indicative of time elapsing and anticipation mounting, culminating with the image of his beloved as “an endless moniment.” In the poem Spenser has monumentalized his love for this woman through his comparison of her to the fairest creatures and Goddesses, and through his language has made her and her beauty accessible to others through his eyes, completely wrapped up in his vision, his allusions. I really enjoyed the stanza beginning with the line “But if ye saw that which no eyes can see,” where he describes her inner beauty and purity. Spenser seemed to be stressing her purity, necessary to enter into a sort of divine, mythic union, at the same time likening her to a child.
The length of this poem was challenging to me. Engagement through rhyme became increasingly difficult to maintain, but the work I did rereading the poem a few times was rewarding. The narration was dream-like and probably sounds beautiful spoken aloud had I not stumbled on the words or had I known how to pronounce them properly. I did not know what to make of the refrains that varied slightly at the end of each stanza, with the final stanza being the exception. There, maybe, he is asking for good fortune for their future, to be as magical as their past, which resulted in the creation of the author’s “song,” the best gift he can give her, separating what has come before as inspiration to him and what he looks forward to in the future.
An Epithalamion is a poem written by the groom for his bride to hear on their wedding day. Historically, the poem is presented as a song for the bride and is sung by multiple people. In Spenser’s Epithalamion, he declares his love and writes that as the poem is sung, “The woods shall answer and my Eccho ring.” This poem is 24 stanzas long and each of the following 23 stanzas ends with a variation of this line. Initially, the repetition of this line was puzzling to me and I had difficulty decoding the meaning and why Spenser decided to have each stanza end with these variations.
This refrain made the poem difficult to read because even though the stanzas make sense individually and follow the chronology of the speakers wedding day, this ending line connects them. The individual poem doesn’t follow strict structure regarding a rhythm scheme or pattern, but all stanzas are tied together. This is similar to the structure of a song. The ending line causes enjambment and makes the stanzas end abruptly. I interpreted this ending line as similar to a chorus in a song because it is repeated multiple times and links all the stanzas together. There are also many references within the poem to singing and noises, which made me think of a song as well. The stanzas also tell a story which is a core characteristic of song lyrics.
For me to understand the meaning and reason for this ending line it was important to not focus on the lines on the page but instead on the history behind this poem and the time frame in which it was written. This helped me realize that the song aspect is a very influential part of an epithalamion and is why Spencer repeats variations of the ending line in each stanza.
“Epithalamion” was an overall difficult poem to read for a few different reasons. First and foremost, the language Edmund Spenser writes with is that of the 16th century. Presumably, the poem would be easier to follow by someone living in that time period because they are used to speaking and reading in such archaic language. In modern times, our colloquial language is generally more informal, so reading work from the past does not come as naturally. Because I really had to think about what Spenser meant when he wrote many of the lines in “Epithalamion” by reasoning and, in a sense, translating them into English that I could understand, the poem did not flow well for me. Having to stop after each line and put them into language that I could follow meant I read the poem slowly, line by line, rather than in a fluid manner, which made it hard to look at the poem as a whole. An example of this was in lines 92-95: “My love is now awake out of her dreames,/ And her fayre eyes like stars that dimmèd were/ With darksome cloud, now shew theyr goodly beams/ More bright then Hesperus his head doth rere.” Spenser here is admiring his bride-to-be’s eyes right after she woke up; it takes him four very convoluted and dense lines to say, essentially, that he likes her eyes, and after having to think about this and translate the lines into something that I could understand, I was taken out of the flow of the poem. A second, lesser reason that made this poem difficult was the constant allusions. Without knowledge of the things Spenser alludes to, I had to look them up to fully understand what he meant, which further took away from reading the poem in a steady way.
I think a way to make the reading of this poem easier would be a “No Fear Shakespeare” type thing. By this, I mean translating the poem line-by-line into more modern English and putting the translation aside the original text. Then, when reading, if I have trouble understanding a line, I could quickly glance at the modern translation. This would allow me to maintain the flow of the poem and continue reading it as a whole rather than having to stop and break it up.
Edmund Spenser’s construction of “Epithalamion” has a concluding stanza that contrasts against the rest of the poem.
The length of the final stanza is a shorter 7 lines, and it lacks a pattern of short and long lines as well as rejecting some previous repetition (“woods us answer…echo ring”). The footnotes attribute the change in length to the requirements of form. This change seems comparable to the end of a typical modern song, where the chorus is modified to make a short and clear ending – but the lack of repetition and pattern is unnerving.
I interpreted the final stanza as Spenser explaining that he doesn’t have the “ornaments” he wants to give his bride, so he wrote a song in order for her to have an eternal gift.
That interpretation is skewed by this line: “(this poem is) and for a short time an endless monument”. Spenser acknowledges the decaying nature of time, which is ironic because parts of the poem are focused on an “eternal…bond”. With closer inspection, this final line echoes the poem’s undertones. Spenser transitions the repetitive statements at the end of each stanza. They begin as “the woods shall to me answer and my Eccho ring”. These lines evolve until they end up as “the woods no more us answer, nor our eccho ring”. This could be a symbol for how time will eventually run it’s course and the pair will be forgotten. Spenser and his wife are “for short time an endless monument”, but – like the poem – no less beautiful because of it.
This interpretation of time can explain the differences mentioned earlier. Spenser has eliminated the “woods” and the “eccho” completely – and one day, he too, will be erased. So he replaced that previous repetition to emphasize the nature of his temporarily eternal love.
Christopher Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to His Love sounds like a bouncy love poem at first read, but upon digging deeper, I think the author may have had slightly different intentions. It seems that Marlowe is trying to entice a girl to run away with him, which is probably not proper courtship, and he is making expansive promises to her that he likely cannot keep.
Like this stanza for instance:
A gown made of the finest wool / Which from our pretty lambs we pull, / Fair lined slippers for the cold, / With buckles of the purest gold.
So, out in the country he’ll have the finest wool and he, himself will be able to make a beautiful gown? And he also has gold to give her, upon her agreeing to come?
Marlowe’s use of rhyme gives the poem a very lighthearted and flowing sound, maybe to take away from the fact that he’s trying to improperly snag a woman. He uses enjambment which places an emphasis on the end words – words which further make me believe that this poem is a little more scandalous. Some of the words he ends his lines on are “prove”, “pull”, “studs”, “move”,”meat”, “me”. That may be a stretch, but I think Marlowe is ending on these words for a reason, and that reason being to clue in the reader about his motives. Marlowe does a very good job at disguises his intentions and dropping clues if you know where to look.