Antiquated language and odd rhyme scheme in Epithalamion

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.

One comment

  • Interesting post, Ash. Yes, Spencer’s language can be tough, and simply keeping up with what he’s saying can keep the formal elements of the poem out of view. I like your attention to the rhyme scheme here as well. It’s incredibly complex, and it changes sometimes from stanza to stanza. One argument could be that the complexity of the rhyme is an end in itself. That is, when the poem is read aloud, our ear responds to the intricate repetitions even as we have to sort of marvel at Spenser’s ability to sustain such a complicated structure for so long.

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