Last Stanza of “Epithalamion”

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.











One comment

  • Fabulous reflection on the poem, Clara! That last stanza—called an “envoy,” or parting address—is a tricky one. It seems to sum up the poem, but always strikes me as sort of coming out of nowhere each time I read it. We’ll be spending some time talking about those last 7 lines, and their relation to the poem at large, in class.

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