Repetition of Final Stanza Lines In “Epithalamion” Mimics Lyrics

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.

One comment

  • Nice post, Marion. The refrain is one of the most striking aspects of the poem, and I think you’re right in saying it brings out the “song-like” parts of the work, in terms that make sense in our day as much as Spenser’s time.

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