Can you guide me in a comparative analysis of Milton's Sonnet No. 19 with Sonnet No. 23 in Spenser's 'Amoretti'?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a comparative critical analysis of poetry, you want to analyze many things including structure, theme, tone, mood, tropes (four master tropes: metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, irony), figurative language, rhetorical word schemes, imagery and symbolism. These are the poetic devices--the poetic elements and techniques--that comprise critical poetic analysis.

The themes should be fairly clear: Spenser's theme is Elizabeth's refusal to return his love, while Milton's theme is his spiritual consternation over the limitations imposed by his blindness. The overarching metaphor structuring Spenser's is a comparison of Elizabeth's love-unraveling, love-withering looks and words to Penelope's deliberate deceit with her unraveling weaving while awaiting Odysseus's longed for return. The overarching metaphor structuring Milton's is a Biblical duality comparing his vision to light (physical and spiritual) and his writing talent to service. [I'll have space and time for a discussion of structure, then you can progress through the other analyses on your own.]

The structures are very different though both are sonnets. Milton's is in the structural style of a Petrarchan sonnet, and Milton is credited with reintroducing Petrarchan sonnet form to England. Sonnet XIX is structured as an octet followed by a sestet with no ending couplet and having one volta (volta: a turn, or change, in subject matter under the topic of the sonnet) between lines 8 and 9:

8. I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
9. That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need 

The rhyme scheme is the Petrarchan scheme of abbaabba cdecde. There is concatenation (see below) at the aa couplet. The punctuation is odd: there are less definitive division of thoughts, which seem to be run-ons, and there is much enjambment (i.e., no line-end punctuation). Though hindered by the punctuation style, it is clear the logic of the octet moves from lines 1 and 2 to lines 7 and 8, with lines 3 to 6 interjected as an amplificato (i.e., an amplification):

1. When I consider how my light is spent, 
2. E're half my days, in this dark world and wide,
7. Doth God exact day labour, light deny'd,
8. I fondly ask; But patience to prevent

Spenser's sonnet is in the Spenserian sonnet form that uses concatenation of the rhyme scheme to allow for either (1) changes in subject under the topic of the sonnet or (2) continuation of one single subject. The continuation of a subject was a Spenserian innovation to the sonnet form.

Spenser's Sonnet XXIII structure is three quatrains and one couplet (couplet: two rhyming lines). There are two voltas, thus two changes in subject resulting in three subjects altogether, a new subject in each quatrain (thus two switching, or turning, points). The voltas are between lines 4 and 5 and between lines 8 and 9. The couplet resolves the paradox of the third quatrain with a metaphor between his labor in love and the spider's web so easily torn by a the wind.

The rhyme scheme is the Spenserian scheme of ababbcbccdcdee. Concatenation (an important concept in Spenserian sonnet analysis) is the joining of ideas through a repeated rhyme scheme. Thus we see concatenation between the 1st and 2nd stanzas and between the 2nd and 3rd stanzas. The concatenation--or "linking" of subject ideas--occurs at the bb and cc couplets: ababbcbccdcdee. Spenser's punctuation shows more definitive division of thoughts than Milton's.

Such subtle craft my Damsel doth conceive,
  th' importune suit of my desire to shun:
  for all that I in many days do weave,
  in one short hour I find by her undone. 

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