Critics have found many meanings, public and private, in Edmund Spenser's "Epithalamion" but what the poem is most clearly and unequivocally is a marriage song. It was addressed to Spenser's young bride Elizabeth Boyle on their wedding day in 1594 and published the following year. The title announces the poem's function as a celebration of marriage and each of the twenty-four stanzas represents an hour of Spenser's wedding day, while the 365 lines represent the days of the year. The poems is full of classical allusions to marriage and begins with an invocation to the Muses to abandon sad songs and strike the joyful note appropriate to a wedding.
The early stanzas are full of impatience for the bride to awake, "for Hymen is awake." Hymen is the god of marriage and wedding ceremonies and is called upon repeatedly throughout the poem. The minstrels sing a song repeating his name:
And evermore they Hymen Hymen sing,
That al the woods them answer and theyr eccho ring.
Later, the poet also calls upon Juno, the goddess with jurisdiction over the "lawes of wedlock." He expresses both love and physical desire for his bride and, towards the end of the poem, his thoughts begin to turn to the children they will have. He ends by calling upon all the gods:
Poure out your blessing on us plentiously,
And happy influence upon us raine,
That we may raise a large posterity...
This unites the private and public purposes of marriage and even goes beyond its temporal public purpose as Spenser expresses the hope that their children may inherit "heavenly tabernacles" and, in a blending of classical and Christian imagery
, add to the number of the saints.