Edmund Spenser's "One Day I Wrote Her Name," is a fourteen-line sonnet written about a woman that he loves, as he tries to eternalize her in verse, so that she will live on forever.
The sonnet is written in iambic-pentamter, with the rhyme scheme ABABCDCDEFEFGG, which shows the pattern of rhyme scheme; there is rhyming couplet at the end of the poem, which acts as the summary of the previous twelve lines.
The first four lines show the futility of life—or love—lasting forever, like writing in the sand. The speaker says that he does this: writing his sweetheart's love in the sand, but that the waves come and wash it away twice.
One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Agayne I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tyde, and made my paynes his pray.
In the next four lines, the speaker's lady love tells him that he works in vain to immortalize her, "A mortal thing…" She points out that one day she will die—her body will fall to decay as all living things must—in that moment, she says her name will be lost, wiped out as the wave erases the letters in the sand. In essence, she is telling him to "pull himself together: this is the way of life and death."
Vayne men, sayd she, that doest in vaine assay,
A mortall thing so to immortalize,
For I my selve shall lyke to this decay,
And eek my name bee wyped out lykewize.
The author's love for this woman is so great that he refuses to accept what she has said, and strives to prove her wrong. Other things that are "baser" may die and rot, but he insists that by writing this poem, he will immortalize her so that long after her death, even the heavens will remember her "glorious" name. In this he is now not speaking of her natural beauty, but her spiritual "loveliness."
...he seeks to immortalize...not the physical beauty of the beloved, but those spiritual qualities…[of her] spiritual beauty...
Perhaps he is not only promising that men and angels will remember her and she will live on, but some essence of this woman he loves so passionately will live on in him with these words.
Not so, (quod I) let baser things devize
To dy in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your vertues rare shall eternize,
And in the hevens wryte your glorious name.
The rhyming couplet serves to summarize the poem's intent. This is the main thought the speaker is trying to share—to make understood. He claims that while the rest of the world will pass away—be "subdued" by the circle of life and death—his love will allow them both to live on in this verse.
Where whenas death shall al the world subdew,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.
The poet believes that while people pass away, words eternalize a person so that he or she may live on beyond the boundaries that apply to most humans. The theme of immortality achieved through literature is not uncommon, and in all the years that have passed since the poem's inception, though we do not know her name, we still remember his love for her—which does live on in verse.
In Sonnet 75, Spenser's "One Day I Wrote Her Name...
...he claimed to have found permanence in the monument created by art
Spenser believes that by eternalizing the beautiful essence of her spirituality, she will live on in the next life—as will their love—beyond the end of time on earth.