Discuss the use of navigational imagery in "Like As A Ship." Like as a ship that through the ocean wide, by conduct of some star doth make her way, whenas a storm hath dimmed her trusty guide, out...

Discuss the use of navigational imagery in "Like As A Ship."

Like as a ship that through the ocean wide,

by conduct of some star doth make her way,

whenas a storm hath dimmed her trusty guide,

out of her course doth wander dar astray,

So I whose star, that wont with her bright ray,

me to direct, with clouds is overcast,

do wander now in darkness and dismay,

throgh hidden perils round about me placed.

Yet hope I well, that when this storm is past

my Helice, the lodestar of my life

will shine again, and look on me at last,

with lovely light to clear my cloudy grief.

Till then I wander carefull, comfortless,

in secret sorrow and sad pensiveness

Expert Answers
James Kelley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edmund Spenser’s Sonnet 34 is indeed full of navigational imagery. We can even see all of the imagery in this poem adding up to form an analogy (an extended and non-literal comparison between two things). We need to read a few lines of the poem to figure out exactly what is being compared. As shown in the opening line, smething is being compared to a ship: “Like as a ship…”. In line 5, we learn that the thing being compared to this ship is the speaker in the poem: “So I…”

One thing for us to determine, then, may be what these two things – the ship and the speaker in the poem – have in common. The ship, we are told, had been guided by a star until a storm developed, blocking the ship’s view of the star and leading the ship to “wander far astray.” The speaker’s ship is much less literal, of course; it must be a woman (line 5 mentions “her bright ray”). To the speaker, she is “the lodestar of my life,” the fixed point by which the speaker is able to make sense of purpose in life. (“Lodestar” is an interesting word. It’s likely another term for Polaris, the North Star, by which ships have navigated for centuries.) We're not told exactly what the storm is in the speaker's life, and maybe it's fair to make an informed guess. What do you think it might be?

The link below will take you to a previous discussion of this poem at enotes.com.

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Imagery is when words are used to describe the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. In this poem, Spenser uses visual imagery to liken the narrator's emotional state to a ship that is adrift on the open seas. In those times, ships relied on the stars to help orient and guide them in the right direction. In this poem, Spenser has the reader envision a ship sailing without stellar guidance on the ocean on a stormy, cloudy night. He uses words such as the sky "with clouds is overcast" to help us imagine how the scene looks. 

Spenser has the narrator liken this image of a ship alone on a perilous seas with no stars visible in the sky to his own fate without his beloved, Helice. The narrator hopes that when "this storm is past," Helice will again become the lodestar of his life. The lodestar is the North Star, the main star guiding a ship across a sea.

We can assume from the narrator's words that he and Helice have had a quarrel. It helps us understand the narrator's extreme feelings of desolation and loneliness by comparing his emotions to the concrete images of a ship drifting helplessly on a dark ocean. These images act as an extended metaphor for the narrator's sense of loneliness.