In the early 1590s, the widowed Edmund Spenser wooed and won Elizabeth Boyle, who married him in 1594. The following year, Spenser published a small volume that included the sonnet sequence Amoretti and the Epithalamion, a celebration of the success of his courtship.
An epithalamion is a wedding song whose Greek name conveys that it was sung on the threshold of the bridal chamber. Spenser follows the conventions of this wedding song, which include an invocation of the Muses. For instance, in the first line, he alludes to the "learned sisters," who are the Muses, and he mentions Phoebus, "the father of the Muse." In addition, there is the description of the bride's procession, the religious ceremony, the dancing and singing at the wedding celebration, the preparations for the wedding night, and the consummation of the marriage.
In lovely, extended, and flowing stanzas, Spenser follows the Greek conventions, though he adapts them to his small-town Irish setting and folklore. However, he clearly innovates as he begins not as the traditional admiring observer, but as the bridegroom as well as the poet: "So I unto my selfe alone will sing" (l.16).
With its rich, subtle structure, Spenser's "Epithalamion" seems to depict more than a single day of celebration. Beyond this particular event, the elaborate poem is itself "a goodly ornament" (l.432) and an "endlesse monument" of art to the passing day that it celebrates.