In "Sonnet 35," what does the speaker long for even though it causes him pain?

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samcestmoi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the opening lines of Spenser’s “Sonnet XXXV,” the speaker states, “My hungry eyes, through greedy covetise/Still to behold the object of their pain.” He speaks of an unrequited love, a woman who, when she is near him and his eyes may look upon her, causes him to “pine” for her, and yet, when she is absent, his eyes “complain” at being deprived of her image.  The pain he speaks of is the unendurable longing he feels for the object of his desire; when he sees her, he laments,

Yet are mine eyes so filled with the store
Of that fair sight, that nothing else they brook,
But loathe the things which they did like before,
And can no more endure on them to look.

So, in her presence everything else that surrounds the speaker becomes loathsome to him – nothing in the world has the right to exist, in his eyes, but the woman he adores.  And yet she is unavailable to him, and the limitations of his relationship with her – that is, being only able to look upon her, and nothing more – cause him great pain.  He longs to see her, her figure is the only thing in the world that is fair and good to him, and yet even the simple act of seeing her distresses him, for he cannot have her.  “So plenty makes me poor,” he states, comparing himself to Narcissus, who starved to death, so absorbed was he in his own reflection.  In a similar manner the speaker is starved of all happiness, all pleasure, so absorbed is he in this unnamed woman’s presence; a love as unattainable as a reflection in a pond.

susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The speaker in Spenser's Sonnet 35 longs to "behold the object" of his eyes' pain.  In other words, he longs to see the woman he covets even though the sight of her makes him hurt all the more.  He knows he can never have her, so when he sees her, he is in pain.  Yet, he cannot help to look at her because she is so beautiful.  He compares himself to Narcissus, the young man in Greek mythology, who also destroyed himself by viewing an adored object.  In Narcissus' case, it was his own reflection; in the speaker's case, the adored one is the woman.  It is a beautiful sonnet of pained unrequited love.  If you've ever had a crush on someone that you knew would never love you back, you will be able to relate to the words of the speaker.