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Like most great poems, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene is less important for its meaning than for its artistry. One key aspect of the artistry of any poem involves the poem’s sound effects and the skill with which they are used. The opening stanza of The Faerie Queene is typical of this poem’s skillful use of sounds. Note, for instance, the use of alliteration (repetition of consonant sounds, italicized here) and assonance (repetition of similar vowel sounds, boldfaced here) in the first two lines:
Lo I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske,
As time her taught, in lowly Shepheards weeds,
Note, too, the regular use of iambic meter in lies 3-4, in which the odd syllables are unstressed and the even syllables are stressed:
Am now enforst a far vnfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds,
The establishment of a regular metrical beat, such as the one established here, allows the poet to play variations on that pattern, so that it does not become monotonous and so that he can emphasize other words or syllables by surprising us, as he does in line 7:
Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
The emphasis on the first syllable here catches us off-guard and thus gives extra emphasis to the key word “me.” (Note, too, how this line also employs both alliteration again in the repeated “m” sounds and assonance again in the repeated long “e” sound.
Although alliteration, assonance, and a clear metrical pattern are hardly the only sound effects Spenser uses skillfully in this poem, they are three of the most important.
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