In Sonnet 1 of Edmund Spenser's Amoretti, what is the function of the use of personification in describing the "leaves," that is pages with poems?
In sonnet 1 of Edmund Spenser’s sixteenth-century sonnet sequence titled Amoretti, the speaker addresses the “happy leaves” (or pages) of a book as if they were living things. This use of personification is part of the wit of the poem. Instead of treating the pages of the book as mere physical objects, the speaker addresses them as if they were capable of responding and feeling. In the strict sense, of course, they cannot, but by speaking as he does, the speaker already characterizes himself as an imaginative fellow. He even seems somewhat fanciful, and perhaps Spenser is already implying that we should not take this speaker completely seriously. He seems to rely more on his imagination than on anything resembling clear, logical reasoning (let alone deep religious belief), and therefore perhaps Spenser is already suggesting that this speaker is not thinking entirely clearly or responsibly.
Partly his use of personification is simply a standard poetic practice of this period; perhaps the speaker believes that such personification makes him seem cleverer than he would seem if his phrasing were more prosaic. Perhaps, too, he personifies the pages because he wishes he were in their place: being touched, physically, by the hands of the woman he desires. The pages, in this sense, become his alter ego; they will experience in fact what he can experience only in fantasy.
For very well edited version of Amoretti, please see
Larsen, Kenneth J., ed. Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti and Epithalamion: A Critical Edition. Tempe, AZ: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1997.