What is the relationship between truth, artifice, and sincerity in Edmund Spencer’s Amoretti?

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The relationship between truth, artifice, and sincerity in Spenser's Amoretti is somewhat paradoxical. Although Spenser constantly affirms his sincerity, he does so in language that he recognizes as being artificial.

Throughout the poems in the Amoretti sequence, Spenser is at pains to convince the addressee of his absolute sincerity. In...

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The relationship between truth, artifice, and sincerity in Spenser's Amoretti is somewhat paradoxical. Although Spenser constantly affirms his sincerity, he does so in language that he recognizes as being artificial.

Throughout the poems in the Amoretti sequence, Spenser is at pains to convince the addressee of his absolute sincerity. In the very first poem of the sequence, he promises to reveal the “sorrowes of my dying spright.” In the second sonnet, he refers to the pain that gives rise to his writing of poetry, “th'inward bale” of a heart that pines for love.

At the same time, the language in which Spenser writes these heartfelt love poems is artificial by its very nature. The speaker of the poem is all too aware of how easy it is to exalt artifice in place of what is genuine and true. In Sonnet 21, in referring to the beauty of his lover's eyes, he says:

Thus doth she traine and teach me with her lookes,
such art of eyes I never read in bookes.

Yet, the speaker is all too aware that we are reading these very lines in a book. As we cannot attest to the truth of what he says about his lover's eyes, we have to take his word for it, which is expressed through the artificial language of poetry.

Spenser gives the game away in Sonnet 17, where he frankly admits that

The sweet eye-glaunces, that like arrowes glide,
the charming smiles, that rob sence from the hart:
the lovely pleasance and the lofty pride,
cannot expressed be by any art.

In other words, art cannot fully express the beauty of the speaker's beloved. There is a clear gap, then, between the speaker's sincerely-held feelings and the language in which those feelings are expressed. This serves to highlight the paradoxical and complex relationship between truth and artifice in Spenser's Amoretti.

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