Amoretti 88 is part of the sequence that follows Elizabeth Boyle's long awaited and dearly hoped for acceptance of Spenser's suit for her hand in marriage. Elizabeth was to become Spenser's second wife and, being much younger than he, had serious hesitations about him on these counts. Amoretti 87, 88, and 89 end the sonnet cycle and all lament the separation preceding the great wedding day--which will be celebrated in the writing of the Epithalamion, their wedding poem.
Amoretti 88 follows and continues the theme of the sonnet devoted to the Pentacost (87) in the correlation between the Amoretti and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Pentecost is about expecting the return of the beloved Lord in the form of the Holy Spirit as promised. Spenser alludes to this in 87 in relation to his expectation in awaiting his union with his beloved on their wedding day: "Thus I the time with expectation spend."
Amoretti 88 carries this expectant waiting further and likens Elizabeth to his light, the absence of which leaves him wandering in darkness: "I wander as in darkness of the night." The second quatrain uses the line 5 volta to turn the import of wandering in darkness to seeing nothing though in brightest day. He says the only image he can see is that burned of Elizabeth, his "heavenly ray," into his vision:
But th'only image of that heavenly ray,
Whereof some glance doth in mine eye remain.
The second volta at line 9 turns this theme to deeper contemplation of his experience. He says his pure mind contemplates the "heavenly ray," which for him becomes sustenance from which he may nourish his heart as it is famished in the waiting period:
With light thereof I do myself sustain,
And thereon feed my love-afamished heart.
The couplet finalizes or resolves the sonnet--though it is a paradoxical resolution--by contrasting the sustenance of her light to the starvation his waiting expectation affords his body and sight: in other words, he is love sick and has no appetite for food nor vision for anything but her image emblazoned on his vision and nourishing his heart:
But with such brightness whilst I fill my mind,
I starve my body and mine eyes do blind.
This iambic pentameter sonnet has the Spenserian rhyme scheme of ababbcbccdcd ee. The repetition of /bb/ and /cc/ at lines 4/5 and 7/8 signify the Spenserian concatenation that links the three quatrains together. This affords three couplets and facilitates elaborating on a theme, which Spenser often does instead of contrasting themes according to Petrarchan paradox. Thus, in his sonnet cycle, Spenser can carry his love and courtship to a full and successful conclusion; thus Spenser builds a new poetic convention: rather than lamenting love's paradoxical contradictions and heartbreaks as other sonneteers had done, Spenser chronicles courtship and betrothal.
The last sonnet, 89, ends the cycle by comparing Spenser to a dove (culver) that sits on a bough in darkened day (a variation on the blinded sight of sonnet 88) while awaiting "her faire light," the absence of which leaves him as though dead until he attains the presence of Elizabeth's "lively bliss" on their wedding day. This is a grand lead in to the Epithalamion.