Edmund Spenser

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Student Question

What is the meaning of this excerpt from Edmund Spenser's Epithalamion?

"My love is now awake out of her dreams, /
and her fair eyes like stars that dimmed were /
With darksome cloud, now show their goodly beams /
More bright than Hesperus his head doth rear."

Quick answer:

These four lines appear in the sixth stanza of Edmund Spenser's Epithalamion. The poem celebrates the 1594 wedding of Spenser and Elizabeth Boyle with a traditional wedding song that calls upon the Muses and describes the entire wedding day in delightful detail. These lines focus on the bride's awakening and on the glimmer of excitement in her eyes when she realizes that it is her wedding day.

Expert Answers

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On June 11, 1594, the poet Edmund Spenser married Elizabeth Boyle. In celebration of their marriage, he composed the poem Epithalamion, a traditional wedding song, that begins by calling on the Muses and then leads hearers and readers through the many events of a wedding day:

My loue is now awake out of her dreames,
And her fayre eyes like stars that dimmed were
With darksome cloud, now shew theyr goodly beams
More bright then Hesperus his head doth rere.

These four lines appear at the beginning of Epithalamion's sixth stanza. The poet has already called upon the Muses to aid and inspire him to praise his bride. He has already asked them to go to her bower, wake her, and help her dress and prepare for the ceremony. He has invoked the various Nymphs as well, begging them to attend to his bride and to protect her from harm.

Then, in the fifth stanza, the poet speaks directly to his love, bidding her to wake, for the morning of their wedding has come. He invites her to listen to the chorus of birds serenading her with their “love-learned song” (line 88) and to be joyous with them.

Finally, the poet's bride awakes, as we see in these four lines. His “loue” (notice the spelling here—in Spenser's day, it was common to substitute u for v) rises out of her dreams. We are left to wonder what these dreams might have been. Delightful anticipations of her wedding day, perhaps? The poet focuses on her eyes, comparing them to stars. They had been like dimmed stars, closed, with their light concealed as if by some dark cloud. But now their “goodly beams” shine out brighter than Hesperus, the evening star, when he raises his head above the earth. Excitement shimmers in the eyes of the poet's bride, for today she will marry her love.

The poet continues the stanza by once again calling on the Muses and the Nymphs to help his love dress and prepare for the wedding. In the next several stanzas, he proceeds to describe the bride's procession to the church, accompanied by music and joyful shouts. He spends many lines describing her external appearance and internal beauty before he describes their wedding itself and then their procession home.

In the seventeenth stanza, the poem's tone changes, for night has fallen. Quiet has descended, and the poet is alone with his bride. Together they celebrate their wedding night, and he asks a blessing on their marriage that it may be fruitful and happy. In twenty-four stanzas (one for each hour), the poem as come full circle from the earliest moments of the morning to the last moments of the night on a day of nuptial joy.

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