Edmund Spenser

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Analyze and summarize Edmund Spenser's sonnet "Amoretti 34".

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"Amoretti 34" by Edmund Spenser, part of his "Amoretti" sonnet series, chronicles the poet's struggle in his pursuit of Elizabeth's love. The sonnet likens the poet to a ship lost at sea, unable to navigate due to a storm which symbolizes his emotional turmoil over his unrequited love for Elizabeth. Despite his despair, Spenser holds onto the hope that Elizabeth, his "lodestar," will eventually shine her love on him. The sonnet follows the Spenserian structure and rhyme scheme, with the use of concatenation adding emotional depth.

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A look at "Amoretti 33" helps to orient "Amoretti 34" in the ongoing love story of Edmund for Elizabeth. Critics agree that Edmund Spenser is chronicling his own--sometimes fruitless--pursuit of the love of Elizabeth. Bear in mind that Edmund Spenser had been married and had two children by his first wife, so there was a great age difference between Spenser and Elizabeth. Since she was reputed a beauty of a noble spirit and good heart, she had suitors her own age for Spenser to complete against for her affections.

"Amoretti 33" expresses Spenser's grief that his unrequited (unreturned) affection for and attachment to Elizabeth was driving him to distraction, as the saying goes. He bemoans that he is failing Queen Elizabeth by not being able to concentrate on writing The Faerie Queene. He says his wits are troubled by a tedious "fit" of a proud woman who spoils his spirit. He ends by declaring he must cease his writing until he has won her or until someone lends him another heart ("brest") to get along with.

In "Amoretti 34" things are not much better. He starts out with a ship at sea that cannot navigate by the stars because clouds of a storm have blocked the sight of them, so it has gone "out of [its] course" and "doth wander far astray." The oppositional turn at the concatenated lines 4-5 (astray-ray) is that he turns from the metaphoric ship to himself, thus explainingit by saying that he has also lost his way because Elizabeth's metaphoric light is covered with clouds of a storm and so he wanders in "darknesse and dismay" with perils blasting around him.

The oppositional turn of the second concatenated rhyme in lines 8-9 (plast-past) is that Spenser turns from expressing despair to expressing hope that when the storm is past Elizabeth--the "lodestar" of his life":

will shine again, and looke on me at last,
with louely light to cleare my cloudy grief,

Spenser states in the final rhyming couplet in Lines 13 and 14 that until his lodestar is out of her stormy disquietude, he will wander full of care ("carefull") and without comfort, with a sorrow that he keeps to himself while doing sad penance ("pensiuenesse"). Obviously, Spenser did something to cause a great rift in whatever uneasy friendship he had with Elizabeth--uneasy because of his love and her indifference--and he is remorseful, repentant, lost and longing.

The structure is the Spenserian sonnet structure of three quatrains and a rhyming couplet, all equaling 14 sonnet lines, linked with concatenation at lines 4-5 and 8-9. Concatenation is the rhyming scheme Spenser used in most of the amoretti. The advantage to concatenation is that (1) the quatrains can be linked by subject matter and topic and (2) the oppositional turns that take place at the concatenated lines add emotional tension and psychological revelation to the sonnets.

The rhyme scheme is the Spenserian sonnet scheme of ababbcbccdcdee with concatenation at lines 4-5 and 8-9. Concatenation allows the subjects and topics to link and the rhymes to link as b is repeated in the second quatrain and c is repeated in the third quatrain. Other sonnet forms require separate subjects and separate rhyme schemes (abab cdcd efef gg).

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Edmund Spencer's Sonnet 34, one of the Amoretti group of sonnets describing the poet's courtship and eventual marriage to Elizabeth Boyle, follows the conventional Petrarchan metaphor of lost love compared to a storm-tossed, unnavigated ship. The poet's "star" whose "bright ray" had guided him in the past is now "with cloudes...overcast." His only hope in the midst of "darknesse and dismay" is that his "lodestar," the Polaris of his life will "with lovely light" shine upon him again and restore him to happiness. In the meantime, however, the poet, full of "sad pensiveness,"  must wander in misery.

The poet, undergoing a bout of depression clearly likens himself to a ship that "out of her course doth wander far astray." (4) What particularly occasioned this emotional state is difficult to determine, unless it arose as a result of the normal stresses of married life. Regardless, the poet anticipates the coming release from his woe when his wife, "the lodestar of my life, will shine again, and look on me at last." (10-11) The poet addresses his wife as "my Helice" (10). This name the Greeks gave to the constellation which turns around Polaris. It is significant that the poet does not identify the light of his life with the Pole Star. Like him, she also 'turns around' it. It may be that this metaphor is the key to the poet's self-knowledge: He has had these emotional storms before and he will have them again. Today may be "overcast" (9), but soon the clouds will lift and clear, and once again he will know the "lovely light" (12) from his dear wife. C'est la vie.

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