Epithalamion Summary

Epithalamion by Edmund Spencer is a poem in twenty-four stanzas about the poet’s wedding to one Elizabeth Boyle. 

  • In the first stanza, the speaker recites a conventional invocation of the muses: "Ye learned sisters." He asks them to bless his marriage and also not let others envy his marriage. 
  • He asks his love to awaken and later praises her great beauty.
  • Over the course of the poem, the speaker invokes and alludes to a host of other figures from classical mythology, such as muses, nymphs, dawn, and Maia, seeking further blessings for his impending wedding.

Summary

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Last Updated on October 6, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 497

Introduction

Edmund Spenser's Epithalamion was published in 1595. It is a poem in twenty-four stanzas about the poet's wedding to one Elizabeth Boyle. Throughout the poem, Spenser makes many classical allusions to mythology.

Summary

In the first stanza, he recites a conventional invocation of the muses: "Ye learned sisters." He asks them to bless his marriage and also not let others envy his marriage. In the second stanza, he asks his love to awake by saying, "Bid her awake; for Hymen is awake.” Hymen is the deity of marriage. Unlike many Greek or Roman myths, the story of Hymen instead reflects the dedication of two lovers. In the third stanza, he asks the Muses to summon other nymphs. In the fourth, he invokes the "Nymphs of Mulla" (referring to a river in Ireland). The nymphs should all tend to their respective realms to ensure the waters, woods, and mountains are in pristine condition for the events of the day. In the fifth stanza, he invokes the goddess of the dawn, "Rosy Morne," and alludes to her love of Tithonus, the goddess's mortal love. In stanza 6, the poet compares his bride to an evening star, with both showing “goodly beames.” In stanza 7, the poet invites young boys and girls to attend the wedding and also asks the sun not to be too hot on the bride's wedding day: "And let thy lifull heat not fervent be / For feare of burning her sunshyny face." His love is bright enough, so it seems, and ought to not get burned. 

Stanzas 8 and 9 discuss the musicians attending the wedding and the beauty of the bride, respectively. In the ninth stanza, the bride is compared to Phoebe (also called Artemis), a goddess of the moon. He thinks she looks angelic and pure, clad in all white. Stanza 10 continues to praise her beauty: "Tell me, ye merchants daughters, did ye see / So fayre a creature in your towne before[?]" Stanza 11 compares the bride to Medusa in her capacity to captivate, similar to the way Medusa turns people to stone. Stanzas 13 and 14 are extended physical descriptions of the bride. In stanza 15, the poet asks, and laments, why Barnaby's Day (the longest day of the year) was chosen for a wedding. Stanza 16 continues this theme, asking the wedding to come quickly. The speaker is evidently eager for the wedding itself to occur.

Stanzas 17 through 19 are rife with classical allusions, including to Maia, the mother of Atlas. Stanza 19 asks that no one cry on the wedding day. Stanzas 20 through 22 continue to invoke Cynthia (goddess of the Moon) and Juno (also a patroness of weddings). Juno is the queen of the gods, and hers is the last blessing for which Spenser asks. The poet addresses all the gods jointly in stanza 23, asking them to "Poure out your blessing on us plentiously." In the final stanza, stanza 24, he asks that his song be a lasting monument for his bride in place of other gifts: "Be unto her a goodly ornament."

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