The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Epithalamion is a poem of 433 iambic lines of varying lengths, divided into twenty-three stanzas and an envoi—twenty-four sections in all. The title means, literally, “at the nuptial chamber,” from the Greek (epi and thalanos); the poem celebrates the twenty-four hours of the poet’s wedding day. The poem is written in the first person, and much of it is addressed to the Muses, nymphs, other bridal attendants, and wedding guests. The twenty-four sections do not correspond precisely to the twenty-four hours of the wedding day, yet the poem moves chronologically through the entire day.

In the first stanza, the poet speaks to the Muses, who have often inspired him in the past, asking that they “Helpe me mine owne loves prayses to resound.” Edmund Spenser quite often begins his works this way, with the poet/narrator requesting divine assistance as he undertakes a task that is beyond his mortal skills. His bride is so magnificent, it is implied, that he cannot find words to describe her. The next three stanzas anticipate the awakening of the bride on her wedding day. The poet beckons the Muses to wake her, and to summon nymphs from land and sea to bring garlands and flowers to adorn the bride and her chamber. In stanzas 5 and 6, she awakens and is dressed for the wedding.

“Now is my love all ready forth to come,” the poet announces, and he is ready, too. He then invokes the sun, praying that its lifegiving...

(The entire section is 514 words.)