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Last Updated on October 10, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 555

Edmund Spenser’s Epithalamion was published towards the end of the sixteenth century. It is an ode written to his bride on the occasion of their wedding in 1594. It describes their wedding day from before dawn to the end of the night. To analyze the work—as with any poem—various aspects can be considered, including title, characters, structure, form, tone, imagery, symbolism, and themes.

Because the language is old-fashioned, Epithalamion may seem confusing to readers today. It also relies heavily on references to Greek mythology, so a little background knowledge about those characters will help in a good analysis of the poem. It begins by appealing to the muses—“Ye learned sisters”—and continues by referencing nymphs and Hymen (the god of marriage ceremonies). There is mention of Phoebus when Spenser writes, “O fayrest Phoebus, father of the Muse." He also mentions Medusa and Bacchus, the god of wine: “Crowne ye God Bacchus with a coronall." For people living at that time of publication, these names would be more familiar references, so the poet is probably aiming to create a shared sense of recognition and understanding with their use.

In terms of what happens, the poem describes the speaker asking the muses to help him on the day of his wedding. He waits for his bride to wake up and then praises her in the section that begins, “My love is now awake out of her dreames." See, for example, lines like, “Tell me ye merchants daughters did ye see / So fayre a creature in your towne before? / So sweet, so lovely, and so mild as she." As the wedding day progresses, the poet describes the wedding ceremony: “Harke how the Minstrels gin to shrill aloud / Their merry Musick that resounds from far." He goes on to discuss his nerves about the consummation of the marriage, and he finally asks for blessings for them and their future family.

To analyze the poem successfully, it would be a good idea to relate what happens in the poem to its structure. For example, it contains twenty-four sections and details twenty-four hours, and while it is not strictly one hour per section, it does move through the day in order. Think, too, about references to music and festivities and joy, descriptions of place and emotions, and the way the poet creates both a public and a very private narrative of his wedding day. Who is the narrator speaking to? What is he feeling? What are the roles of the Greek gods? How do they relate to the Christian marriage ceremony?

It is essential to consider the impact of utilizing both Christian and mythological imagery. As one might interpret, the wedding ceremony itself is Christian: the couple is being married in the eyes of God. At the same time, Spenser’s speaker is calling upon the gods and creatures associated with Greek and Roman mythology. These two belief systems seem to be opposed. This is not how Spenser treats them, though. In the poet’s eyes, it is entirely possible to ask the Greek figure Hymen—god of weddings—to oversee a Christian gathering. The nymphs may very well lead the bride to her groom without any fuss. Spenser is blending both the classics and traditional Christian values to ensure his wedding day is special in all ways.

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