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"Epithalamion" as a marriage song or ode


Edmund Spenser's "Epithalamion" is a marriage ode celebrating his own wedding. The poem follows the format of a traditional marriage song, praising the bride, the groom, and the sanctity of their union while invoking various mythological and natural elements to bless the couple’s future. The intricate structure and rich imagery underscore the joy and solemnity of the marriage ceremony.

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Can you discuss "Epithalamion" as a marriage song?

Critics have found many meanings, public and private, in Edmund Spenser's "Epithalamion" but what the poem is most clearly and unequivocally is a marriage song. It was addressed to Spenser's young bride Elizabeth Boyle on their wedding day in 1594 and published the following year. The title announces the poem's function as a celebration of marriage and each of the twenty-four stanzas represents an hour of Spenser's wedding day, while the 365 lines represent the days of the year. The poems is full of classical allusions to marriage and begins with an invocation to the Muses to abandon sad songs and strike the joyful note appropriate to a wedding.

The early stanzas are full of impatience for the bride to awake, "for Hymen is awake." Hymen is the god of marriage and wedding ceremonies and is called upon repeatedly throughout the poem. The minstrels sing a song repeating his name:

And evermore they Hymen Hymen sing,
That al the woods them answer and theyr eccho ring.
Later, the poet also calls upon Juno, the goddess with jurisdiction over the "lawes of wedlock." He expresses both love and physical desire for his bride and, towards the end of the poem, his thoughts begin to turn to the children they will have. He ends by calling upon all the gods:
Poure out your blessing on us plentiously,
And happy influence upon us raine,
That we may raise a large posterity...
This unites the private and public purposes of marriage and even goes beyond its temporal public purpose as Spenser expresses the hope that their children may inherit "heavenly tabernacles" and, in a blending of classical and Christian imagery, add to the number of the saints.
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How is "Epithalamion" a marriage hymn?

"Epithalamion" is a long lyric poem written by Edmund Spenser in celebration of his marriage to Elizabeth Boyle. The word itself means "marriage song," coming from two Greek words that mean "upon" and "bridal chamber." It is easy to follow the poem once one understands that each of the twenty-four stanzas represents an hour of the couple's wedding day. The first few stanzas anticipate the bride awakening, but she is still asleep and dreaming. At the fifth and sixth stanzas, she awakes, and then she dresses for the occasion of the wedding ceremony. Throughout the first half of the poem, Spenser invokes many Greek gods and goddesses to help prepare for the wedding. For example, he calls upon some to help dress "my beautifullest bride." In the eighth stanza, boys run up and down the street hailing Hymen, the god of marriage.

At stanza twelve, Spenser urges the wedding attendants to "bring her up to th'high altar that she may the sacred ceremonies there partake, the which do endlesse matrimony make." At this point, Christian allusions replace the Greek references. In stanza thirteen, she takes her vows and angels sing alleluia. In the following stanza, the bride is brought to her joyous husband's home. Maidens sing and bells toll. Eventually the party ends, and the two lovers are left alone to enjoy their wedding night.

The entire poem is a recounting in flowery language, full of Greek and Christian allusions, of the joyous wedding day. It is indeed a song, or hymn, celebrating marriage. Spenser wrote it as a tribute to his own marriage, but by extension, it can be interpreted as an homage to the tradition of matrimony and the uniting of a man and woman in a lifelong loving relationship.

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Is "Epithalamion" a marriage ode?

The generated response provides several good quotations as proof that Edmund Spenser's “Epithalamion” is indeed a marriage ode, but it overlooks one important point, namely, the title itself.

The word “epithalamion” actually means something like “bridal song” in Greek, for it is comprised of the Greek prefix “epi,” which means “upon,” and the Greek word “thalamos,” which means bridal chamber. So “upon a bridal chamber” tells us that this poem is a reflection upon marriage.

This type of poem was popular among Greek and Roman authors and was used to celebrate marriages. Spenser, as a Renaissance poet, drew much inspiration from Greek and Roman classics, and we know that he composed this poem on the occasion of his own wedding.

If you are looking for more quotations, you might pay attention to the part of the poem that refers to Hyman, the pagan god of marriage. He is used symbolically here to show that the poem celebrates a wedding. Notice, too, the celebration of the ringing bells and dancing that follow the marriage ceremony. This shows the joy of the day.

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