Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The idea of the epithalamion, or wedding song, was not new with Spenser. Poets as early as Sappho, the Greek woman who wrote in the early sixth century b.c.e., composed such poems, as did many others, such as Pindar and Catallus, in Greek and Latin, in the intervening years. Although each poet naturally brought her or his own vision and style to the wedding song, the “epithalamia” share many images and themes. Spenser was well aware of this tradition and intentionally followed many of its conventions in this poem. One of the most complicated matters for the Renaissance poet who wrote in traditional forms was the balancing of conventional devices with contemporary demands. More specifically, Spenser had to find a way to utilize the conventional gods and goddesses of mythology in a poem about Christian marriage. He could well expect his contemporary readers to be familiar with mythology, especially with the stories recounted in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (c. 8 c.e.), and he uses allusions to these stories as a sort of shorthand. In the first stanza, the poet/ narrator announces that he will sing his love’s praises, and he points out that this is what “Orpheus did for his owne bride.”

Spenser’s readers would know that Orpheus had the power to charm animals and trees with his music and that he almost won his wife back from the underworld with his music. These readers would probably...

(The entire section is 510 words.)