Edmund Spenser's famous collection of sonnets, Amoretti, is a series of love sonnets dedicated to Elizabeth Boyle, the lady of his dreams whom he pursues and eventually marries in 1594. The term "amoretti" is literally defined as "little loves" or "little cupids." Spenser closely follows many conventions of the Elizabethan sonnets, but in some ways his sonnets deviate from the norm for this era. For instance, many Elizabethan sonnets call on the idea of the Muses, the mythological Greek goddesses that provided inspiration for literature, science, and the arts. Spenser frequently references the Muses in his sonnets.


Edmund Spenser's sonnets follow the Spenserian sonnet form, which is a slight variation of the English (Shakespearean) sonnet. The rhyme scheme for these poems is abab bcbc cdcd ee. Spenser's sonnets are similar to the Shakespearean sonnets in the sense that Like Shakespeare's sonnets, Spenser's poems are abundant in metaphors of nature. For instance, in Sonnet 1 he compares his lover to a flower, by using words such as "lilly hands" and "leaves." Throughout the poems, he maintains metaphors of nature by writing about phenomena such as the oceans and the stars. The interlocking rhyme scheme of the Spenserian sonnet provides a more distinct connectivity between the quatrains compared to the English sonnet. Whereas each quatrain in Shakespeare’s sonnets is typically characterized by a unique metaphor or idea that builds towards the couplet, the final two lines in the sonnets in Amoretti typically tie together the contents of the first twelve lines in a reflective manner and remind the reader of the overall theme of the poem. In addition, it is important to note that, for the vast majority of Amoretti, Spenser is not speaking directly to the female counterpart; he usually refers to her in third person. It is not until the end of the sequence that Spenser addresses Elizabeth in first person.


Spenser's sonnets deal largely with the idea of love. Up until Sonnet 67, the sonnets primarily focus on the frustration of unreturned romantic desires. On the other hand, the sonnets that follow Sonnet 67 celebrates the happiness of love shared between two people (Spenser and Elizabeth), as well as celebrating divine love. The frustration of unrequited love is a common theme in the Elizabethan sonnets; however, the celebration of successful love is largely a deviation from the typical themes. In addition, Spenser focuses on courtship and the power dynamic in successful relationships. In particular, he portrays that women want to have the authority in a romantic relationship, echoing Geoffrey Chaucer's central theme in "The Wife of Bath" from The Canterbury Tales. Furthermore, he discusses true beauty and the ways in which writing poetry can immortalize things that otherwise cannot be immortalized, such as people. Finally, Spenser's poetry often references God and religion, celebrating the theme of divine love in the second half of the sequence.

Selected Sonnets and Analyses

Sonnet 1

Happy ye leaves when as those lilly hands,
Which hold my life in their dead doing might,
Shall handle you and hold in loves soft bands,
Lyke captives trembling at the victors sight.

And happy lines, on which with starry light,
Those lamping eyes will deigne sometimes to look
And reade the sorrowes of my dying spright,
Written with teares in harts close bleeding book.

And happy rymes bath'd in the sacred brooke
Of Helicon whence she derived is,
When ye behold that Angels blessed looke,
My soules long lacked foode, my heavens blis.

Leaves, lines, and rymes, seek her to please alone,
Whom if ye please, I care for other none.

Sonnet 1 Analysis

In this sonnet, Spenser, as the first-person speaker, is focusing on the love that he has for Elizabeth Boyle (the female to whom he frequently refers in the poem). One of the central themes is the value of poetry.
In the first stanza, he uses the metaphor of a flower – “lilly hands” – to describe her hands as soft and tender. The “lilly hands” echo the word “leaves,” which generally also refers to plants or trees but in this case refers to the pages of a boot k. In the first stanza, he is talking about things that are sweet in lines 1 and 3and contrasting it with brutal, war-oriented images in lines 2 and 4. In line 2, the word “doing” means “killing,” and the word “might” indicates power and strength. Similarly, “captives trembling” in line 4 implies fear and power, and the word “victor” refers to power in the context in winning. Thus, the rhyming lines in this first stanza are in similar in both word choice and theme.
In line 5, “happy lines” again refers to poetry. In lines 5-8, Spenser wants her to read his poetry and understand how he is suffering because of his unreturned feelings towards her. During this stanza, he uses words with very sad connotations such as “teares” and “bleeding” to shape his writing. Spenser continues the poetry metaphor again in line 9 with “happy rymes.”
In lines 9-10, he brings the Muses into the poem; the Muses are the goddesses of inspiration for literature, science, and the arts, and many Elizabethan sonneteers referred to them in their poetry. In line 10, “Helicon” indicates that he is comparing her to the goddess who would inspire him to write literature. He continues to put her on a pedestal, comparing her to an angel in line 11 when he says “behold that Angel’s blessed look.” In like 12, when he says, “my soules long lacked foode, my heaven’s blis,” he is saying he needs her to survive just as any other human being needs food to live.
In the ending couplet, he brings back the theme of writing poetry by tying the stanzas together with the words, “leaves,” “lines,” and rhymes.” He is saying that he is writing this poetry for her, restating his love for her in the process.


Brookshire, Sophia. "Analysis of Spenser's Amoretti Sonnet 67." Yahoo Voices. Yahoo Inc., 11 Jan. 2011. Web. 2 Dec. 2011.

Greenblatt, Stephen, George Logan, Katherine E. Maus, and Barbara K. Lewalski. The Norton Anthology of British Literature: Volume B. Ninth ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. Print.

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