To His Love is a fourteen-line sonnet written by Edmund Spenser. The sonnet is written about a woman that the poet loves and tries to immortalize, so that she would live forever. The language is plain and philosophical unlike that of other sonnets where the patriarchal style dominates. In the sonnet, there is a development of thought, yet few conceptual images illustrated.
In each of first three stanzas, the poet develops new ideas. He starts off his poem with a visual image of the poet lying with his beloved on the shore and tying to write her name on the sand, an abortive attempt to internalize her. However, the name is constantly washed by the tides. The image enhances the sense of futility in the poet’s trials. Zooming further into the image, the tide is metaphorized as an animal, a savage of power, who hunts for preys. He personifies them to portray their cruelty. The poet’s efforts in immortalizing his beloved, on the other hand, are impliedly compared to Preys, which reflect Spenser’s frustration. Moreover, the use of ‘pains’ conveys a sense of bitterness whereas ‘second’ reflects the poet’s persistence. Next, the poet quotes his beloved’s comment on his attempts. Using a pun, she says that he is too arrogant to foolishly try to immortalize her on sand when death is inevitable. The beloved’s reply highlights the difference between the poet’s perception of time and hers. While the poet is obsessed with the effect of time, she is not. The tone, also, becomes cynical. ‘vain’ is repeated two time: first indicating the vanity of man and the second meaning useless.
In the third stanza, replying to his beloved, the poet disagrees with his beloved saying that his verses will eternalize her in a graphic materialistic manner, as they will always be read, and in heaven. Spenser uses the conceptual image of verses writing the beloved’s name in heaven, which is an abstract matter, because writing in heaven could withstand the destructive effect of time. He personifies the verses in the image to show their astounding ability to immortalize. The usage of ‘baser’ convey the superiority of the beloved over other things. There is a contrast in ‘die’ and ‘live’, nonetheless. The poet ends his poem with an ambiguous ending, however. He says that when death takes all lives, their love will live and give birth to new lives. Spenser personifies death as an authoritative person who takes people away and controls them. As to the ending, some might interpret it as either their love will inspire generation to come or will live forever. The diction also enhances the meaning, furthermore. The antithesis in ‘live’ and ‘subdue’ allows readers to clarify the poet’s inner conflict with time.
There are several sound devices throughout the sonnet. The rhyme scheme goes as ABABCDCDEFEFGG, which makes it not monotonous. There is an alliteration of ‘w’ in ‘washed’ and ‘waves’ that echoes the sound moments of waves. Another alliteration is ‘d’ in ‘die’ and ‘dust’ which evokes a sense of repulsion in the reader’s ear.
Spenser is widely known for his immense obsession with the effect of time. Throughout the poem, we tackle how he is looking for immortality. His tone throughout the poem is a serious, which makes evokes fear in the hearts of readers. What’s most interesting in the sonnet is the philosophical depth it demonstrates.