Sonnet 75 by Edmund Spenser: Explained in the Easiest Way

Cover image showing the face of Edmund Spenser

When people hear the word “Sonnet”, the first poet that comes to their mind is William Shakespeare. But during the same Elizabethan era, many great poets have contributed to the world of poetry. Sonnet 75 by Edmund Spenser is one of the 89 sonnets written by him, also known as One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand. This article will look into the analysis and paraphrasing of the sonnet.

Not only was Spenser a contemporary of Shakespeare, but his works were his works’ contemporary as well. Like there’s the Shakespearean sonnet, there’s a Spenserian sonnet as well. And like Shakespeare’s sonnets, Spenser’s sonnets dealt with the theme of love and the consuming nature of time. Sonnet 75 is a poem about the clash of love’s everlasting nature and time’s consuming force. 

Spenser wrote a total of 89 sonnets in a sonnet cycle titled Amoretti.  A sonnet cycle is a collection of sonnets focused on a person, subject, or events that tell a connected story but also can be read as individual sonnets. Amoretti was published as a part of a volume called Amoretti and Epithalamion. It described, poetically, the courtship and marriage of Edmund Spenser. This was the context for the sonnet. 

Before we get into the analysis and paraphrasing of the sonnet, take a look at the sonnet, both in the modern English version and in the old English version (Spenser was a big fan of Geoffrey Chaucer).

Sonnet 75: One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand, Amoretti, 1595

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,

But came the waves and washed it away:

Again I wrote it with a second hand,

But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.

‘Vain man,’ said she, ‘that dost in vain assay,

A mortal thing so to immortalize;

For I myself shall like to this decay,

And eke my name be wiped out likewise.’

‘Not so,’ (quod I); ‘let baser things devise

To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:

My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,

And in the heavens write your glorious name:

Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,

Our love shall live, and later life renew.’

Here’s the old-English version of the same sonnet. 

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,

     but came the waves and washed it a way:

     agayne I wrote it with a second hand,

     but came the tyde, and made my paynes his pray.

Vayne man, sayd she, that doest in vaine assay,

     a mortall thing so to immortalize.

     for I my selve shall lyke to this decay,

     and eek my name bee wyped out lykewize.

Not so, (quod I) let baser things devize

     to dy in dust, but you shall live by fame:

     my verse your vertues rare shall eternize,

     and in the hevens wryte your glorious name,

Where whenas death shall all the world subdew,

     our love shall live, and later life renew.

Paraphrase of Sonnet 75: Simple summary of the sonnet

Here’s the paraphrased version of the sonnet to act as a compact and simple summary for easy understanding. 

One day I wrote her name on the seashore, on the sand,

But the waves came and washed it away:

I wrote her name, again,

But the tide came and washed away, my efforts again.

Vain man, my love said, your efforts will always be in vain,

Will be in vain because you try to immortalize something mortal,

And even I shall like to be, in time, washed away in death

And also like my body, gone will be my existence and my name. 

Not likely, Let the baser, ignoble things turn into dust, but not you.

But you shall be immortalized by fame 

For my verses will eternize your rare virtues 

Amd in heavens shall write your name

When death can and will subdue and take in the world 

Our love shall live in these verses for ages to come.

Analysis and meaning of the sonnet 

Diving deeper into the literary analysis of sonnet 75 reveals a lot more about complex concepts of love and time. With the brilliant use of imagery and strong natural forces, Spenser has given this sonnet an impact that leaves an impression. Here’s a line by line analysis of the sonnet:

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,

But came the waves and washed it away:

Again I wrote it with a second hand,

But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.

Since the sonnets are written to detail about Spenser’s love, this sonnet is about the strength of his love for his wife. Sand is always associated with time since sand is used in hourglasses. Spenser wrote the name of his wife on the sand, meaning that he took a piece of time and kept it for his wife. 

But the sea washed it away. He wrote the name again but the tide cleared the name away. This effect is used to show the temporary nature of things. Anything that exists will be gone with time. Nothing is eternal. Here, pains mean his efforts. 

‘Vain man,’ said she, ‘that dost in vain assay,

A mortal thing so to immortalize;

For I myself shall like to this decay,

And eke my name be wiped out likewise.’

Spenser’s wife then takes the voice of a rational being or even the voice of time. She says that his actions are useless, and him trying to fight the force of time is pointless. Because trying to make a mortal thing immortal is foolish and vain. 

She says that she will be gone just like her name was washed. And even the thought of her existence and presence being wiped by time so easily is frightening, it is how the world works. Here the term eke means “also”.

‘Not so,’ (quod I); ‘let baser things devise

To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:

My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,

And in the heavens write your glorious name:

But he said that it is for the baser, ignoble, and immoral things to die and turn into dust, but not his love. For her virtues are rare and she shall live on in fame. Her name will be written in the heavens, surpassing the scythe of Time.

Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,

Our love shall live, and later life renew.’

Let death take over the world and everything in it, the love between Spenser and his wife shall live forever in these verses.

Sonnet 75: One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand by Edmund Spenser
Sonnet 75: One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand by Edmund Spenser

Literary devices in the sonnet

There are a lot of literary devices in this sonnet and they are the reason why this sonnet sounds so beautiful. Here are some of the literary devices used;

Imagery: Spenser has brilliantly used imagery to connect things with their metaphorical meaning. The use of sand to denote time, the waves’ periodical yet inevitable nature to clean everything on the shore works perfectly well with the theme of the sonnet. This makes the imagery so powerful and impactful. 

Alliteration: Here are some of the examples of alliteration used in the sonnet. Alliteration is the repetition of the same initial sound of words placed close to each other in a single line. The alliteration sounds are in bold. 

But came the waves and washed it away:

But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.

‘Not so,’ (quod I); ‘let baser things devise

To die in dust, 

My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,

Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,

Our love shall live, and later life renew.’

Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of the sound of the vowels in a sentence. Here are some examples that are in bold. Note that it is the similarity in the sound of the vowel. 

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,

But came the waves and washed it away:

But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.

And eke my name be wiped out likewise.’

‘Not so,’ (quod I); ‘let baser things devise

To die in dust…

Metaphors: Some of the metaphors used in the sonnet are;

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,

But came the waves and washed it away:

Writing her name upon the sand is to signify the effort of trying to immortalize a person, to let it stay there without being affected by the forces of nature.

For I myself shall like to this decay, – This refers to death 

‘Not so,’ (quod I); ‘let baser things devise

To die in dust – Another metaphor for death and decay, turning into dust.

Rhyming scheme and structure: The sonnet is a Spenserian sonnet. In a Spenserian sonnet, the fourteen lines are divided into four parts, three quatrains (stanzas of four lines) and a couplet. The rhyming scheme is ABAB BCBC CDCD EE. 

Symbolism: Writing her name of the sand symbolizes trying to immortalize a mortal being. No matter how many times he wrote the name, nature will clean it again. Just like how time erases everyone.

Personification: Time and sea have been personified in this sonnet. The way Spenser refers to the sea and time as an individual can be seen in this line:

But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.

The essence of the poem 

This section is where we put our views and what we took from the poem. Sonnet 75 is about love and time, and the clash between the two. Spenser puts both sides very well into the picture. He tries to write the name on the seashore, but it gets washed away. This act shows him trying to immortalize something mortal, which is impossible. 

His wife reminds him of his vain efforts. Then he realizes that it won’t do any good to write the name on the shore, but to immortalize her name through his verses, through his poems which won’t be affected by time. And as we are reading his sonnets, centuries later, he was right. His love still is alive. 

In a very similar way, Shakespeare was confused by this dilemma. Love wants to last forever, we want our love to last forever. But time will take away everything in this world. So the best way to avoid that? Beautiful verses about the love that shall live on. This is what the essence of this poem is. While the human form and emotions won’t last forever, its imprint can. It can be communicated through ages with the help of words.

This concludes the analysis of Sonnet 75 by Edmund Spenser. But the reading should continue. Here are some related articles that are related to this one. Take a look:

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