Image featuring Edmund Spenser for Sonnet 67 of Amoretti, Like a Huntsman

Like a Huntsman by Edmund Spenser (Sonnet 67, Amoretti) Meaning and Summary

When it comes to sonnets, there are only two big names that come to mind; William Shakespear and Edmund Spenser. And some argue that Spenser was a bigger name than Shakespeare. We’ll be looking at Spenser’s “Like a Huntsman” sonnet. 

Edmund Spenser was an English poet and the most famous poet of his time. One of his most famous and well-read works is the Amoretti series of sonnets that has 89 sonnets in total.

These sonnets were written for his love (and later his wife) Elizabeth Boyle. Talk about being romantic! “Like a Huntsman” is the 67th sonnet in Amoretti and just like the others, this one’s dedicated to his wife. 

But what makes it special is this sonnet is about how Spenser wooed his wife, and what a shock it was for him to find out that it worked. Let’s take a look at the sonnet first and then at the meaning and analysis. 

Like a Huntsman (Amoretti, Sonnet 67)

Like as a huntsman after weary chase,
Seeing the game from him escap’d away,
Sits down to rest him in some shady place,
With panting hounds beguiled of their prey:
So after long pursuit and vain assay,
When I all weary had the chase forsook,
The gentle deer return’d the self-same way,
Thinking to quench her thirst at the next brook.
There she beholding me with milder look,
Sought not to fly, but fearless still did bide:
Till I in hand her yet half trembling took,
And with her own goodwill her firmly tied.
Strange thing, me seem’d, to see a beast so wild,
So goodly won, with her own will beguil’d.
-Edmund Spenser

Summary

For the people in a hurry and do not want to read the entire analysis, here’s what the sonnet “Like a Huntsman” by Edmund Spenser means;

Spenser says that he felt very tired like a huntsman trying to catch a game but failing after trying for so long. Even though he is using all the ways to catch the deer, it is very elusive. 

This is an analogy to Spenser trying to lure the love of his life (Elizabeth Boyle) but all his attempts are failing. Until something unbelievable happens. The deer comes to the hunter!

He says that suddenly the deer starts looking at him, meaning that when Spenser stopped trying to lure the woman, she came towards him. And with a little attempt, he had her. It was something he could not believe. 

Analysis of “Like a Huntsman”

Let us first get one thing out of the way; the title of this sonnet “Like a Huntsman” is not remotely romantic. In fact, if you look at the first quatrain, this sonnet sounds like a journal entry of a novice hunter. 

But such were Spenser’s ways of wooing the lady of his life. This is not a poem about hunting an animal, even though it reads exactly like that. Let’s analyze it quatrain by quatrain. 

Like as a huntsman after weary chase,

Seeing the game from him escap’d away,

Sits down to rest him in some shady place,

With panting hounds beguiled of their prey:

The sonnet starts with a “Like” and Spenser draws a comparison of his experience with the hunting. He says that he feels like a hunter who has been chasing his prey for hours but failed to catch it. 

He is tired and decides to take some rest. Spenser is saying that after trying to woo this woman (Elizabeth Boyle) but failing, he decided to give it some rest. 

It is very much like someone trying to impress a girl at a club by showing all their dance moves but the girl is not interested. So they sit down for a moment to catch their breath. 

So after long pursuit and vain assay,

When I all weary had the chase forsook,

The gentle deer return’d the self-same way,

Thinking to quench her thirst at the next brook.

In the second quatrain he says that after the long pursuit and useless attempts, he had to give up the chase and stop trying to woo her, that’s when things started to change. 

“The gentle deer” represents Elizabeth Boyle. The poet says that she returned or came close to Spenser when he stopped trying to make an impression on her or woo her. 

There she beholding me with milder look,

Sought not to fly, but fearless still did bide:

Till I in hand her yet half trembling took,

And with her own goodwill her firmly tied.

Now we see a complete shift in the way the woman is looking at Spenser. She looks at him with interest, with a “milder” look. And this time, she stayed, without moving away from the poet. 

These two lines tell that all the time when Spenser was chasing her, she would not come close to him. But now, there she is, looking at him.

Coming back to the analogy of someone trying to impress a girl in the club; when they stopped dancing and trying too hard, they got the attention of the girl. 

Till I in hand her yet half trembling took,

And with her own goodwill her firmly tied.

Finally, with trembling hands he held the deer. This line means that with hesitation he approached her, trying to express his love for her. And to his surprise, it worked. 

She did not run away from him (metaphorically). This came as a shock to the poet and he could not understand what caused this beautiful woman to come to him. But happily accepted it. 

Strange thing, me seem’d, to see a beast so wild,

So goodly won, with her own will beguil’d.

The last couplets show the astonishment of Spenser when he comes to realize what he has achieved. A beast so wild is a compliment, believe it or not. 

Here, “wild” represents free spirit, someone who is passionate, unrestricted, like fire. It also serves to describe the woman as someone who cannot be tamed or beguiled. It is like taming a tiger. Or more like a tiger getting tamed itself!

But he is thanking fate that he got such an unbelievable woman in her life, beguiled by her own will. The last line conveys that Spenser thinks that even the woman was attracted to him. 

Literary Devices

Alliteration– A few examples of alliteration from the poem are:

So after long pursuit and vain assay,

Thinking to quench her thirst at the next brook.

Till I in hand her yet half trembling took,

End- stopped Lines– The poet uses end-stopped lines throughout the poem to show the end of a thought or a sentence. For example:

With panting hounds beguiled of their prey:

Thinking to quench her thirst at the next brook.

Sought not to fly, but fearless still did bide:

Sibilance– The poet uses sibilance in the poem to make the arrangement of words more attractive to the readers. For example:

Like as a huntsman after weary chase,

Seeing the game from him escap’d away,

So after long pursuit and vain assay,

Sought not to fly, but fearless still did bide:

Strange thing, me seem’d, to see a beast so wild,

Metaphor– The poet uses metaphor throughout the poem, because after reading and understanding the poem we get to know that a man is trying to chase the love of his life, however the poet refers to the man as a hunter and the female as the deer.

Personification– The poet has personified the deer by giving it the attributes of human behavior. For example:

There she beholding me with milder look,

Till I in hand her yet half trembling took,

Conclusion 

It might sound a bit weird but this poem (and the romantic essence of being called a wild animal) actually worked because Elizabeth Boyle married Edmund Spenser. Way to go Edmund!

But all jokes aside, “Like a Huntsman” is one of Spenser’s most famous sonnets. With themes of love, attraction, attention, and the metaphorical use of hunting to show hunting for love works very well. 

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