A Short Analysis of Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti 72: ‘Oft, when my spirit doth spread her bolder wings’

The poem beginning ‘Oft when my spirit doth spread her bolder wings’ is part of Edmund Spenser’s sonnet sequence Amoretti, which the Elizabethan poet wrote about his courtship of his wife.

Oft, when my spirit doth spread her bolder wings,
In mind to mount up to the purest sky;
It down is weighed with thought of earthly things,
And clogged with burden of mortality;
Where, when that sovereign beauty it doth spy,
Resembling heaven’s glory in her light,
Drawn with sweet pleasure’s bait, it back doth fly,
And unto heaven forgets her former flight.
There my frail fancy, fed with full delight,
Doth bathe in bliss, and mantleth most at ease;
Ne thinks of other heaven, but how it might
Her heart’s desire with most contentment please.
Heart need not wish none other happiness,
But here on earth to have such heaven’s bliss.

The Spenserian sonnet is a curious halfway house between the two more famous forms: the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet and the English or Shakespearean sonnet. Actually, Shakespeare didn’t invent the sonnet form named after him, although he did popularise it. But Edmund Spenser did come up with the variation on the Italian form which bears his name.

This means that the rhyme scheme of the sonnet, ababbcbccdcdee, contains the alternate rhyming quatrains of the English sonnet (abab etc.) but also rhyming across quatrains (with the second and fourth lines of the first quatrain providing the rhymes for the fifth and seventh lines in the next). Like the English sonnet, the Spenserian ends with a rhyming couplet, which acts like the summing up of an argument. And this seems particularly effective in Sonnet 72.

In summary, ‘Oft when my spirit doth spread her bolder wings’ sees Spenser telling us that when he wishes to think of higher things, his mind is bogged down by thoughts of mortality; but he comes to the conclusion that the way to ensure happiness is to find heaven among earthly things:

Heart need not wish none other happiness,
But here on earth to have such heaven’s bliss.

It’s a nice touch that ‘earth’ is an anagram of ‘heart’, as if pointing up, in the delicate equipoise of the poem’s final couplet, that ‘earth is where the heart is’, and that we can find a heaven on earth after all.


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Posted on October 13, 2018, in Literature and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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