Edmund Spenser's Sonnet 89

Updated on December 23, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

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Introduction and Text of Sonnet 89

Edmund Spenser's "Sonnet 89" from Amoretti and Epithalamion is an English sonnet, more specially a Spenserian sonnet, as the poet has the sonnet style named for him. The Spenserian sonnet resembles the Elizabethan, or Shakespearean, sonnet using three quatrains and a couplet, but the Spenserian rime scheme is ABABBCBCCDCDEE, instead of ABABCDCDEFEFGG.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The Spenserian style sonnet also dispenses with the English sonnet tradition of assigning each quatrain a slightly different task with a third quatrain volta or turn of thought. The style sonnet usually just continues the thematic dramatization that has been stressed throughout the poem with the intertwining rime scheme. Spenserian sonnet 89 continues the theme of lost love which threads itself throughout the entire collection of Amoretti and Epithalamion.

Sonnet 89

Like as the culver, on the barèd bough,
Sits mourning for the absence of her mate;
And, in her songs, sends many a wishful vow
For his return that seems to linger late:
So I alone, now left disconsolate,
Mourn to myself the absence of my love;
And, wandering here and there all desolate,
Seek with my plaints to match that mournful dove
No joy of aught that under heaven doth hove,
Can comfort me, but her own joyous sight
Whose sweet aspect both God and man can move,
In her unspotted pleasance to delight.
Dark is my day, whiles her fair light I miss,
And dead my life that wants such lively bliss.

Musical Rendition of Sonnet 89

Commentary

First Quatrain: Mourning a Loss

Like as the culver, on the barèd bough,
Sits mourning for the absence of her mate;
And, in her songs, sends many a wishful vow
For his return that seems to linger late:

The speaker compares himself to the "culver" sitting alone on a naked tree branch "mourning" because her mate has gone from her. The poor bird's songs are sad, and the speaker hears the melancholy all the more because of his own loneliness. He, of course, is ascribing to the bird his own feelings.

The term "culver" is British dialect for "dove." The famous mourning dove emits the sorrowful tunes that easily lend themselves to all manner of melancholic interpretations regarding lost love. In the American South, that bird is often called a rain crow.

Second Quatrain: Wandering in Desolation

So I alone, now left disconsolate,
Mourn to myself the absence of my love;
And, wandering here and there all desolate,
Seek with my plaints to match that mournful dove

Because the speaker has been "left disconsolate," he goes "wandering here and there" inconsolable and nearly despondent because of "the absence of [his] love." He claims, however, that he "mourn[s] to [him]self," but it is likely that his mood is being broadcast far and wide as he "seek[s] [his] plaints to match that mournful dove."

No doubt, he finds a modicum of solace in complaining in a grief-stricken voice as the dove complains. Likening human emotion to creatures in nature is favorite device employed by poets, although they have been accused of engaging in the pathetic fallacy in rhetoric.

The pathetic fallacy imputes to animals, inanimate objects, or other natural creations those same emotions that, in fact, belong to the human, and are likely not even possible for the object of the fallacy.

Third Quatrain: Inconsolable, Lovesick

No joy of aught that under heaven doth hove,
Can comfort me, but her own joyous sight
Whose sweet aspect both God and man can move,
In her unspotted pleasance to delight.

The speaker then mourns that nothing "under heaven" can console him while he is away from his love. She is such a "joyous sight," and her features are chiseled in such a "sweet aspect" that she has the ability to influence "both God and man."

The speaker's beloved has such an "unspotted pleasance to delight" that none can equal her, at least in the eyes of this lovesick speaker.

Couplet: Drama of Loss

Dark is my day, whiles her fair light I miss,
And dead my life that wants such lively bliss.

As long as the speaker must suffer the absence of his beloved, his days will be "dark," because it is "her fair light [he] miss[es]."

The speaker's life has expired, yet he continues to pray for a bliss that is living. He will also continue in his melancholy way, flaunting his misery and sadness. Still he be looking for manners of expression for his sorrow and despair.

The speaker employs exaggeration to enliven and fill his discourse of expressed drama. It is likely that he will continue mourning, and longing for this departed love one as he complains and bemoans his current lot in life.

Sonnet 89: Original Late Middle English Version

Lyke as the Culuer on the bared bough,
Sits mourning for the absence of her mate;
And in her songs sends many a wishfull vew,
For his returne that seemes to linger late.
So I alone now left disconsolate,
Mourne to my selfe the absence of my love:
And wandring here and there all desolate,
Seek with my playnts to match that mournful dove
Ne ioy of ought that vnder heauen doth houe,
Can comfort me, but her owne joyous sight:
Whose sweet aspect both God and man can move,
in her unspotted pleasauns to delight.
Dark is my day, whyles her fayre light I mis,
And dead my life that wants such lively blis.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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