Edmund Spenser – Epithalamion

“Epithalamion” is an ancient Greek poetical genre, and means literally “the song of the threshold”, i.e. the song sung on the threshold on the bridal chamber by attendants. In Greek poetry it developed into a poem celebrating and describing the whole course of the wedding. Spenser composed this poem to put at the end of the Amoretti cycle as its culmination. The important difference is that he is not, like the creators of other poems of this kind, celebrating other people’s weddings, but his own – “I unto my selfe alone will sing”. The poem is written in elaborate stanzas – I won’t bother here with the exact rhyme and rhythm pattern, but he employs lines of different length and nine rhymes in each stanza. Each stanza ends with the refrain line “That all the woods may answer and your Eccho ring” echoing throughout the poem.

The poem begins with the series of invocations. First the poet implores the muses, who so often helped him to praise other people or mourn his woes, to celebrate his happiness and praise the beauty of his love. Then he asks them to go to her chamber, wake her and help her dress. He also asks other nymphs of gardens and meadows to gather as many flowers as possible and to decorate her chamber and cover the floor with flowers so that she won’t hurt her foot. He also asks the lake nymphs to bind their locks together, wood nymphs to keep the wolves away and all of them to arrive at the wedding. Then he addresses his beloved, asking her to wake up because Aurora has already left Tithonus bed and Phoebus shows his glorious head, meaning it’s sunrise. Since the wedding apparently took place in June, I am not sure it’s a good idea to wake up your fiancée around 5 am, if you want to keep her awake on the wedding night. But poetical conventions are stronger than common sense and Spenser continues in this lyrical vein, listing all the birds that sing sweet songs to his fiancée.

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