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 < Theme 4: Day and Night (ii) >

 Edmund Spenser

 Selection from Epithalamium >
poem, commentary and criticism

Rubens: Neptune and Cybele

first published in Amoretti and Epithalamium (1595, 43)

Wake now my love, awake; for it is time, 
The Rosy Morne long since left Tithones bed, 
All ready to her silver coche to clyme, 
And Phoebus ‘gins to shew his glorious head. 
Hark how the cheerefull birds do chaunt their lays 
And carroll of love’s praise. 

Tithones : Aurora, the dawn, fell in love with the mortal Tithones, and asked the gods to grant him eternal life. Her wish was granted, but she forgot to ask for eternal youth, and he just kept on getting older.
Coach : silver coche : the sun is conceived as riding in a chariot across the heavens.
Phoebus : the sun : an epithet and then an alternative name for Apollo, referring both to the youthful beauty of the god, and, later, to the radiance of the sun when Apollo became identified with Helios.

The merry Larke her matins sings aloft, 
The thrush replies, the Mavis descant playes,
The Ouzell shrills, the Ruddock warbles soft, 
So goodly all agree with sweet content, 
To this dayes merriment. 

Mavis : song thrush   Ouzell : blackbird   Ruddock : robin

Ah my deere love why doe ye sleepe thus long, 
When meeter were that ye should now awake, 
T’awayt the coming of your joyous make
And hearken to the birds’ lovelearnèd song, 
The dewy leaves among. 

Make : mate 

For they of joy and pleasance to you sing, 
That all the woods them answer and their echo ring. 
My love is now awake out of her dreame, 
And her fayre eyes, like stars that dimmèd were 
With darksome cloud, now shew theyr goodly beams 
More bright then Hesperus his head doth rere.

Hesperus : the evening star.


Commentary and Criticism

It must have been galling to the aristocratic members of the Areopagus centred around that star of the Elizabethan age, Sir Philip Sidney, that Edmund Spenser, the mere son of a weaver, was capable of such poetry with its nicely turned phrases, just conceits, impeccable metre, and delightful sentiments. The bucolic ideal evoked here is well detailed with observation from nature (the birds actually exist), and the conceit that they form a sort of choir singing the matins may not be wholly original, but it is pleasant enough in this context. A little odd, however, is the arrival of Hesperus, the evening star, in the final line. The day may have been pleasant, but it was rather short nonetheless.

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