Symbolism in the Poetry of Renaissance Authors Sir Phillip Sidney and Edmund Spenser

Paper Type:  Term paper
Pages:  8
Wordcount:  1926 Words
Date:  2022-03-09

The Renaissance era was a moment of excellent intellectual growth and rebirth, in other words, the term Renaissance literally in French means rebirth. This distinctive era of enlightenment for Europeans began in Florence at the end of the 14th century. This was aftermath of Black Death wiping almost half of population of Europe, during this era, there was a drastic evolution in philosophy, science, mathematics, arts, and, culture in Europe. During that period, individuals were anticipated to dedicate their lives to the religious matters more than in any other social aspect. However, some individuals who lived in that era broke the notion by upholding the spirit of freedom from medieval practice to place focus on human pleasure. Samuel Salzbor (2016), claim that humanists through studying of material written by Plato and Aristotle, become more interested on their worldly and human pleasure rather than in religious matters. With concentration to humanism, secularism, and, individualism, the spirit of traveling and, pursuit of knowledge awakened too. Writers, artists, scientists, and, other thinkers were highly influenced by this culture through belief. The art world was dominated by the theme of love and mortality; which were the fundamental and common aspects of lives of all men.

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Poems of this era were preoccupied with the theme of love and death; the two themes were the vital elements; the life of human being revolved around them. Moreover, time limitation during that era was viewed as a threat that shortened life in which man finds and embraces love, preserves it, and, pass it on to future generations. Poetic work of that era fully exhausted the insinuations of destruction brought by time. In the handling of the theme of love, poets of that era were faced with choices to varieties of major directions. When discussing on the theme of love, the poets were always of feet trying to find a solution for the disagreement between the erotic and spiritual. Besides, Renaissance poet emphasized always the humans' highest love should be dedicated to God. However, C.S. Lewis one of the poets of that era, demonstrates his allegory of love, that heterosexual love is made the major theme in European literature. Therefore, poet of renaissance era concentrated on love in time, which is hard to figure with both carnal and spiritual love.

Spenser is an example of an ideal poet. He took his idea of love a notch higher, the word of limited time "Sabaoth of the soul.'' Through his Hymes, he suggests that there is no way that erotic love can override death. While, Sidney who got inspiration from Shakespeare's work accepts the sway that 'time holds over man', further, he claimed that the capacity of love in the relationship and its expression to overcome change and deterioration, this idea differed from Spenser's work which demonstrates no interest in external existence. Nevertheless, both poets have interest in Donne's notion; Donne focuses on eternity like Spenser and like Sidney, he asserts man's capacity to overcome time and change in the universe of change.

Hence, this paper will evaluate the three key contemplate in Renaissance poets, love, mutability and, death to illustrate the symbolic meaning of the poet of that era. Emphasizes will be placed on Edmund Spenser's variations on mutability and time in the Fowre Hymnes, and, the Mutability Cantos, and, Sonnets by Sir Philip Sidney, which act as the predictor of The Anniversaries and the lyric poem by John Donne,

Spenser's work is a mixture of Neo-Platonic and Petrarchan resolutions is an artistic trial that symbolizes a trial to detach the soul from the bodily restrictions of time and change, he subscribes to an everlasting constant. Spenser ambition in the Cantos is a classic one for the renaissance period. Thus, time seems to have several faces but unlikely all of them are capable of change "do not I tyme/ cause nature to decays, do not I tyme/cause the take his say... (Held, 2017), the world with this limitations is prone to change. Consequently, Spenser struggles to escape, in his path to establish durableness behind the change, or the universe with limited change.

In contrary to Sir Sidney who seeks permanence in change; Sidney's poetic work declines the convention of both Neo-Platonism and Petrarchism. Rather than running away from change, he chooses to artistically confront and be on the same line with the very cause of mutability that endangers the existence of love and life. Sir Philip, who gained his inspiration from Shakespeare in his poem; sonnets, he initially awakens the processes of time and decay; aftermath he disregards them as a way of terminating his love and his art. He asserts that love and life will override death, his declaration act as a predictor of the attitude towards time and death located in the poetic work of John Donne.

Through merging spiritual and erotic elements of love, Poet by the name John Donne created a physical love as symbolic of overcoming changes resented by time and threat posed by death. He works to bring into a harmony of what the physical body desires and what spiritual body needs, discovering the one as capable as the other transcend the world of mutability, death, and time.


One of the important elements conveying symbolic work of Renaissance literature is Petrarch's work. Spenser and Sidney's poetry imperatively contributed to the establishment of Renaissance love poetry by its regeneration of the courtly belief. The concept of courtly love, as highlighted and described by Andreas Capellanus in The Art of Courtly Love contains a strict code of guidelines to which men were presented, under the rules of the object of their love, to ensure they win the hearts of their lovers and finally attain their sexual needs with consummation. However, both poet presents Petrarch in a state of veers away from the formulated routine of a final consummation and rather display the frustrated love that did not lead to a realization of their desires. For instance, in the sonnet written by Spenser states that " I thought I raised me to the place where she, who still on earth I seek and find not...unluckily" (Chih-hsin, L. 2009). The convections of Petrarch's became a dulling influence. Shakespeare mocked the overuse of this technique by English poets of the 16th century, who had led it to lose its original emotional touch. Despite the overuse of Petrarch's formulation of a perfected and chaste love between opposite sex, such was essential.


As a way of rekindling the emotional sense that was in sonnets, Spenser, unlike other sonnets; who accepted the frustration of Petrarch's love, Spenser strictly adhered to the code of Petrarchan. Consequently, his chase embraced a successful conclusion for the lover and alludes to a latent marriage, as a product of the courtship explained in the entire of Amoretti, Amoretti is one of the Spenser collections that depict a mixture of influence from Petrarchan and Platonic traditions (MYERS, 2014). Spenser steps beyond the common practice of that era and transformed circumstances of the lover in the end. His inclusion of marriage symbolizes the whole subject of marriage and its exact position in society. He further connects Epithalamion with Amoretti to not only associate Petrarchan World to married life but also to the literal universe of reality.

In addition, Spenser added the platonic ultimate into his poem to demonstrate his interest in the greatest love; love for the human to God. Spenser describes erotic love as earthly desires of humanity as an allegory for the love of God for his church. Spenser lived in an era, in which Song of Solomon was acknowledged as an allegory of God's love for humanity and validation for marriage, which a similar notion is outlined in his Epithalamion. He succeed through his poetic work to syndicate both traditions as he accounts for marriage as a way of attaining earthly sexuality and desire by appealing the act of marriage in meditation of God's love for the human being. Spenser perhaps unknowingly and knowingly expresses a similar topic that is discussed in Leone Ebreo, the Jewish popularize of Neo-Platonism, (Philosophy of love) which describes the slope and origin of love. The man was placed at the center of the universe, and other Neo-Platonists with the human soul being the mirror of divine things, the association between the two and the life of mortal things. Afore such visions and knowledge were available, man showed his preparation by comprehending his love for the woman. The desire that men had for women was aroused by the reflections of heavenly forms grasped by the adored.

Combination of Petrarch Tradition and Platonism for a Solution

The poem written of Spenser's own wedding that goes against tradition has its symbolism located in between the structure of the poem. Hieatt in Short Time's Endless Monument, discusses the numerical symbolism of Spenser's wedding day; June 11, 1594, the longest day in the summer solstice, in his poem The Epithalamion, Spenser says' but for the time it is ill ordained was to choose the longest day of the year. Hieatt continues to point out that daytime length of that wedding was 16 and night was 7 hours which, is equivalent with the 24 stanzas of the poem that are segmented in the same length of day and night he got married. Up to 17th stanza which stands for daytime the refrains are positive "the woods shall to me an answer and my Echo ring" and the remaining 6 hours are negative, "the woods no more shall answere, nor your echo ring"( Penny, 2012).). He not only writes The Epithalamion for his celebration day but also includes his wedding day into the form of the poem...

Another point of dissociation of Spenser's poetic work from the rest of sonnet writer including Sidney emerges from his decision to merge Epithalamion with Amoretti. Petrarch and Sidney published their sonnet sequences with songs, an arrangement of lamentation. While joining, Spenser generates a unique piece, Amoretti and Epithalamion contrast significantly. For instance, Warley, (2002) asserts that the combination talks about the disappointment the lover is experiencing while discussing the theme of celebration mood. Thus, combining the two symbolizes a change experienced in the world, from literal to the real. The Amoretti stands for the Petrarchan love in which Una is praised and adored while, the lover who is a servant is frustrated. On the other hand, Epithalamion stands for a shift of role, which is more of reality in English society during that era. Nonetheless, a new challenge is presented after the woman has been moved by the persuasion of the lover. The key major elements that act as representative of the real role between reality and traditions are two; first one is "her own goodwill" which, symbolizes submission of woman to the man, secondly, the deer is caught and "firmly type" indicating the process of marriage, which, Spenser asserts it means woman has finally submitted to the man who has power over her as her husband in the marriage (Penny, 2012). Similarly, making the two to become one, allow marriage poem to offer answers to the problems of love as displayed in The Amoretti by The Petrarchan love tradition. The key challenge facing English Renaissance Protestants is the inquiry on how to locate spiritual peace with the difficulty obtained from love. They argue that if men find it difficult to pursue that path of Platonic and throw away their sexual desires to partake a higher knowledge and virtue, also it is impossible for them to remain in the frustrated Petrarchan tradition; without the overpowering lust to live decadently, their only solution is marr...

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Symbolism in the Poetry of Renaissance Authors Sir Phillip Sidney and Edmund Spenser. (2022, Mar 09). Retrieved from

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