Amoretti: A sonnet sequence
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More informationThe Amoretti (meaning little love poems) is a sequence of 89 sonnets written in the tradition of the Petrarchan sonnets, a popular form for poets of the Renaissance period. Spenser’s sequence has been largely neglected in modern times, while those of his contemporaries William Shakespeare and Sir Philip Sidney have been acclaimed. However, because of the artistic skill, along with the emotion and the humor exhibited, these poems deserve a broader hearing, even though they may be somewhat difficult for the present-day reader, partly through Spenser’s love for words and expressions that were already archaic in his time.
Amoretti, written throughout the year 1594 and published the following year, violates at least one of the conventional elements of the Renaissance sonnet sequences. Other poets, including Petrarch and Sidney, chose as the inspiration for their sonnets a woman who was inaccessible to the poet, sometimes even married to someone else. They idealized this woman, seeming to be extravagantly suffering because of their passionate admiration, while in real life they might hardly know the lady and had no real interest in an actual love affair. Spenser, however, dedicated his verses to a woman that he actually loved and sought, Elizabeth Boyle, whom he then married.
Also the sonnet series by other poets were usually despairing of any fruition in regard to the lady, and Spenser certainly does show much frustration himself in his efforts to achieve a closer relationship with his love; but as the series progresses, he gradually sees improvement in the success of his wooing, as his actual wedding nears. The poems feature elaborate imagery, loaded with metaphorical situations, saying much the same thing repeatedly in a wide variety of ways, with much clever creativity, sometimes impressive and sometimes a bit awkward. There is a rich vein of humor running through the whole sequence, often through mock passion, and there is even a bit of sensuality in some of the later sonnets. The better poems are often sharp an