Explication of Edmund Spenser’s Sonnet 64

Explication of Edmund Spenser’s Sonnet 64

The speaker of Edmund Spenser’s Sonnet 64 is a man speaking of his beloved and delighting in the scents in the atmosphere exuded from her while they are kissing. This sonnet is arranged in the English Spenserian format, with a rhyme scheme of abab bcbc cdcd ee. The first quatrain sets the tone of the sonnet, which is blissful, and is then followed by two quatrains that compare the beloved’s different body parts, scents, and features to various plants and flowers and their “odours” and colors. A turn comes in the couplet at the end as the speaker realizes that, not only does his lover’s scents compare to those of the flowers, but that the flowers’ scents are far “excelled” by his beloved’s. Like the vertical layout of the poem, the descriptions of the beloved’s features and scents are illustrated in a vertical manner as the speaker begins with his beloved’s face and works his way down her torso. Additionally, most lines in this sonnet are end-stopped, emphasizing the rhyme and giving pause as the reader considers each simile given by the speaker.

In the opening quatrain the speaker finds much delight in his beloved’s kiss. This delight is highlighted by the caesura created by a parenthetical phrase: “(such grace I found)” (line 1). The speaker’s senses are heightened by the ecstasy of the kiss, exemplified by his imagining a garden setting: “Me seemd I smelt a gardin of sweet flowres / That dainty odours from them threw around” (2-3). There is quite a bit of alliteration in this phrase, particularly on the “s,” “d,” and “r” sounds, and together with the accents used to create the rhythm of the sonnet, the reader can more easily sense the blissfulness of the poem’s tone and the speaker’s elated feelings. The last line of the first quatrain, “For damzels fit to decke their lovers bowres,” seems to contribute to the speaker’s sense of helplessness he may feel when he kisses his beloved, the term “damzels” reminiscent of “damsels in distress”—helpless ladies in need of rescue (although it is obvious the speaker would rather not be rescued!).

The second quatrain begins a list of similes the speaker uses to compare his beloved’s features to the flowers and plants in the garden of his imagination. He begins with her face, describing her lips, cheeks, brows, and eyes, and compares them to colorful, fragrant flowers—line-by-line. Each line contains a caesura in the middle, all created by the word “lyke,” which lend emphasis to each of the similes used throughout the sonnet. The alliteration on the “l” sound hints at the erotic undertones that will become more evident at the speaker moves down his beloved’s body in the third quatrain.

The sensory experience created in the first two quatrains is enhanced in the third quatrain as the speaker moves down his lover’s body. In the first two quatrains, the speaker seemed to focus most on his senses of sight and smell, but in the third his sense of taste is strongly hinted at as the alliteration of the “l” sound intensifies. The speaker uses lustful comparisons such as “her neck lyke…Cullambynes…,” “ her brest lyke lillyes, ere theyr leaves be shed…,” and “her nipples lyke yong blossomd Jessemynes” (lines 10-12). When the sonnet is spoken aloud, the “l” sound must be created with the tongue, just as our sense of taste is communicated by the tongue, so the alliteration seems to imply the speaker’s desire to taste his beloved’s skin. Lines 9 and 11 of this quatrain also subtly hint at the eroticism of the sonnet with phrases such as “a Strawberry bed” and “theyr leaves be shed” (i.e., the shedding of clothes). Though the hints are subtle, the speaker adds emphasis to the words “bed” and “shed” by stressing them and following them with commas that end-stop the lines.

The ending couplet of this sonnet cleverly takes the reader back to the beginning as the sense of smell is once again brought into play with the first line, “Such fragrant flowres doe give most odorous smell” (line 13). As a result, the reader is given a bit of “closure” as the sensory experience is wrapping up. The last line is the actual “turn” of the sonnet, at which point the speaker divulges the realization that, although “such fragrant flowres doe give most odorous smell,” his beloved’s “sweet odour did them all excell” (line 14). The effect of this realization lends a sense of surprise to the reader and blissfully concludes the sensual journey.

Work Cited
Spenser, Edmund. “Sonnet 64.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Major Authors. 8th Edition.
Greenblatt, Stephen, et al. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2006. 436.