Inspired by the Greek and Latin culture, Renaissance (literally meaning “rebirth”) signifies the revival of art, literature, science and architecture. It is called the “rebirth” because Europe rediscovered its original roots, its former glory and brought back the classical era. The writers of the middle ages wrote a lot about Religion, which shows us the influence of Church on the people, whereas, Renaissance writings focused on themes like Secularism, they brought in Rationality and Exploration. There is a strong emergence of Individuality in these writings. This “new individualism” allowed scholars and writers to think beyond Religion and talk about Humanities, philosophy, history, their feelings, unrequited love etc. Scholars and writers began questioning existing theories. The perspective of people towards the world slowly started changing. The Age of Reformation began when the State decided to break away from Church. Humanism emerged with man at the center instead of the church.
Renaissance literature’s most dominant feature is the Sonnet. The sonnet is a lyrical poem of fourteen lines with usually ten syllables in each line. They have a set structure and follow a strict rhyme scheme. Sonnet was first introduced by Petrarch in Italy. He wrote about his love, Laura and took the sonnet form to its zen. Thomas Wyatt was inspired by Petrarch’s writings and introduced Sonnets in England. He started off by translating Petrarch’s work into English. Traditional sonnets contained strong themes of love. Petrarch discussed unattainable love and the pain that it can bring, and English poets such as Spencer followed this example during their time. Another type of love expressed through sonneteers was “courtly love”- the medieval tradition between a knight and a noble woman, characterised by praise and lack of real contact. They want the woman but she is unreachable, the sonneteer can never have her.
While sonnets often discuss the difficulties of love, other themes are also appropriate. Sonnets also explored the notion that poems, and art works in general, will outlive their creators.
Edmund Spenser was a famous English courtier poet and wrote a lot of poetry for the Queen. Spenser’s Amoretti is inspired from his love story. This sequence is about how he woos an unmarried woman, chases her, almost gives up, but marries her in the end. His sonnet sequence is different from others because his unrequited love story has a happy ending.
Sonnet 75 is a conversation between Spenser and Elizabeth, the girl he loves immensely. This sonnet’s central theme is immortality and love. It is a conversation between Spenser and Elizabeth, at the beach. Every time Spenser writes her name on the sand, the water washes it away. The lover then reacts to the writing and says that all his efforts are in vain as she also is as temporary as her name on the sand. She emphasises on her being mortal. Spenser then tells her that the “baser things” will disappear, but she will live on. She will be immortalised through his poetry.
“But came the tide, and made my pains his prey” the tide here signifies how time will eventually destroy all man-made things. “My pains” tells us that writing his lover’s name on the sand is hard work too. This act is a symbol of all the efforts one puts in a relationship which is taken away by time. Elizabeth acknowledges her mortality. She too will disappear like her name some day. She highlights that his gesture will never work, that he’s being proud in thinking that his writing is more powerful than the forces of nature. Spenser draws attention to the mortality of the world and how time is going to outweigh everything. He brings out a contrast between the permanence (of their love)
and transience (of their existence). Time and nature are cruel and destroy man-made things.
The sonnet ends with Spenser reassuring Elizabeth that their love will live forever and he will immortalise her through his writing. Poets are creators, and therefore poetry will live, as it is not man-made. Love will die, they will die, but poetry will exist forever. He has drawn parallels between temporality of the world and the immortality of art.
Spenser and Elizabeth both agree that their existence is transient in nature. The only difference is that, the poet is optimistic of change, whereas, the lady is pessimistic of change.