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Sonnet Analysis Fair Is My Love, By Edmund Spenser

1338 words - 5 pages

This sonnet is an anti-love poem that ironically shows how the fairness of a lady is contingent upon nature's blessings and her external manifestations.  The Spenserian style brings unity to this sonnet, in that it's theme and rhyme is interwoven throughout, but the focus of her "fairness" is divided into an octave and a sestet.  The first eight lines praise her physical features (hair, cheeks, smile), while the last six lines praise her internal features (words, spirit, heart).  This sonnet intentionally hides the speaker's ridicule behind counterfeit love-language, using phrases like: "fair golden hairs" (line 1), and "rose in her red cheeks" (line 3), and "her eyes the fire of love does spark" (line 4).  This traditional love language fills pages of literature and song, and has conventionally been used to praise the attributes of a lover; but this sonnet betrays such language by exhibiting a critique rather than commendation. This sonnet appears to praise the beauty of a lady but ironically ridicules her by declaring that her "fairness" is contingent upon nature, physical features, and displaying a gentle spirit, which hides her pride.

The first line begins: "Fair is my love, when " (line 1), and it's an idea that is shown five times in the sonnet (see lines 1,3,5,7,9). At first glance, many readers will find this phrase to be quite endearing, but the speakers actual intent is to prove over and over again that her "fairness" is contingent "when" certain events happen.  For example, she is fair "when her fair golden hairs. . . [are] waiving" (lines 1-2); and "when the rose in her red cheeks appears" (line 3); and "[when] her eyes the fire of love does spark" (line 4).  The poet is very precise in using the term "fair" which the O.E.D. defines as: "[in] chiefly in reference to the face of a womanalso of body parts."  This definition fits this sonnet perfectly because the speaker praises her face and body parts; including, her "hairs" (line 1), "cheeks" (line 3), "eyes" (line 4), "breast" (line 5), and "smiles" (line 8). 

The first two lines of the sonnet addresses how the beloved's physical features are found fair when nature intervenes.  The sonnet opens: "Fair is my love, when her fair golden hairs/ With the loose wind ye waving chance to mark" (lines 1-2).  Nature's wind must be "waving" her hair, in order for her to be declared fair by the poet.   The speaker doesn't just say that her hair moves in the wind, but states that it waves, an oceanic term which points the emphasis back to nature. The next two lines reveal how her fairness is temporal: "Fair, when the rose in her red cheeks appears,/Or in her eyes the fire of love does spark:" (lines 3-4). At this point, it may not be apparent that the speaker is intending to be sarcastic; thus far, the first four lines have only told how she is fair when certain events take place. The sonnet's subtle mockery will be revealed in the next four lines.

          The second quatrain...

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