Sonnet Analysis - Fair Is My Love, by Edmund Spenser

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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 ...

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...eems more astonishing.

This sonnet mocks this woman by pretending to praise her, all the while proving that her fairness is contingent upon certain external manifestations. The fact that the beloved has a "gentle sprite" does not matter much because she is prideful. The subtle language of the sonnet hides the speaker's ridicule, just as her smile hides her pride. The author uses economic, oceanic, and nautical imagery to show how her fairness is merely revealed through temporal circumstances, and never makes mention that she is "fair" alone. The ridiculing nature of this sonnet is greatly revealed through the repeated term "Fair, when," and through the central phrase: that her "cloud of pride, which oft doth dark" (line 7).

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