Epithalamion (Introduction)

By Edmund Spenser

About the poem

Epithalamion by Spenser is an ‘ode’. It is a wedding poem which deals with the celebration of marriage with his beloved Elizabeth Boyle on their wedding on 11 June, 1594.

The Epithalamion in Greek means “a wedding song” or at the “bridal chamber”. This poem was originally published with his sonnet sequence ‘Amoretti’ in 1595. It is one of the most beautiful wedding hymns in any language, and also the first wedding poems of English literature. Epithalamion was published by William Ponson.

Epithalamion is an exuberant song, celebrating poet’s love and marriage to Elizabeth Boyle. This poem too like Amoretti sonnets celebrates legitimate form of sexual desire between bride and groom. Epithalamion carries multiple functions, as a celebration of the wedding, as celebration of beloved, as celebration of legitimate passion, and as celebration of ornament to the beloved and as monument to her.

Theme of the poem

The poem Epithalamion has three main themes i.e. marriage, the adoration of the bride from the perspective of the groom and the mythology.

Form of the poem

It has 24 stanzas and 365 lines, which represents the hours 24 hours of the day, and 365 lines represents the 365 days in a year, leading up to Spenser’s wedding day. The first 16 stanzas are describing the day time and the last 8 are about the night view. The poem has rhyme scheme ABACC, DEDEFF, most of the contents of the poem are from Greek mythology


The poem begins with the traditional invocation to the muse to participate and help in the wedding as bridesmaids. Basically, the poem has around ‘few movements’ which adds a dramatic tone into the poem that can be enacted more vividly.

The first moment, which sets out the poem’s purpose it means of accomplishing it and the pastoral setting out of the event.

The second moment, which eulogies his beloved’s beauty as she wakes up, adorned and then enters the temple or church for the wedding.

The third moment, which is about the celebrations after the wedding and bridegroom’ impatience to be alone with his bride.

The last moment, which expresses the poet’s fear and anxieties and then seek the blessing of all the Gods for the union.

These moments culminate in the envoy of the last stanza and are explicated by it. However, when the night arrives, the groom turns his thought towards the product of their union, praying various gods that his new wife’s womb might fertile and give him multiple children.

Epithalamion, is however a poem that is unique in the poetry of the 16th century as it is the first English wedding poem, which offers a rich tapestry of sensual imagery that borrow as much from classical legends and myths from Christian idea and beliefs and local folklore.

Nonetheless, Spenser was to go on to expand the scale many times over in “The Faeri Queen” but somewhat successful. This poem may then be considered his most successful fusion of these diverse poetic traditions and style.

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