Prothalamion summary

By Edmund Spenser

‘Pro’, means “prior to”,  the term Prothalamion is noted Spenserian neologism, invented to signify a preliminary nuptial song which is published in 1596.

About the poem

The prothalamion poem is a spousal verse written by Spenser on the occasion of the wedding of Elizabeth and Catherine Somerset (daughters of Edward Somerset) The Earl of Worcester.

The wedding was Formalized at the Strand in London, in Essex house. This poem is vastly different from Spenser’s own nuptial song, for ex; where ‘Epithalamion’ is exuberantly sensual and consistent throughout its length and its themes, the ‘Prothalamion’ is shorter, more pensive, and almost sedate in its pace. The poem is written in a conventional form of a marriage song.

Uses of devices

The poem has a pastoral setting, specifically here, the bank of the river Thames, also the poet employes a couplet at the end of the first stanza that is reworked into a refrain at the end of each stanza. And at the end of the stanza like ‘Epithalamion’, Prothalamion too invokes pagan god, to bless the couple and guard them from ills.

Theme of the poem

The theme is a song in the honor of the marriage of lady Elizabeth and Catherine Somerset. Its center theme is the celebration around the river Thames, which is also a key symbol and setting. Images and ideas of beauty surrounds the Thames such as nymphs gathering flowers for the crown to sisters and natural world and the fragility of perfection is also used as one of the themes in the poem.


The first stanza begins with the descriptions of the river Thames. Poet was frustrated with the job at the court and all he wanted is some mental peace. Therefore, the environment near river Thames is very soothing. There are flowers, cool breeze, birds. So, the poet requests the river to flow softly until he ends the song.

In the second stanza, poet sees a group of nymphs along the banks of the river. These nymphs are the symbol of purity. They are beautiful, they prepared bouquet of flowers with prime roses, white lilies, red roses, tulips, violets and daisies.

In third stanza, Spenser introduced the swans, which swim across the river, he compares the two swans with Jupiter who disguised as a swan to win his love Lida. These swans are shinier than Lida. The river Thames instruct its water not to dirt the sacred wings of the swans. Here, poet not uses swans as symbol of purity but they are chastity.

Stanza fourth describes that the nymphs are astonished when they saw these swans swimming across the river. Swans are usually assigned to drawing the chariot of venues, (the goddess of love). In this stanza poet also focuses his attention to white lilies, as these are the symbol of virginity of the nymphs.

In the fifth stanza, Nymphs prepare the bouquet of flowers which looks very beautiful. These Nymphs are excited for the upcoming wedding. So, they prepare a wedding songs, with all the fragrance of flowers themes, which exactly looked like Peneus. The river of ancient fame, flowing along Thipe and the Thessalian valley.

In the sixth stanza, the songs of the Nymphs are the mesmerizing effect. Spenser wishes the couple to live forever. He also prays to cupid and venues to bless the newly wedded couples, to have kids a sign of dignity.

In the seventh stanza, the poet describes that the rivers are happy, and the whole environment is celebrating the wedding of both the couple.

Wedding starts at London and poet point every detail of the wedding, the mansion the atmosphere in stanza.

In the eighth stanza, the poet informs that wedding has begun in London and poet paints every detail of the wedding like; the mansion, the atmosphere etc.

In the nineth stanza, the poet describes about the place where wedding ceremony is being performed in the mighty castle of the Earl of Essex. And he (the poet) served as a danger to foreign countries, he is brave man, so here poet celebrates with his poem.

The final stanza, in which the Earl of Essex walked towards the river, he is accompanied by the two grooms. They are look like the twins of Jupiter namely Castor and Pollux. Both the grooms hold the hands of their brides and wedding begins.

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