This post discusses two sonnets about entrapment by Edmund Spenser.
Edmund Spenser (c. 1552-1599) was the author of The Faerie Queene and the sonnet sequence Amoretti, which contains 89 sonnets about his courtship of Elizabeth Boyle. For more information about Spenser, see Sonnet 75.
The following two sonnets are from the Amoretti and they are both about one person trapping another person within a romantic relationship or marriage. The original poems are on the left, and my modern English paraphrases are on the right. Below the poems is my analysis.
|Sonnet 37||Modern English|
|1||What guyle is this, that those her golden tresses||What deception is this, that the golden tresses,|
|2||She doth attyre under a net of gold,||That she tucks under a golden net,|
|3||And with sly skill so cunningly them dresses,||And with sly skill dresses so cunningly,|
|4||That which is gold or heare may scarse be told?||That one cannot tell the difference between her hair and gold?|
|5||Is it that mens frayle eyes, which gaze too bold,||Does she do it so that men’s weak eyes, which boldly stare,|
|6||She may entangle in that golden snare,||She may entangle in her golden snare,|
|7||And being caught, may craftily enfold||And, having caught them, may skillfully enclose|
|8||Theyr weaker harts, which are not wel aware?||Their weaker hearts, which are not fully aware?|
|9||Take heed therefore, myne eyes, how ye doe stare||Be careful, my eyes, how you stare,|
|10||Henceforth too rashly on that guilefull net,||From now on, too rashly at that deceitful net,|
|11||In which if ever ye entrapped are,||In which, if you are ever trapped within,|
|12||Out of her bands ye by no meanes shall get.||You will never escape from her bonds.|
|13||Fondnesse it were for any, being free,||It is folly for any free person|
|14||To covet fetters, though they golden bee.||To long for chains, although they may be golden.|
|Sonnet 71||Modern English|
|1||I joy to see how, in your drawen work,||I love to see how, in your sewing work,|
|2||Your selfe unto the bee ye doe compare,||You compare yourself to a bee;|
|3||And me unto the spyder, that doth lurke||And you compare me to a spider that waits|
|4||In close awayt to catch her unaware.||In secret to ambush the bee unaware.|
|5||Right so your selfe were caught in cunning snare||It’s good that you were caught in the snare|
|6||Of a deare foe, and thralled to his love:||Of a dear enemy, and enslaved to his love;|
|7||In whose streight bands ye now captived are||You are now a captive of those tight webs,|
|8||So firmely, that ye never may remove.||And they are so strong that you cannot remove them.|
|9||But as your worke is woven all about||But, as your work is woven all about|
|10||With woodbynd flowers and fragrant eglantine,||With honeysuckle and with roses,|
|11||So sweet your prison you in time shall prove,||In time, you will find that your prison is as sweet,|
|12||With many deare delights bedecked fyne:||With many dear and fine delights.|
|13||And all thensforth eternall peace shall see||And, from then on, there will be eternal peace|
|14||Betweene the spyder and the gentle bee.||Between the spider and the gentle bee.|
In Sonnet 37, Spenser compares his love’s hair to gold. In the same way that men are ensnared by the search for gold, “weaker hearts” (L8) cannot resist the attraction of a woman’s golden hair. Thus, a woman has the power to ensnare a man with her physical beauty, and men are captivated when they gaze on her. Spenser concludes (L11-L14) by saying that if a woman ever traps you, you will never be free from her, and that it is folly for a man to covet chains, though they may be made of gold.
In Sonnet 71, Spenser uses the metaphor of a bee and a spider. He compares his love to a bee and himself to a spider (L1-L4). The spider waits for the bee to become trapped in his web. But in this poem, Spenser claims that it is good for the bee to be captured by the spider (L5-L8), for the bee’s prison will be full of many delights (L9-L12). Spenser concludes (L13-L14) that, from that time onward (after their marriage, perhaps), there will be peace between the spider and the bee.
These two poems give us two different perspectives. Sonnet 37 is from the perspective of a man who doesn’t want to become trapped in a relationship by the beauty of a woman, and Sonnet 71 is from the perspective of a man who is courting a woman and wishes to trap her in marriage. These two views are thus of the entrapped and trapper, respectively. Is it noble to be the trapper and shameful to be the entrapped? After all what is the difference? Perhaps the difference lies in the fact that the trapper feels some emotional freedom and distance from his prey, while the entrapped person feels emotional entanglements from which he cannot free himself. The first one doesn’t mind if the relationship ends, while the second one would be devastated. This trapper could have been a breaker of hearts, while the entrapped could be emotionally dependent on the other person’s physical presence, and would be heartbroken if the other person left.
Is it better to be the trapper or the entrapped? Or is it better to be neither, and to give and receive freedom from others? Can we be happy while we feel trapped in a relationship? Perhaps there is an ideal state in which relationships produce happiness and not guilt and fear, but first we must respect ourselves and not be dependent on another person’s physical presence in order to be emotionally healthy. Otherwise, our emotions and thoughts will entrap us, regardless of which legal documents have or haven’t been signed.