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Edmund Spenser

One day I wrote her name upon the strand


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Overview

2.1 Theme

2.2 Content

2.3 Lyrical Speech Situation

2.4 Rhetorical Devices

2.5 Imagery

2.6 Rhythmic analysis

2.7 Meter

2.8 Rhyme

3. Interpretation

4. Summary

5. Appendix

6. Bibliography



”One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand” is a sonnet within the sonnet cycle ‘Amoretti‘ by Edmund Spenser written in the 16th century. The main content of this sonnet cycle, is the relationship between the poet and his beloved woman, Elizabeth Boyle, and their eventual marriage.  It was first published in 1595 in London by William Ponsonby as a part of a volume called ‘Amoretti and Epithalamion‘. The sonnet cycle included 89 sonnets and the poem ‘One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand‘ is sonnet number 75. In this paper I will analyze the poem “One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand“ with the knowledge and tools I acquired in this semester in the Literary Studies 1 course. I will briefly talk about the theme, content and lyrical speech situation as well as about the rhetoric devices used in this poem and the imagery. Finally I will interpret the poem with focus on the love story.


2. Overview

2.1 Theme

The poem “One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand” is firstly about love. It is the attempt of a man to immortalize his love and his loved woman so they can be together for all eternity. Furthermore, the poem reveals the fact that humans cannot stop nature and death and therefore everyone as well as everything on earth is mortal. So another theme of the poem is mortality.


2.2 Content

The poem “One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand” describes the desperate attempt of a man to write his lover‘s name in the sand. However, in the very next moment, the waves come and “wash it away“. He tries a second time to leave his writing on the sand, but as he does so, the tide comes and lets the name of the woman disappear a second time. The woman then tells him that his attempts to immortalize “a mortal thing“ are a waste of time and that at a certain point in life she is going to die as well and then she herself, will vanish from earth in the same manner as her name did in the sand. The speaker then protests and argues that only lower, less worthy creatures will die and become dust . She, however, “shall live by fame“ which he will create with his poetic verses. His poetry will eternize her and their love, so even when death conquers the world, their love will remain and be renewed in the next life.


2.3 Lyrical speech situation

In the poem “One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand” the speaker is characterized by an explicit subjectivity. The “lyric I” is prominent in each stanza mediating his desperate desire to immortalize his love and beloved. In the beginning, the sonnet looks like a narrative poem. The speaker describes his action and his failures. However, in the 5th verse, the speech situation changes to a dialogue when suddenly a female person gives statements to his desperate attempts. The woman talks from verse 5 to 8 followed by 6 lines of the speaker’s response to her statement. What one cannot fail to see is the regular switch of tenses in this poem. The first quatrain, describing the milieu and painting the first picture of the poem, is written in past tense. In verse 5th, the tense changes as soon as the dialogue begins to present tense, resembling the here and now. A further change happens after verse 9, when the speaker starts to paint a picture of the future, the tense also changes to future tense.


2.4 Rhetorical devices

,One day I wrote my name upon the strand‘ is a poem rich of rhetoric methods.



In Amoretti 75, there are many alliterations to be found from the beginning of the poem all the way to its end. The first one to be found is in verse two where it says “waves and washed“ followed by “pains his prey“ in verse 4. “Die in dust“ (V10), “verse your virtues“ (V11) and “love shall live“ (V14) are three more examples of alliterations in Spencer‘s poem. The last one to be found is also in verse 14, “later life“.


Anaphor, Parallelisms and inversion

Whereas in “One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand“there is only one anaphor found, there are s parallelisms. The anaphor is found at the beginning of verse two and four, where both lines start with “But came the…“. This example is also an example of a parallelism. Other parallelisms are found in verse one and three where it says “[…] I wrote her name […] agayne I wrote it with a second hand“. Another parallelism is found in verse five and nine where it is written “vain man, sayd she […] not so, quod I“. “[…], quod I” and “[…] sayd she” are also examples of a inversion, as to the fact that one would usually say “I said” and “she said“.


Ellipse, homonym

An ellipse is found in verse two and four “But [then] came the …” and also in line five “that [you] doest in vain assay. There is also a homonym with the word “vain” to be found in verse five. The first “vain“ is describing the man and mend to be understood as to be proud of his beauty. The second “vain“, however, means “you try but you will never get it“.

Repetition, pleonasm

In verse seven, ten and 13 one finds an example of tautology or repetition with synonyms. The words “decay“ (V7) , “dy“(V10) as well as the word “death“ (V13) are all expressing the same meaning: passing away, doom, fall or decline.

Another rhetoric device is to be found in verse eight, where it says “[…] and eek my name bee wyped out lykewize“. Here we find a pleonasm, as the word “eek“ has more or less the same meaning as the word “lykewize“. Therefore it is an unnecessary repetition of a word because we do not get new information.


Onomatopoeic effect and euphemism

This effect is found within verse two of this poem. Here it says “[…] came the waves and washed it away“. The phone [w] is used here repeatedly and creates when pronouncing it, the roaring sound of waves in the ocean.

Euphemism is used in line seven and eight when the woman refers to her death as “[…] lyke to this decay, and eek my name be wyped out lykewize“. This gentle describes her death in more words, which is a euphemism as well as a periphrases.



The last rhetorical device to mention is the paradox. This device is found in verse six, where it quotes “a mortal thing so to immortalize“. Here we find two terms, “mortal“ and “immortalize“, in a close relationship, having contradictory meanings. However, after looking at this verse for some time, it is obvious that this quote still makes sense although it contains two contradictory words.


2.5 Imagery

In Spencer‘s poem there is a lot of imagery found, especially symbols. Furthermore there are some metaphors and personifications.



Spencer used a lot of natural symbolism in his poem “One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand“. The probably most dominant symbol is the act of writing the name of his beloved woman in the sand. This act stand for the act itself but also for the man‘s inherent desire to eternalize his being and to be remembered forever. The waves and their act of washing his writing away again and again symbolize time and nature. It might be to understand as that with time everyone is forgotten and you cannot deceive nature nor death.



In the expression “death shall all the world subdue“ (V13) we find a conventional personification of death. He is treated as a person who can suppress humanity.

In verse two it says “but came the waves and washed it away“. Here the waves also act like humans who wash something away that they do not want to have, see or be reminded of any longer. Another sample of personification is found in verse four where it quotes “but came the tyde, and made my paynes his prey“. Here too, the tide acts human.



The fourth line closes with a metaphor: “but came the tyde and made my paynes his pray“. Usually one days an animal makes another creature it’s pray, by this one means the animal hunts it. This constitutes a conventional vehicle to mean that something, in this case “my paynes“, is absorbed by something else, “the tyde”. The context implies that the tenor of “my paynes” is the lady‘s name, which in turn stands metaphorically for the young woman herself.

In verse seven, the woman says: “for I my selve shall lyke to this decay, and eek my name bee wyped out lykewize“. Here we find a simile as well as a metaphor. The woman compares herself to the sand, this is because once she dies she will be turned into nature, in this context sand. The metaphor is then that she will be washed away too, not literally but in the memories of people. As she will be not visually seen anymore she will be forgotten as well.

The poem also closes with a metaphor in line 12, where it says: “and in the hevens wryte your glorious name“. This is not to be taken literal, as this is obviously impossible. However this quote wants to express that he, the speaker, will never let her vanish or be forgotten. As the sky is present every single day and night, to write her name on it would reinsure that she will never be forgotten.


2.6 Rhythmic analysis

,One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand‘ is characterized as a sonnet. A sonnet is a form of a poem that originated in Europe, mainly in Italy. Commonly a sonnet contains 14 lines and follows a strict rhyme scheme and specific structure. The most common sonnet is an English sonnet also known as Shakespearean sonnet. In this specific sonnet the meter is, with only a rare exception, iambic pentameter and the used rhyme scheme is rhymed a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f,g-g.

Edmund Spenser, however, created his own sonnet, the so called Spenserian sonnet, which is a variant of the Shakespearean sonnet. His sonnets consists of three quatrains connected by the interlocking rhyme scheme abab bcbc cdcd ee.


2.7 Meter

The underlying metrical pattern in “One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand” is the iambic Pentermeter.  This indicates that every single line consists out of ten syllables which always come in pairs of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one.


One day I wrote her name upon the strand,

x      X/   x X/        x     X/     x X/   x     X

But came the waves and washèd it away:

x      X/      x     X/      x    X/x     X/  x  X

Agayne I wrote it with a second hand,

x    X/   x   X/    x  X/   x  X/  x    X

But came the tyde and made my paynes his prey.

x      X/         X/      x     X/     x     X/        x  X



The term “sonnet” derives from the Italian word “sonetto”, which translates to “little song“. Through the use of the iambic pentameter with one stressed syllable following an unstressed one, a singing atmosphere is created when reading the poem out loud.



2.8 Rhyme

The rhyme scheme in is a masculine end rhyme with three cross rhymes and one couple.


One day I wrote her name upon the strand, A

But came the waves and washèd it away: B

Agayne I wrote it with a second hand, A

But came the tyde and made my paynes his prey. B

“Vain man, “ sayed she, “ that doest in vaine assay ,B

A mortall thing so to immortalise, C

For I my selve shall lyke to this decay, B

And eke° my name bee wypèd out lykewize.“ C

Where whenas death shall all the world subdew, E

Our love shall live, and later life renew.“ E


This poem is a perfect example for the rhyme scheme in a Spencerian sonnet. In the first quatrain you have the rhyme scheme a-b-a-b with the corresponding words “strand, away, hand, prey“. The second quatrain interlocks with the first one by the rhyme scheme b-c-b-c (assay, immortalize, decay likewise) flowed by the rhyme scheme c-d-c-d in the third quatrain (devise, fame, eternize, name). Then, the rhyme scheme  e-e sums up the poem with the corresponding words ,subdue‘ and ,renew‘. The dominance of perfect rhymes matches with the atmosphere of the poem, which renders an overall harmonious experience.


Furthermore this poem of Spencer contains assonance as well as consonance and an internal rhyme. The assonance, the similar sound realization of vowels, are found within verse one in the words “day“ and “name“, in verse two between the words “came“, “waves“ and “away“ and in verse five within the words “vain“ and “assay“.  In contrast to an assonance, the consonance are the similar sound realization of a consonant. Those are found in verse three between the words “second“ and “hand“ as well as in verse four in-between the words “tyde“ and “made“.

The internal rhyme is not how it usually is, within one line of verse, however it is within two lines. Those two lines are the first lines of the sonnet and the rhyming words are “name“ in verse one and “came“ in verse two.



3. Interpretation


Sonnet 75 from Edmund Spencer can be interpreted in many different ways. Some will see the fear of a poet to be forgotten and never accomplish anything. Others will focus on the transitoriness. I for myself will focus on the love story found in this poem. I will interpret quatrain by quatrain.

The poem begins at the beachside called “strand“ in this poem, which symbolizes a peaceful and comfortable place where the love unreservedly expresses himself. The speaker tries to write the name of his lover in the sand but it does not stay long due to the waves, which wash the name away, twice. The speaker is repeatedly writing his beloved‘s name in the sand to show his relentless need to have his love be remembered forever. This shows the need of mankind to carve out a carve in history for himself, so that he feels that his life meant something. One can understand the speaker‘s endless effort to immortalize something that is mortal. At the same time the writing of the lady‘s name, which is the central image of the poem, is transferred from earth to heaven, as implied in line one and 12. First the speaker “wrote her name upon the strand” (V1). The strand, being a place on earth, is therefore also transient, so he ends “writing your [the woman‘s] name” in the “hevens“ (V12) where no waves can wash it away nor death can reach it. Here the hope of every writer to have his work immortalized and studied long after their death also appears.

One thing to note in line four is that the narrator makes the wave masculine. Typically nature is associated with femininity, because women are the creators of life and nature‘s job is to sustain life. Perhaps the reason the narrator makes the wave masculine is because it is destroying something rather than sustaining it. (c.f. Sophia Brookshire, 2010)

In the second quatrain the woman appears and more or less destroys his dreams of trying to make “a mortal thing” immortal. She is very realistic and tells the lover that he needs to stop what he is doing because everyone in the world will eventually have to die as time and tide waits for no man. She lets him know that there is nothing he could do to control the immortality of their love because immortality itself does not exist. She only meant for him to accept the cruel and harsh realities of life.

The third quatrain is about making their love immortal. Here the courage of the speaker is again from high importance. He already proved that he will never give up but instead provide his point. He did so when the “waves washed it [the name of the woman] away” and he is doing it in line nine again. Although his beloved woman discouraged him and told him that his attempts to immortalize, something mortal are vain, he proves his point by immortalizing his love towards his woman through his words and writing elements. He replies to her “not so, quod I, let baser things devise/To die in dust, but you shall live by fame” (V9-10). Baser means something that has no value and dust represents the earth. Therefore he is saying that she is worth too much to him to let her spirit die with her body. To prevent this from happening he uses this sonnet to immortalize her. So with this poem, even though both, he and his woman, are long gone from the phase of this earth, their love will always be known and remembered for more generations.

In the final couplet the contrast between their immortal love and other things that will die eventually with the passage of time is shown. It is shown that death cannot extinguish love, it will love on and be renewed every time someone reads his sonnet. As these words will never die, their love will never die.



4. Summary


As the analysis of Edmund Spencer‘s famous poem “One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand” has shown, the powerful effect of the poem is created by a complex interdependence of carious poetic levels. Especially the used symbols and metaphors are used in a rather effective way. Spencer already begins with an remember able metaphor when he says: “One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand,/ But came the waves and washed it away“. Both, metaphors and similes are employed in this poem to underline the idea of an immortal world and that nobody can escape nature.

This being said, analyzing this poem was challenging and nerve wrecking as I personally think it is very self-explaining. Simply said, it is the love story of a poet and a woman.

However, what I personally found interesting was looking at the way the poem changed over time. The version I used for this poem was the originally one written in old English. Nowadays one will find newer versions of it written in modern English, with new punctuation and also more ellipses. In the newer version, “death” in verse 13 is also capitalized which emphases the personification even more.

In the end, I am glad to have chosen this poem, as it contained a nice and lovely theme and symbolism, which is the part of imagery I definitely like the most.


One day I wrote her name upon the Strand,   

But came the waves and washèd it away:

Agayne I wrote it with a second hand,

But came the tyde and made my paynes his prey.

“Vain man, “ sayed she, “ that doest in vaine assay ,  5

A mortall thing so to immortalise,

For I my selve shall lyke to this decay,

And eke° my name bee wypèd out lykewize.“

“Not so,“ quod° I, “let baser things devize°

To dy in dust, but you shall live by fame:   10

My verse your vertues rare shall eternize,

And in the hevens wryte your glorious name.

Where whenas death shall all the world subdew,

Our love shall live, and later life renew.“



Bernhart, Walter. Merkblätter zu Imagery, Rhythm and rhetorical devices. Graz, 2012.

Brookshire, Sophia. Analysis of Edmund Spencer‘s ‘Amoretti: Sonnet 75‘. http://voices.yahoo.com/analysis-edmund-spencers-amoretti-sonnet-75-6055794.html?cat=4. (24.01.2013)

Larsen, Kenneth J. Introduction. Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti and Epithalamion: A Critical Edition. Tempe, AZ: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies

Spenser, Edmund. "Amoretti: Sonnet 75." The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Sixteenth Century/ The Early Seventeenth Century. 8th ed. Vol. B. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: Norton, 2006. 902-906.

Spiller, Michael R.G.. The Development of the Sonnet: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 1992.



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