17 pages 34 minutes read

Edmund Spenser

Amoretti XXXV: "My hungry eyes, through greedy covetize"

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1595

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Summary and Study Guide


Edmund Spenser’s Sonnet XXXV, or Sonnet 35, is part of his sonnet sequence Amoretti, which was published with Epithalamion in 1595. This collection of poems was published after the first three books of his famous narrative poem, The Faerie Queene, and just a few years before his death. Spenser was inspired by Philip Sidney’s sonnet sequence, Astrophil and Stella, as well as sonneteers from France, Italy, and England.

Overall, Amoretti, which means “little loves,” is autobiographical. The speaker is Spenser discussing his courtship and marriage to Elizabeth Boyle. Celebrating a successful love affair is unique among Renaissance sonnet sequences, which usually portray unrequited or doomed love.

Amoretti contains 89 sonnets, and the sequence’s structure is based on the passage of time. Sonnet 35 also appears as Sonnet 83 in the sequence. It focuses on the speaker’s eyes and the act of seeing. Spenser thematically explores beauty as sustenance, romantic love in opposition to vanity, and the combination of classical and Christian elements.

Poet Biography

Edmund Spenser was born around 1552, but scholars are unsure of the exact date. His family lived in London and were lower class. The Great Fire of 1666 destroyed many records of Spenser’s life, so there is some uncertainty about who his parents were. However, the general consensus is that Edmund’s father was John Spenser—a clothmaker who had several children with his wife Elizabeth. Spenser attended the Merchant Taylor’s School, where he studied with humanist Richard Mulcaster.

Spenser began attending Pembroke Hall, Cambridge in 1569. He worked in exchange for meals and housing, and became friends with Gabriel Harvey. In 1573, Spenser earned his BA and, in 1576, earned his MA. By 1579, Spenser was working for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Around this time, Spenser became friends with Philip Sidney, who deeply influenced his poetry. Spenser dedicated his volume of poetry, The Shepheardes Calender (1579), to Sidney.

In 1580, Spenser left Leicester House and began working for Arthur Grey: the newly appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland. Under Lord Grey, Spenser married, became very wealthy (acquiring several estates), and composed the first three books of his most famous work, The Faerie Queene (1590). After the death of his first wife, Spenser began courting Elizabeth Boyle and they married in 1594. In 1596, Spenser published three more books of The Faerie Queene.

Revolution in Ireland led to the destruction of Spenser’s properties, forcing him to return to London. In London, Spenser received a pension from the Crown, but died only a year after his relocation. At the time of his death, Spenser was recognized as a Poet’s Poet; countless poets attended his funeral, despite his leaving The Faerie Queene unfinished.

Poem Text

MY hungry eyes, through greedy covetise

Still to behold the object of their pain,

With no contentment can themselves suffice;

But, having, pine; and, having not, complain.

For, lacking it, they cannot life sustain;

And, having it, they gaze on it the more;

In their amazement like Narcissus vain,

Whose eyes him starv’d: so plenty makes me poor.

Yet are mine eyes so filled with the store

Of that fair sight, that nothing else they brook,

But loathe the things which they did like before,

And can no more endure on them to look.

All this world’s glory seemeth vain to me,

And all their shows but shadows, saving she.

Spenser, Edmund. “Sonnet XXXV.” 1595. Bartleby.com


Sonnet XXXV is a sonnet (14-line, highly structured poem) about the speaker’s eyes and their desire to look at a lover. It is written in the first person perspective, and is addressed to the speaker’s female beloved.

In the first line, the speaker describes his eyes as hungry and covetous, which is the desire for ownership.

In the second line, the speaker expands on the thought: His eyes want to look at what causes them pain (the beloved).

Line 3 is about how the speaker’s eyes will never be satisfied. In Line 4, the speaker’s eyes still want more even when they see who they desire. They also complain when they cannot look at their beloved.

In Line 5, the speaker’s eyes cannot continue living if they are unable to see their beloved.

Line 6 returns to what happens when the eyes are able to see their beloved. They excessively gaze at her.

In Line 7, the speaker compares his eyes with Narcissus’s vanity.

Line 8 expands this comparison. Narcissus could only view, but not eat, food; thus, his eyes were starved. The speaker feels his eyes are made poor by having plenty of opportunities to look.

In Line 9, the speaker describes his eyes as full of memories of his beloved.

Line 10 completes this thought: The speaker’s eyes are so full of remembered images of his beloved that they cannot stand anything else.

In Line 11, the eyes’ opinions have changed. They now dislike what they used to like.

Line 12 continues: The speaker’s eyes cannot stand looking at what they used to like.

In Line 13, the speaker thinks everything glorious in the world is vain.

In Line 14, the speaker sees most performances as shady; however, the speaker’s beloved is the exception to these feelings about vanity and shadows.