“Epithalamion” and “Prothalamion” are both renowned wedding songs written by the 16th-century English poet Edmund Spenser. Although they share a common theme centered around marriage, these two poems have distinct differences in terms of structure, style, and thematic content.
Form and Structure
Epithalamion: This is a longer poem with a more complex structure. It consists of 24 stanzas, each corresponding to the hours of Midsummer’s Day, the day of Spenser’s own marriage to Elizabeth Boyle. The structure is intricately designed, with varying line lengths and a complex rhyme scheme that reflects the changing nature and progression of the wedding day.
Prothalamion: In contrast, this poem is shorter and simpler in structure. It consists of a smaller number of stanzas with a more uniform structure. The poem was written to celebrate the double marriage of the daughters of the Earl of Worcester, thus its form and content are tailored to this particular occasion.
Themes and Content
Epithalamion: This poem is deeply personal and intense in its expression of love and desire. It not only celebrates Spenser’s own marriage but also explores broader themes of love, fertility, and the natural world. The poem is rich in mythological references and imagery, creating a sense of timeless and universal significance around the event of marriage.
Prothalamion: While this poem also celebrates marriage, it does so in a more restrained and public manner. It focuses more on the beauty and virtue of the brides and the joyousness of the occasion. The tone is more formal and less intensely personal than the “Epithalamion.” This poem also includes more direct references to the River Thames and the natural scenery of London, tying the celebration more closely to a specific time and place.
Imagery and Style
Epithalamion: Characterized by lush and sensuous imagery, the poem vividly depicts the physical and emotional aspects of the wedding and the couple’s love. The language is rich and elaborate, with a strong emphasis on natural imagery and classical references that elevate the event to a mythic level.
Prothalamion: The imagery here is more restrained and focuses more on the serene beauty of the natural surroundings. The style is more formal and stately, reflecting the public and celebratory nature of the occasion. The poem uses more direct and straightforward language compared to the ornate style of the “Epithalamion.”
Tone and Perspective
Epithalamion: The tone is passionate, intimate, and celebratory, reflecting the personal significance of the event for the poet. The perspective is deeply personal, inviting the reader into the private world of the poet and his bride.
Prothalamion: The tone is more celebratory and public, with a focus on the social and communal aspects of marriage. The perspective is that of an observer celebrating the joyous event, rather than a participant.
In summary, while both “Epithalamion” and “Prothalamion” are wedding songs that celebrate the beauty and joy of marriage, they differ significantly in their approach, style, and thematic focus. “Epithalamion” is more personal, sensuous, and complex, while “Prothalamion” is more formal, serene, and public in its celebration of marriage.