Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti describes his courtship of Elizabeth Boyle. Sonnet 64 is an example of a blazon sonnet-cataloguing a lady’s features-it differs from his Sonnet 15, which is also a blazon, in the way that Sonnet 64 uses olfactory imagery. It also reads more intimate than Sonnet 15. This poem was written on March 27, 1594, the Wednesday before Easter. A lot of the imagery of this poem is imitated from The Song of Solomon 4.10-16. The first stanza describes a moment of action that is never fully achieved-he leans into kiss her, but we never completes the kiss in the poem. The rest of the poem is spent comparing her various body parts to different smelling flowers; it is very unusual to have a blazon be an olfactory poem.
Coming to kisse her lyps (such grace I found)
Me seemd I smelt a gardin of sweet flowers
That dainty odours from them threw around,
For damsels fit to decke their lovers bowres. (lines 1-4)
When he leaned in to kiss her lips, he thought he smelled a garden of sweet flowers; their dainty odors hanging in the air all around them fit for damsels to adorn their lover’s brows.
Her lips did smell lyke unto Gillyflowers,
Her ruddy cheeks lyke unto Reses red;
Her snowy browes lyke budded Bellamoures,
Her lovely eyes like Pincks but newly spred, (5-8)
The similes begin here in the second stanza. Her lips smelled like Gillyflowers (carnations). Her ruddy (blushed) cheeks were like red roses. Her snowy (white) brows were like budded Bellamoures. Her beautiful eyes are like Pincks that are newly blossomed.
Her goodly bosome lyke a Strawberry bed,
Her neck lyke to a bounch of Cullambynes;
Her brest lyke lillyes, ere theyr leaves be shed,
Her nipples lyke yong blossomd Jessemynes. (9-12)
Her bosom was like a bed of strawberries. Her neck was like a bunch of Cullambynes (Columbines). Her breast was like lilies before they lost their petals. Her nipples were like young blossomed Jessemynes (Jasmines).
Such fragrant flowers doe give most odorous smell,
But her sweet odour did them all excell. (13-4)
These flowers do indeed give off a beautiful fragrance, but the sweet fragrance of my beloved far exceeds them all.
Roses, a bed of strawberries, and lilies are often used to represent female virginity. Jasmine and columbines are standard metaphors for love and beauty. Gillyflowers, Bellamoures, and Pincks are not so easily defined. If you break down gillyflowers into two words you would have “gill” and “flowers.” In the OED, “gill” is defined as “a giddy young woman”, and if you combine that with flower you get “a giddy young woman’s flower.” Bellamoures can be broken down into two words, bel and amoure. Bel is the Italian word for beautiful, and amoure is the French word for love. Instead of bellamoures being a flower, it possible to categorize this word as loving glances, because not only is Spenser describing his beloved’s eyes, they are also words that describe feelings that you would have for someone else. Pincks could literally mean pink flowers, which are from the genus Dianthus. Dianthus is from the Greek words dios (god) and anthos (flowers). Dianthus makes sense because they are double-flowering plants, and he uses it in conjunction with the eyes-there are two eyes (double-flowering).
Given that this sonnet takes place on March 27, 1594, “some critics view the kiss upon which the entire poem is based as a conceit that corresponds to the biblical topos of Judas’s kiss, by which he betrayed Jesus (recounted in the gospel proper to the Wednesday before Easter: Luke 22.1-71). Further evidence of this link between the poem and the passage from Luke is that the betrayal takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane. If read this way, by delaying the kiss in the poem, the speaker may be delaying Judas’s betrayal and, subsequently, Jesus’s suffering” (Femino).
Femino, Melissa. “Amoretti: Sonnet 64.” The Facts on File Companion to British Poetry Before 1600. Ed. Michelle M.Sauer. 19.