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"One Day I Wrote Her Name," by Edmund Spenser

  • One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
  • But came the waves and washed it away:
  • Again I wrote it with a second hand,
  • But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
  • “Vain man,” said she, “that dost in vain assay
  • A mortal thing so to immortalize;
  • For I myself shall like to this decay,
  • And eke my name be wiped out likewise.”
  • “Not so,” (quod I) “let baser things devise
  • To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
  • My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,
  • And in the heavens write your glorious name:
  • Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,
  • Our love shall live, and later life renew.”


Little is known for certain about the parentage or youth of the English poet Edmund Spenser, who was born in 1552, probably in London. He was educated at Cambridge and published his first volume of poetry three years after graduating, in 1579. That book, the
Shepherd’s Calendar, filled with archaic language and composed in a pastoral mode that was largely unfamiliar to his readers, was nonetheless clearly the work of a highly accomplished and enormously talented poet. In 1580, Spenser was appointed secretary to the lord-deputy of Ireland and that year fought in a bloody suppression of an Irish rebellion against British rule. The first three books of his epic allegory The Faery Queen were published in 1590, and despite its great length and somewhat difficult language, Spenser was at once widely acknowledged as one of the masterful poets of the Elizabethan Age. In January of 1599, a few months after his home in Ireland was sacked and burned to the ground during Tyler’s Rebellion, Spenser died in poverty. “One Day I Wrote Her Name” is widely considered one of his most memorable sonnets. The notion of immortalizing one’s beloved by writing of her in a poem (an immortal poem, needless to say) was a common motif among Elizabethan poets.

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  • One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
  • But came the waves and washed it away:
  • Again I wrote it with a second hand,
  • But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
  • “Vain man,” said she, “that dost in vain assay
  • A mortal thing so to immortalize;
  • For I myself shall like to this decay,
  • And eke my name be wiped out likewise.”
  • “Not so,” (quod I) “let baser things devise
  • To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
  • My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,
  • And in the heavens write your glorious name:
  • Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,
  • Our love shall live, and later life renew.”


Little is known for certain about the parentage or youth of the English poet Edmund Spenser, who was born in 1552, probably in London. He was educated at Cambridge and published his first volume of poetry three years after graduating, in 1579. That book, the
Shepherd’s Calendar, filled with archaic language and composed in a pastoral mode that was largely unfamiliar to his readers, was nonetheless clearly the work of a highly accomplished and enormously talented poet. In 1580, Spenser was appointed secretary to the lord-deputy of Ireland and that year fought in a bloody suppression of an Irish rebellion against British rule. The first three books of his epic allegory The Faery Queen were published in 1590, and despite its great length and somewhat difficult language, Spenser was at once widely acknowledged as one of the masterful poets of the Elizabethan Age. In January of 1599, a few months after his home in Ireland was sacked and burned to the ground during Tyler’s Rebellion, Spenser died in poverty. “One Day I Wrote Her Name” is widely considered one of his most memorable sonnets. The notion of immortalizing one’s beloved by writing of her in a poem (an immortal poem, needless to say) was a common motif among Elizabethan poets.

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