What Is an Interpretation of “Sonnet 30” by Edmund Spenser?

“Sonnet 30,” by English poet Edmund Spenser, is about a man’s passionate love for a woman who does not reciprocate his feelings. The relationship between them is primarily described through simile and metaphor. The man’s love is likened to a burning flame, while the woman’s heart is compared to ice; to the speaker’s frustration, his ardor cannot melt her reserve.

The poem pivots on a paradox. The speaker struggles to understand how his pursuit of his beloved only makes her colder towards him: “What more miraculous thing may be told, / That fire, which all things melts, should harden ice.” In the natural world, fire does melt ice, why does the same principle not hold true in matters of the heart?

Imagery is a crucial component of the poem; the speaker is confused and hurting, and the pain he endures is revealed through visceral use of descriptive language. He wonders why his beloved’s frozen heart does not cool his passion for her, as it would if it were obeying natural laws. Instead, to his agony, he finds “that I burn much more in boiling sweat,” a powerful use of tactile imagery.

A predecessor to the Shakespearean sonnet, the structured, rhythmic form that Spenser chose serves to illustrate the conflict between the powerful elements of fire and ice. Following a rhyme scheme of ABAB BCBC CDCD EE, the circular, repetitive pattern mirrors the constant conflict the speaker feels for wanting something he cannot have.