“Sonnet 30” written by Edmund Spenser (1552 – 1599) is often titled “Fire and Ice” or “My love is like to ice.” What were the thoughts of Spenser behind this poem?
About “Sonnet 30”
This sonnet is a metaphor itself. There is the beloved’s unloving heart. In this case, the beloved is Elizabeth Boyl, his second wife. This unloving heart can be compared to ice. The poet himself wants nothing more than to give this unloving heart love (fire). There is a good reason for this, because this sister of Richard Boyle, First Earl of Cork, was much younger than he was. They got married in 1594.
How is ice turned into water, by the ice is something that Spenser thinks about in the first part of the poem? When ice turns into water, after melting, the fire is quenched.
Spenser tells us that a burning love can’t lead to anything but love from the unloving. He also tells us, that the burning love can eventually fade or even die out. But there is one thing what’s strange. How come her cold hart doesn’t completely dampen? And why doesn’t his love for her only grows deeper and stronger? This is a paradox. Love needs love, but an unloving heart doesn’t destroy love.
In the end, this sonnet is just Spenser’s way of complaining. Who hasn’t written about an unanswered love? Many poets did. Spenser was no exception. The difference is that these words were written by the Poet Laureate – the court poet.
My love is like to ice, and I to fire:
How comes it then that this her cold so great
Is not dissolved through my so hot desire,
But harder grows the more I her entreat?
Or how comes it that my exceeding heat
Is not allayed by her heart-frozen cold,
But that I burn much more in boiling sweat,
And feel my flames augmented manifold?
What more miraculous thing may be told,
That fire, which all things melts, should harden ice,
And ice, which is congeal’d with senseless cold,
Should kindle fire by wonderful device?
Such is the power of love in gentle mind,
That it can alter all the course of kind.
— Edmund Spenser