Here is Sonnet XXX from the sonnet cycle Amoretti by Edmund Spenser:
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.
Now I have two questions about this poem:
I've been reading a book called The Art of Poetry: How to Read a Poem by Shira Wolosky. It talks about this poem in a chapter called "Verse Forms: The Sonnet". I understand and agree with most of the author says about the poem, but the following portion confounds me:
Although the third quatrain here seems merely to reflect and repeat what has gone before, its emphasis and evaluation has shifted. This is done mainly through the quatrain’s adjectives, which begin to emphasize the power of fire and to associate it with wonder. The behavior of fire is called a “miraculous thing”; and although the miracle here is to “harden ice,” we are also reminded that fire “all things melt.” Ice, on the other hand, is described negatively: as “congealed,” and as “senseless cold.” And the quatrain’s conclusion in effect subordinates cold to fire. If cold is “wonderful” here, it is so because it acts to produce more fire. The quatrain’s final image is of increased kindling, giving fire the last word.
I would say that what Spenser calls a "miraculous thing" is the behaviour of both fire and ice. I do not understand at all how the quatrain's conclusion privileges fire over ice.
I also do not fully get the concluding couplet. Why does Spenser call the love previously embodied in the extreme images of fire and ice a "love in gentle mind"? Nothing in the preceding lines evokes gentleness. What does this change signify? The book I mention above also says that the couplet attempts to subtly persuade the lady to be "gentle" and "kind". I don't get that at all from it! Could someone please explain this to me?