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 vertues 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.”
This is a sonnet, meaning fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. In particular, it is a Spenserian sonnet, so named after Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) who wrote this poem and who often followed this form. The rhyme scheme follows the pattern ABAB BCBC CDCD EE, meaning the first and third lines rhyme and the second and fourth lines rhyme, then the fifth line continues the rhyme from the fourth line and makes it the rhyme for the first and third lines of the second quatrain (set of four lines). Then the pattern continues from the second quatrain into the third. The final couplet stands by itself.
In the poem, a man writes his love’s name on the beach and the waves wash it away. He writes it a second time, and the waves wash it away again. She notes the futility of trying to make her name last on earth given that she is mortal. He responds that he will make her name immortal in poetry. Though all mankind must die, their love shall live on in this poem, and they shall be raised on the Last Day (which is what he means by “later life renew”).