Artistic "Homage"

        Traditionally trained artists have special ways of acknowledging the masters who trained them, and one used by both poets and painters is the "homage."  In feudal times, the "homage" was a ceremony in which a vassal and lord formally established their relationship, the vassal promising service in return for the lands s/he holds of the lord.  The later, artistic version of this ceremony involves a poet or painter making a work of art that quite self-consciously imitates the poet's or painter's artistic "master(s)."  In painting, it's sometime a group portrait of younger painters before an inset paintings portraying the older painter the foreground artists learned from.  In poetry, it's often a subtle allusion in form or content to the poet's master(s).  (In the case of Henri Fantin-Latour's "Homage a Delacroix" (1864), it's both: James McNeil Whistler and Edouard Manet share the foreground with Baudelaire, the poet and art critic who supported Delacroix.)

        In Spenser's career, for instance, Sir Philip Sidney played an immensely important role.  Sidney gave Spenser encouragement, financial support, and access to the aristocratic poets with whom Sidney was familiar.  Spenser, in turn, acknowleged Sidney's aid in various ways.  One might be found in the first sonnet of the "Amoretti," which uses an expanded "sorites" or linked list to bring the poem's content into nearly perfect harmony with its structural form.  Since sonnet one of the "Amoretti" occupies the same structural place as sonnet one of "Astrophil and Stella," it would be instructive to look at the latter, especially its first quatrain. 

        If the "homage" seems like fawning behavior, not worthy of a great artist, it is because the culture has changed so radically since Spenser's day.  After Modernism (early C20), or even Romanticism (late C18), artistic indebtedness was suspect because the poet was supposed by those creative ideologies to be creating something new and uniquely personal, not owing anything to former works or poets.  The falsity of this premise does nothing to destroy its pervasive cultural force, and its effect on our reading of Romantic or Modernist poets.   We're always looking for difference, deviation from prevailing norms, "freshness" or revolutionary "shock."  By contrast, the previous two millennia of poetic creation had tended to look for ways to make clear a new poet's relationship to her/his poetic masters as an authentication of the poet's quality.   Mere imitation was mocked, to be sure, but the more daring the poet's innovation, the more assiduously the poet would claim the influence of a classical master.  (See Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, for an interesting example: though he's closely following the plot and even large stretches of the verses of Boccaccio's Il Filostrato, he insists his source is one "Lollius," the Latin name suggesting Roman ancestry instead of the poem's rather recent, vernacular Italian source.)  T.S. Eliot, of all the Modernists, was perhaps most profoundly in the grip of the struggle to innovate while maintaining clear links to the great poetic tradition which he saw stretching back through the Romans to Homer.  See the stylish dedication of  the 1925 edition of "The Wasteland" to Pound, which quotes Dante's "il miglior fabbro" [the greater maker/poet] (Purgatorio XXIV: 117, referring to Dante's master in the vernacular lyric, Arnaut Daniel).   Also, see Eliot's poems' shattered echoing of the whole poetic tradition by means of those cut-up direct quotations and paraphrases which the Norton dutifully footnotes for us, the readers who have grown up outside the tradition and are forever struggling to recover it.