Edmund Spenser.

Poems of Spenser online

. (page 1 of 18)
Online LibraryEdmund SpenserPoems of Spenser → online text (page 1 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook








cfcZec..c? and. with
an Intro duct i on l/y

\ The Caxton publishing C




LIST OF PLATES . . . . . . xi

INTRODUCTION ... . . . . xiii


An Hymne of Heavenly Beautie I

The Muse Complains of the Poets that Sing of Light

Love . . . ... . . . .12

The Teares of the Muses (lines 385-402)

Poems in Honour of Cupid. Epigrams . . 12

Epithalamion . ... . . . . 15

The Faerie Queen-
Enchanted Trees . . . . ^ . . .29

Book I. Canto ii. st. 28-45

The Sad Story of Florimell and Marinell . . 35
Book III. Canto iv. st. 7-43; Canto viii. st. 30-42 ;
Book IV. Canto xi. st. 1-9, 52, 53; Canto xii.
st. i- 35


Good and Bad Courtiers ...... 67

Mother Hubberd's Tale (lines 717-844)

The Death of the Earl of Leicester . . . .71
Ruines of Time, st. 27-32 (lines 183-224)

The Muse Laments there are no Great Men to Sing of 73
The Teares of the Muses (lines 434-463)

The Muse Laments there are no more Great Poets . 74

The Teares of the Muses (lines 559-570)





The House of Despair ...... 75

Faerie Queen, Book I. Canto ix. st. 21-54

The House of Richesse 86

Faerie Queen, Book II. Canto vii. st. 3-66

The House of Love 106

Faerie Queen, Book III. Canto xi. st. 21-30,
47-55 ; Canto xii. st. 1-45

The House of Friendship 126

Faerie Queen, Book IV. Canto x. st. 3-58

Mutabilitie . . . . . . . .143

Faerie Queen, Book VII. Canto vi. st. 1-55 ;
Canto vii. st. 1-59

The Wandering of the Stars 179

Faerie Queen, Book V. Introd. st. i-n


The Islands of Phsedria and Acrasia . . . .183

Faerie Queen, Book II. Canto v. st. 28-34;

Canto vi. st. 2-26 ; Canto xii. st. 1-87

Garden of Adonis 220

Faerie Queen, Book III. Canto vi. st. 30-48


Praise of the Shepherds Life 227

Virgil's Gnat (lines 113-152)

Una among the Fauns and Satyres .... 228
Faerie Queen, Book I. Canto vi. st. 7-31

The Shepherds Calender for February . . . 237
The Shepherds Calender for October . . . 245
The Shepherds Calender for November . . .250
The Shepherds Calender for December . . .258





PORTRAIT OF THE POET . . . Frontispiece
VIGNETTE TITLE. . . . To face frontispiece

And let them also with them bring in


Another gay girland,
For my fayre love, of lillyes and of roses,
Bound truelove wize . . . To face page 17

And, thinking of those braunches greene

to frame
A girlond for her dainty forehead fit . 30

There they him laide in easy couch

well dight 46

About his neck an hempen rope he

That with his glistring armes does ill

agree 75

And in the midst thereof a piller placed ;
On which this shield, of many sought

in vaine ., 127

The sixt was August, being rich arrayd 172

And therein sate a Lady fresh and fayre,

Making sweet solace to herselfe alone . 185

And with greene braunches strewing

all the ground,
Do worship her as Queene with olive

girlond cround . . . . ,,231



WE know little of Spenser's childhood Early
and nothing of his parents, except that 7 ears '
his father was probably an Edmund
Spenser of Warwickshire, a man of good blood
and * belonging to a house of ancient fame.'
He was born in London in 1552, nineteen years
after the death of Ariosto, and when Tasso was
about eight years old. Full of the spirit of the
Renaissance, at once passionate and artificial,
looking out upon the world now as craftsman,
now as connoisseur, he was to found his art upon
theirs rather than upon the more humane, the
more noble, the less intellectual art of Malory and
the Minstrels. Deafened and blinded by their
influence, as so many of us were in boyhood
by that art of Hugo, that made the old simple
writers seem but as brown bread and water, he was
always to love the journey more than its end, the
landscape more than the man, and reason more
than life, and the tale less than its telling. He
entered Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1569,
and translated allegorical poems out of Petrarch


ly and Du Bellay. To-day a young man translates
out of Verlaine and Verhaeren ; but at that day
Ronsard and Du Bellay were the living poets,
who promised revolutionary and unheard-of
things to a poetry moving towards elaboration
and intellect, as ours the serpent's tooth in his
own tail again moves towards simplicity and
instinct. At Cambridge he met with Hobbinol
of 'The Shepherds Calender,' a certain Gabriel
Harvey, son of a rope-maker at Saffron Walden,
but now a Fellow of Pembroke College, a notable
man, some five or six years his elder. It is usual
to think ill of Harvey, because of his dislike of
rhyme and his advocacy of classical metres, and
because he complained that Spenser preferred
his Faerie Queen to the Nine Muses, and en-
couraged Hobgoblin c to run off with the Gar-
land of Apollo/ But at that crossroad, where so
many crowds mingled talking of so many lands,
no one could foretell in what bed he would sleep
after nightfall. /Milton was in the end to dislike
rhyme as much, and it is certain that rhyme is
one of the secondary causes of that disintegration
of the personal instincts which has given to
modern poetry its deep colour for colour's sake,
its overflowing pattern, its background of de-
corative landscape, and its insubordination of
detail. At the opening of a movement we are
busy with first principles, and can find out


everything but the road we are to go, every- Friend-
thing but the weight and measure of the impulse,
that has come to us out of life itself, for that
is always in defiance of reason, always without
a justification but by faith and works. ) Harvey
set Spenser to the making of verses in classical
metre, and certain lines have come down to us
written in what Spenser called ' lambicum
trymetrum.' His biographers agree that they
are very bad, but, though I cannot scan them, I
find in them the charm of what seems a sincere
personal emotion. The man himself, liberated
from the minute felicities of phrase and sound,
that are the temptation and the delight of rhyme,
speaks of his Mistress some thought that came to
him not for the sake of poetry, but for love's sake,
and the emotion instead of dissolving into de-
tached colours, into 'the spangly gloom' that
Keats saw * froth up and boil ' when he put his
eyes into 'the pillowy cleft/ speaks to her in
poignant words as if out of a tear-stained love-
letter :

* Unhappie verse, the witnesse of my unhappie state,
Make thy selfe fluttring winge for thy fast flying
Thought, and fly forth to my love wheresoever she be.
Whether lying restlesse in heavy bedde, or else
Sitting so cheerelesse at the cheerful boorde, or else
Playing alone carelesse on her heavenlie virginals.
If in bed, tell hir that my eyes can take no reste ;
If at boorde tell- her that my mouth can eat no meete ;
If at hir virginals, tell her that I can beare no mirth.'



Rosalind. He left College in his twenty-fourth year, and
stayed for a while in Lancashire, where he had
relations, and there fell in love with one he
has written of in 'The Shepherds Calender '
as * Rosalind, the widdowes daughter of the
Glenn,' though she was, for all her shepherding,
as one learns from a College friend, * a gentle-
woman of no mean house.' She married Men-
alchus of the * Calender/ and Spenser lamented
her for years, in verses so full of disguise that
one cannot say if his lamentations come out of
a broken heart or are but a useful movement in
the elaborate ritual of his poetry, a well-ordered
incident in the mythology of his imagination.
To no English poet, perhaps to no European
poet before his day, had the natural expression
of personal feeling been so impossible, the clear
vision of the lineaments of human character so
difficult; no other's head and eyes had sunk
so far into the pillowy cleft. After a year of
this life he went to London, and by Harvey's
advice and introduction entered the service of
the Earl of Leicester, staying for a while in his
house on the banks of the Thames ; and it was
there in all likelihood that he met with the
Earl's nephew, Sir Philip Sidney, still little more


than a boy, but with his head full of affairs of Meeting
State. One can imagine that it was the g reat g^ney
Earl or Sir Philip Sidney that gave his imagi-
nation its moral and practical turn, and one
imagines him seeking from philosophical men,
who distrust instinct because it disturbs con-
templation, and from practical men, who distrust
everything they cannot use in the routine of
immediate events, that impulse and method of
creation that can only be learned with surety
from the technical criticism of poets, and from
the excitement of some movement in the artistic
life. Marlowe and Shakespeare were still at
school, and Ben Jonson was but five years old.
Sidney was doubtless the greatest personal in-
fluence that came into Spenser's life, and it was
one that exalted moral zeal above every other
faculty. The great Earl impressed his imagi-
nation very deeply also, for the lamentation over
the Earl of Leicester's death is more than a con-
ventional Ode to a dead patron. Spenser's verses
about men, nearly always indeed, seem to express
more of personal joy and sorrow than those about
women, perhaps because he was less deliberately
a poet when he spoke of men. At the end of a
long beautiful passage he laments that unworthy
men should be in the dead EarPs place, and
compares them to the fox an unclean feeder
hiding in the lair 'the badger swept.' The


1 The imaginer of the festivals of Kenilworth was indeed

oy. __

herds Gal- t ^ ie ^ P atron f r him, and alike, because of the
ender.' strength and weakness of Spenser's art, one regrets
that he could not have lived always in that
elaborate life a master of ceremony to the world,
instead of being plunged into a life that but stirred
him to bitterness, as the way is with theoretical
minds in the tumults of events they cannot under-
stand. In the winter of 1579-80 he published
'The Shepherds Calender/ a book of twelve
eclogues, one for every month of the year, and
dedicated it to Sir Philip Sidney. It was full
of pastoral beauty and allegorical images of
current events, revealing too that conflict between
the aesthetic and moral interests that was to run
through well-nigh all his works, and it became
immediately famous. He was rewarded with a
place as private secretary to the Lord Lieutenant,
Lord Grey de Wilton, and sent to Ireland, where
he spent nearly all the rest of his life. After
a few years there he bought Kilcolman Castle,
which had belonged to the rebel Earl of Desmond,
and the rivers and hills about this castle came
much into his poetry. Our Irish Aubeg is
* Mulla mine, whose waves I taught to weep,' and
the Ballyvaughan Hills, it has its rise among,
'old Father Mole/ He never pictured the true
countenance of Irish scenery, for his mind turned
constantly to the courts of Elizabeth and to the


umbrageous level lands, where his own race was Life in
already seeding like a great poppy :

' Both Heaven and heavenly graces do much more
(Quoth he), abound in that same land then this :
For there all happie peace and plenteous store
Conspire in one to make contented blisse.
No wayling there nor wretchednesse is heard,
No bloodie issues nor no leprosies,
No griesly famine, nor no raging sweard,
No nightly bordrags, nor no hue and cries ;
The shepheards there abroad may safely lie
On hills and downes, withouten dread nor daunger,
No ravenous wolves the good mans hope destroy,
Nor outlawes fell affray the forest raunger.
The learned arts do florish in great honor,
And Poets wits are had in peerlesse price/

(Nor did he ever understand the people he
lived among or the historical events that were
changing all things about him. Lord Grey de
Wilton had been recalled almost immediately, but
it was his policy, brought over ready-made in his
ship, that Spenser advocated throughout all his
life, equally in his long prose book the * State of
Ireland ' as in the ' Faerie Queen, 7 where Lord
Grey was Artigall and the Iron man the soldiers
and executioners by whose hands he worked.
Like an hysterical patient he drew a complicated
web of inhuman logic out of the bowels of an
insufficient premise there was no right, no law,
but that of Elizabeth, and all that opposed her
opposed themselves to God, to civilisation, and to
all inherited wisdom and courtesy, and should be


The put to death. He made two visits to England,

Queen/- celebrating one of them in * Colin Clout come
Marriage. Home again,' to publish the first three books and
the second three books of the * Faerie Queen ' re-
spectively, and to try for some English office or
pension. By the help of Raleigh, now his neigh-
bour at Kilcolman, he had been promised a pen-
sion, but was kept out of it by Lord Burleigh, who
said, * All that for a song ! ' From that day Lord
Burleigh became that * rugged forehead ' of the
poems, whose censure of this or that is complained
of. During the last three or four years of his life
in Ireland he married a fair woman of his neigh-
bourhood, and about her wrote many intolerable
artificial sonnets and that most beautiful passage
in the sixth book of the * Faerie Queen,' which
tells of Colin Clout piping to the Graces and to
her ; and he celebrated his marriage in the most
beautiful of all his poems, the * Epithalarmum.'
His genius was pictorial, and these pictures of
happiness were more natural to it than any per-
sonal pride, or joy, or sorrow. His new happiness
was very brief, and just as he was rising to some-
thing of Milton's grandeur in the fragment that
has been called ' Mutabilitie,' ' the wandering
companies that keep the woods,' as he called the
Irish armies, drove him to his death. Ireland,
where he saw nothing but work for the Iron man,
was in the midst of the last struggle of the old


Celtic order with England, itself about to turn Revolt of
bottom upward, of the passion of the Middle
Ages with the craft of the Renaissance. Seven
years after Spenser's arrival in Ireland a large
merchant ship had carried off from Loch Swilly,
by a very crafty device common in those days,
certain persons of importance. Red Hugh, a
boy of fifteen, and the coming head of Tir-
connell, and various heads of clans had been
enticed on board the merchant ship to drink of
a fine vintage, and there made prisoners. All
but Red Hugh were released, on finding substi-
tutes among the boys of their kindred, and the
captives were hurried to Dublin and imprisoned
in the Burningham Tower. After four years of
captivity and one attempt that failed, Red Hugh
and his companions escaped into the Dublin
mountains, one dying there of cold and privation,
and from that to their own country-side. Red
Hugh allied himself to Hugh O'Neil, the most
powerful of the Irish leaders { Oh, deep, dis-
sembling heart, born to great weal or woe of thy
country ! ' an English historian had cried to him
an Oxford man too, a man of the Renaissance,
and for a few years defeated English armies
and shook the power of England. The Irish,
stirred by these events, and with it maybe some
rumours of 'The State of Ireland' sticking in
their stomachs, drove Spenser out of doors and


burnt his house, one of his children, as tradi-
tion has it, dying in the fire. He fled to England,
and died some three months later in January
1599, as Ben Jonson says, * of lack of bread. 1

During the last four or five years of his life he
had seen, without knowing that he saw it, the be-
ginning of the great Elizabethan poetical move-
ment. In 1598 he had pictured the Nine Muses
lamenting each one over the evil state in Eng-
land, of the things that she had in charge, but,
like William Blake's more beautiful ' Whether on
Ida's snowy brow,' their lamentations should have
been a cradle song. When he died ' Romeo and
Juliet/ 'Richard III./ and 'Richard II.,' and
the plays of Marlowe had all been acted, and
in stately houses were sung madrigals and love
songs whose like has not been in the world
since. Italian influence had strengthened the
old French joy that had never died out among
the upper classes, and an art was being created
for the last time in England which had half
its beauty from continually suggesting a life
hardly less beautiful than itself.


When Spenser was buried at Westminster
Abbey many poets read verses in his praise, and
threw then their verses and the pens that had


written them into his tomb. Like him they Merry
belonged, for all the moral zeal that was gather- ^| land
ing like a London fog, to that indolent, demon- modern
strative Merry England that was about to pass
away. Men still wept when they were moved,
still dressed themselves in joyous colours, and
spoke with many gestures. Thoughts and quali-
ties sometimes come to their perfect expres-
sion when they are about to pass away, and Merry
England was dying in plays, and in poems,
and in strange adventurous men. If one of
those poets who threw his copy of verses into
the earth that was about to close over his
master were to come alive again, he would
find some shadow of the life he knew, though
not the art he knew, among young men in
Paris, and would think that his true country. If
he came to England he would find nothing
there but the triumph of the Puritan and the
merchant those enemies he had feared and
hated and he would weep perhaps, in that
womanish way of his, to think that so much
greatness had been, not as he had hoped, the
dawn, but the sunset of a people. He had
lived in the last days of what we may call the
Anglo-French nation, the old feudal nation that
had been established when the Norman and
the Angevin made French the language of court
and market. In the time of Chaucer English


poets still wrote much in French, and even
English labourers lilted French songs over their
work ; and I cannot read any Elizabethan poem
or romance without feeling the pressure of habits
of emotion, and of an order of life which were
conscious, for all their Latin gaiety, of a quarrel
to the death with that new Anglo-Saxon nation
that was arising amid Puritan sermons and Mar-
Prelate pamphlets. This nation had driven out
the language of its conquerors, and now it was
to overthrow their beautiful, haughty imagination
and their manners, full of abandon and wilful-
ness, and to set in their stead earnestness and
logic and the timidity and reserve of a counting-
house. It had been coming for a long while,
for it had made the Lollards ; and when Anglo-
French Chaucer was at Westminster its poet,
Langland, sang the office at St. Paul's. Shake-
speare, with his delight in great persons, with
his indifference to the State, with his scorn of
the crowd, with his feudal passion, was of the old
nation, and Spenser, though a joyless earnestness
had cast shadows upon him, and darkened his
intellect wholly at times, was of the old nation
too. His ' Faerie Queen ' was written in Merry
England, but when Bunyan wrote in prison the
other great English allegory Modern England
had been born. Bunyan's men would do right
that they might come some day to the Delect-


able Mountain, and not at all that they might The
live happily in a world whose beauty was but

an entanglement about their feet. Religion had Platonism

oi tho
denied the sacredness of an earth that commerce age.

was about to corrupt and ravish, but when
Spenser lived the earth had still its sheltering
sacredness. His religion, where the paganism
that is natural to proud and happy people had
been strengthened by the platonism of the
Renaissance, cherished the beauty of the soul
and the beauty of the body with, as it seemed,
an equal affection. /^He would have had men
live well, not merely that they might win eternal
happiness but that they might live splendidly
among men and be celebrated in many songs.
How could one live well if one had not the
joy of the Creator and of the Giver of gifts?
He says in his * Hymn to Beauty ' that a beau-
tiful soul, unless for some stubbornness in the
ground, makes for itself a beautiful body, and he
even denies that beautiful persons ever lived who
had not souls as beautiful. They may have
been tempted until they seemed evil, but that
was the fault of others. And in his ' Hymn to
Heavenly Beauty ' he sets a woman little known to
theology, one that he names Wisdom or Beauty,
above Seraphim and Cherubim and in the very
bosom of God, and in the ' Faerie Queen ' it is
pagan Venus and her lover Adonis who create


Spenser's the forms of all living things and send them
Inteltec- out i nto tne world, calling them back again to

tual the gardens of Adonis at their lives' end to


rest there, as it seems, two thousand years be-
tween life and life. He began in English poetry,
despite a temperament that delighted in sensuous
beauty alone with perfect delight, that worship
of Intellectual Beauty which Shelley carried to a
much greater subtlety and applied to the whole
of life.

The qualities, to each of whom he had planned
to give a Knight, he had borrowed from Aristotle
and partly Christianised, but not to the for-
getting of their heathen birth. The chief of the
Knights, who would have combined in himself
the qualities of all the others, had Spenser lived
to finish ' The Faerie Queen,' was King Arthur,
the representative of a strange quality Magnifi-
cence. Born at the moment of change, Spenser
had indeed many Puritan thoughts. It has been
recorded that he cut his hair short and half
regretted his hymns to Love and Beauty. But
he has himself told us that the many-headed
beast overthrown and bound by Calidor, Knight
of Courtesy, was Puritanism itself. /Puritanism,
its zeal and its narrowness, and thr angry sus-
picion that it had in common with all movements
of the ill-educated, seemed no other to him than
a slanderer of all fine things. X)ne doubts, indeed,


if he could have persuaded himself that there A Puri-

111 . . tan's dis-

could be any virtue at all without courtesy, like O f

perhaps without something of pageant
eloquence. He was, I think, by nature alto-
gether a man of that old Catholic feudal nation,
but, like Sidney, he wanted to justify himself to
his new masters. He wrote of knights and
ladies, wild creatures imagined by the aristocratic
poets of the twelfth century, and perhaps chiefly
by English poets who had still the French tongue ;
but he fastened them with allegorical nails to a
big barn door of common-sense, of merely
practical virtue. Allegory itself had risen into
general importance with the rise of the merchant
class in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries ;
and it was natural when that class was about for
the first time to shape an age in its image, that
the last epic poet of the old order should mix
its art with his own long descended, irresponsible,
happy art.


Allegory and, to a much greater degree,
symbolism are a natural language by which \J
the soul when entranced, or even in ordinary
sleep, communes with God and with angels.
They can speak of things which cannot be
spoken of in any other language, but one will

xxviii SPENSER

Allegory always, I think, feel some sense of unreality when

holism" 1 " they are used to describe things which can be
described as well in ordinary words. Dante
used allegory to describe visionary things, and the
first maker of ' The Romance of the Rose,' for
all his lighter spirits, pretends that his adventures
came to him in a^vision one May morning ;
while Bunyan, by his preoccupation with heaven
and the soul, gives his simple story a visionary
strangeness and intensity. He believes so little
in the world, that he takes us away from all
ordinary standards of probability and makes us
believe even in allegory for a while. Spenser,
on the other hand, to whom allegory was not, as
I think, natural at all, makes us feel again and
again that it disappoints and interrupts our
preoccupation with the beautiful and sensuous

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryEdmund SpenserPoems of Spenser → online text (page 1 of 18)