Edmund Spenser.

Selections from Spenser's The faerie queene; online

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The Plimpton Press Norwood Mass U.S. A




I. Edmund Spenser vii

II. The Faerie Queene xii

III. Helps to Teachers xx









EDMUND SPENSER, greatest of the Elizabethan poets
except Shakspere, was the earliest of that astonishing
number of men of genius who made Queen Elizabeth's
reign famous in literature. During his lifetime Eng-
land came to a knowledge of her power on the sea, and
her opportunities in the new world. In literature, also,
a spirit of national pride and enterprise, as well as
awakened curiosity, led Englishmen to master the
native literature of France and Italy, which in turn
had been stimulated by Italy's new knowledge of the
classics, and to pour these intellectual conquests into
English literature through translations and imitations.
The effect was to excite men's imaginations, and to
give to books a vitality for the average man such as
they have never had before or since. This awakening
of interest in human life, and in books as the store-
houses of that life, extended throughout Europe, and
is known as the Renaissance. .

The period of the Renaissance was a transition,
during which mediaeval thought became modern. In
English literature almost all the steps in this change
are to be found within the limits of Queen Elizabeth's
reign. For this reason, some poets whose lives prac-
tically coincided in point of time, differed widely in the
character of their writings, according as their genius
was in sympathy with the old, vanishing world of
thought, or with the newer outlook. We think of


Shakspere and Bacon as the leaders of this modern
Elizabethan thought; the chief representative of the
mediaeval strain is Spenser. In one sense he was in-
deed thoroughly a man of his time : no Englishman in
those fortunate days had brighter hopes of his coun-
try's destiny, or was prouder of its accomplishments
and of its great men; and certainly no Englishman ever
paid his sovereign such a tribute as Spenser did in the
' Faerie Queene.' But he had a genius for the past.
He loved old books, old legends, and, most of all, the
old standards of chivalry, in comparison with which
the knighthood of his own time could not but seem
degenerate. Just as Sir Walter Scott filled his mind
with the past of Scotland, and made it live again in his
romances, so Spenser recovered in himself the much
larger past of European culture, and preserved it for us
in the ' Faerie Queene.' This is his significance, and
we should begin any study of him with this in mind.
Spenser was born in London, probably in 1552. His
father was a cloth-maker; of his mother we know only
that her name was Elizabeth. As a boy Spenser was
sent to the merchant tailors' school, which had recently
been founded by his father's guild. Here he received
a scholarship from a bequest made by Robert Nowell,
a distant connection of the Spenser family. The boy
was a good student from the first, and he was always
fortunate in his teachers. Under the care of the head-
master, Richard Mulcaster, a remarkable educator, he
progressed rapidly in that wide reading and scholarly
accomplishment which places him with Milton and
Gray, as the most learned of English poets. ^Before
he left the school he made some translations from
French and Italian poetry, and the verses were pub-
lished in London.


In May, 1569, he entered Pembroke Hall, Cambridge,
the first of that university's long line of poets, destined
to include Milton, Dryden, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth,
and Tennyson. Though he was still poor and contin-
ued to benefit by the Nowell legacy, he made his way,
as he had done in school, by his ability as a student
and his evident poetic genius, and by the charm of his
character. He always attracted noble men and kept
their friendship. Of his college friends two are re-
membered with liim Gabriel Harvey, a Fellow, and
Edward Kirke, a younger student.

Spenser stayed at the university seven years, gradu-
ating M.A. in 1576. He was in poor health at the
time, and spent the following year with some relatives
in Lancashire. This visit is remembered for his falling
in love with Rosalind, the mysterious lady whom he
celebrated later in the ' Shepherd's Calendar' and in
others of his poems, connecting his name with hers
much as Sidney connected his with Stella's. At the
end of the year, disappointed in love, he went to Lon-
don to seek his fortune. Gabriel Harvey gave him a
letter to the Earl of Leicester, which proved a success-
ful introduction, and Spenser at once began his career
as secretary to Elizabeth's favorite.

Under Leicester's roof Spenser soon made the ac-
quaintance of the brilliant young men of the court,
especially of Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Edward Dyer,
whose friendship for each other and for Fulke Greville
is famous. They recognized his genius, and he became
their comrade in literary interests. He also corre-
sponded with Harvey, who had a theory of improving
English poetry by discarding accent and rhyme, and
establishing rules of quantity, such as govern Latin or
Greek prosody. The young poets experimented with


this pedantic theory, and Spenser showed his true in-
stinct as an English poet by being one of the first to
give it up. At this time he began his great poem, the
1 Faerie Queene/ and in 1579 he published his first
book, the ' Shepherd's Calendar/

This is a series of twelve poems, one for each month,
in which country people discuss simple themes, such
as belong to the shepherd's life. Such poems are called
pastorals, and Spenser had taken for his models the
pastorals of Theocritus and Virgil, and of their Italian
and French imitators. He follows Virgil and these
later writers also in making his pastorals not so much
pictures of real life, as allegories; his shepherds are
himself and his friends in disguise, and their simple
talk veils a discussion of personal and public topics
such as would interest all thoughtful Englishmen of
the time. Each of the twelve poems was followed by
a scholarly commentary, written by Edward Kirke,
explaining the allegory and the allusions, and pointing
out the beauty of the poetry with the greatest enthu-
siasm. We can see at once how typical of the Renais-
sance the book was, in its learning and in its imitation
of French and Italian and classical writers. The alle-
gorical method also belonged to the age and was char-
acteristic of Spenser; we shall study it at length in the
'Faerie Queene/

Spenser was hailed at once as the greatest English
poet since Chaucer, and with his literary success came
an appointment as secretary to the Lord Deputy of
Ireland. He took up his new work in 1580, hoping
that with advancement he might return permanently
to England and the court. But Ireland was to be for
him a land of exile until his death. He began his offi-
cial tasks bravely, however, and devoted his leisure


structure of the story; G. E. Woodberry's essay in
'The Torch ' (McClure), a remarkably sympathetic
analysis of the significance of the ' Faerie Queene ' and
its position in world literature; LowelFs essay on
Spenser in ' Among My Books/ Series II; and the earlier
chapters of J. S. Harrison's 'Platonism in English
Poetry of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries'
(Macmillan), admirable expositions of the philo-
sophical basis of the first books of the ' Faerie Queene.'

In approaching Spenser's great allegory, the student
may easily be misled or discouraged by ill-advised
erudition and commentary. Thoughtful as the poem
is one of the most thoughtful and scholarly in any
language its first appeal is to the imagination, and
nothing should be allowed to interfere with this appeal.
The student should see the adventures, and sympathize
with the misfortunes and victories of the characters;
after that it will be time enough to show what the
poem means. The poem should be read through first
f orjhe storxJ^^

sequence of the states of mind, and then for the study
of characters, scenes, color-effects, and the music of
the verse.

On many other sides the study of the poem can be
enriched. Some attention might be paid to individual
words, especially the old ones, in order to stimulate
the student's imagination and to vitalize the language
for him. And the more historical background the
student has for the poem, the better, since it is so much
a poem of the past. Here, again, however, the ap-
proach should be imaginative. For a picture of Eliza-
bethan England, Scott's 'Kenilworth' might be read,
and for the beginning of the Renaissance, Charles
Reade's 'Cloister and the Hearth.' Of the numerous


essays on the Renaissance, the first chapter in Sidney
Lee's ' Great Englishmen of the Sixteenth Century'
is the most useful. For different views of chivalry,
Tennyson, Mallory, and Froissart provide convenient
examples, and an excellent essay on the institution of
chivalry is that prefixed to Sir Edward Strachey's
edition of the 'Morte D' Arthur' (Macmillan).




1552. Spenser born
in London.

1569. Spenser enters
Hall, Cam-

1576. Spenser, M.A.

1579. TheShep-

heardes Calen-
dar. Corre-
with Harvey.

1551. Sir Walter Raleigh born. English
Prayer Book revised by Cranmer.

1553. Edward VI died. Coronation of

Lady Jane Grey. Accession of

1554. Sir Philip Sidney and John Lyly


1555. Protestants persecuted.

1556. Cranmer and Loyola died.
1558. Thomas Lodge and George Peele

born. England loses Calais. Death
of Mary. Accession of Elizabeth.

1560. Robert Greene born. The Geneva


1561. Francis Bacon born.

1563. Michael Drayton born. The Thirty-

nine articles.

1564. Shakespere, Marlowe, and Galileo

born. Michael Angelo and Calvin

1571. Elizabeth deposed by the Pope.

Keppler born.

1572. St. Bartholomew's massacre.

1573. Bacon enters Trinity College, Cam-

bridge. Gabriel Harvey, M.A.,
Cambridge. Sidney in Germany
and Italy.

1575. John Lyly, M.A., Oxford. Tasso's
Gerusalemme Liberata completed.

First public theatre in London.
Elizabeth's' Kenilworth progress.
Titian died.

Lyly's Euphues. North's transla-
tion of Plutarch.




1580. Secretary to
the Lord
Deputy of

1588. Clerk of the
Council of

1590. The Faerie

Queene, i-iii.

1591. Pension from

the Queen.



1594. Spenser mar-

ries Elizabeth

1595. Colin Clouts

Come Home
again; Amo-
retti; Epitha-

1596. View of the

State of Ire-
land; Faerie
Queene, iv-vi;

1598. Sheriff of


1599. Spenser died

in London.

Lodge's Defense of Plays. Sir
Francis Drake sails round the
world. Montaigne's Essais.



Sir Humphrey Gilbert sails to

Newfoundland. Sidney knighted.

Galileo discovers the principle of

the pendulum.
Bacon enters Parliament. Raleigh

colonizes Virginia.

1586. Shakspere leaves Stratford for Lon-

don. Sidney died.

1587. Marlowe's Tamburlaine. Mary

Queen of Scots executed.
Spanish Armada defeated.

Marlowe's Tamburlaine published.

Sidney's Arcadia.
Shakspere 's Lovers Labour's Lost and

Two Gentlemen of Verona. Sidney's

Astrophel and Stella.

1593. Marlowe died.

Marlowe's Edward II published.
Shakspere 's Merchant of Venice,
King John; the Sonnets begun.

Sidney's Apologie for Poetrie.
Shakspere 's Midsummer Night's
Dream, All's Well that Ends Well,
and Taming of the Shrew, Tasso

Sir Francis Drake died. Descartes

Globe Theatre built. Jonson's
Every Man in his Humour. Shak-
spere 's Henry V . Burghley died.

The Passionate Pilgrim.





The Patrone of true Holinesse

Foule Errour doth defeate:
Hypocrisie, him to entrappe,

Doth to his home entreate.

1. A GENTLE Knight was pricking on the plaine,
Ycladd in mightie armes and silver shielde,
Wherein old dints of deepe woundes did remaine,
The cruell markes of many' a bloody fielde;

Yet armes till that time did he never wield.

His angry steede did chide his foming bitt,-

As much disdayning to the curbe to yield:

Full jolly 1 knight he seemd, and faire did sitt, 1

As one for knightly giusts 2 and fierce encounters fitt.

2. And on his brest a bloodie Crosse he bore,
The deare remembrance of his dying Lord,

For whose sweete sake that glorious badge he wore,
And dead, as living, ever him ador'd:
Upon his shield the like was also scor'd, 3
For soveraine hope which in his helpe he had.
Right faithfull true he was in deede and word,
But of his cheere did seeme too solemne sad;
Yet nothing did he dread, but ever was ydrad. 4

1 Brave. 2 Jousts. 3 Engraved. 4 Dreaded.


[Book I

3. Upon a great adventure he was bond,
That greatest Gloriana to him gave,
(That greatest Glorious Queene of Faery lond)
To winne him worshippe, and her grace to have,
Which of all earthly thinges he most did crave:
And ever as he rode his hart did earne 1
To prove his puissance in battell brave
Upon his foe, and his new force to learne,
Upon his foe, a Dragon horrible and stearne.

4. A lovelyJLadie rode him faire beside, "trot*
Upon a lowly Asse more white then snow,
Yet she much whiter; but the same did hide
Under a vele, that wimpled 2 was full low;
And over all a blacke stole 3 shee did throw:
As one that inly mournd, so was she sad,
And heavie sate upon her palfrey slow;
Seemed in heart some hidden care she had,

And by her, in a line, a milkewhite lambe she lad. 4 -

5. So pure and innocent, as that same lambe,
She was in life and every vertuous lore 5 ;
And by descent from Royall lynage came

Of ancient Kinges and Queenes, that had of yore

Their scepters stretcht from East to Westerne shore,

And all the world in their subjection held;

Till that infernall feend with foule uprore-

Forwasted 6 all their land, and them expeld;

Whom to avenge she had this Knight from far compeld.

6. Behind her farre away a Dwarfe did lag,
That lasie seemd, in being ever last,

Or wearied with bearing of her bag

Of needments at his backe. Thus as they past,

The day with-cloudes was suddeine overcast,

And angry Jove an hideous storme of raine

Did poure into his Lemans 7 lap so fast,

That everie wight 8 to shrowd 9 it did constrain;

And this faire couple eke 10 to shroud themselves were fain.

^earn. 2 i.; i -at) plaits. 3 Cloak, 4 Led. 5 Instruction.

6 Laid waste -'s, 8 Person. 9 Take shelter. 10 Also.


7. Enforst to seeke some covert nigh at hand,
A shadie grove not fair away they spied,
That promist ayde the tempest to withstand;
Whose loftie trees, yclad with sommers prida,
Did spred so broad, that heavens light did hide,
Not perceable with power of any starr:-
And all within were pathes and alleies wide,
With footing worne, and leading inward farr. -
Faire harbour that them seems, so in they entred ar.

, 8. And foorth they passe, with pleasure forward led,
Joying to heare the birdes sweete harmony,
Which, therein shrouded from the tempest dred,
Seemd in their song to scorne the cruell sky.
Much can they praise the trees so straight and hy,
The sayling Pine; the Cedar proud and tall;
The vine-propp Elme; the Poplar never dry;
The builder Oake, sole king of forrests all;
The Aspine good for staves; the Cypresse funerall;

9. The Laurell, meed of mightie Conquerours
And Poets sage; the Firre that weepeth still:
The Willow, worne of forlorne Paramours 1 ;
The Eugh, obedient to the benders will;
The Birch for shaftes; the Sallow for the mill;
The Mirrhe sweete-bleeding in the bitter wound;
The warlike Beech; the Ash for nothing ill;
The fruitfull Olive; and the Platane round;
The carver 2 Holme; the Maple seeldom inward sound.

10. Led with delight, they thus beguile the way,
Untill the blustring storme is overblowne;
When, weening 3 to returne whence they did stray,
They cannot finde that path, which first was showne,
But wander too and fro in waies unknowne,
Furthest from end then, when they neerest weene,
That makes them doubt their wits be not their owne:
So many pathes, so many turnings seene,
That which of them to take in diverse doubt they been. 4

1 Lovers. 2 Fit for carving. 3 Thinking. 4 Are.


11. At last resolving forward still to fare,

Till that some end they finde, or in or out,

That path they take that beaten seemd most bare,

And like to lead the labyrinth about;

Which when by tract they hunted had throughout,

At length it brought them to a hollowe cave

Amid the thickest woods. The Champion stout

Eftsoones dismounted from his courser brave,

And to the Dwarf e a while his needlesse spere he gave.

12. 'Be well aware, 1 'quoth then that Ladie milde,
' Least suddaine mischiefe ye too rash provoke:
The danger hid, the place unknowne and wilde,
Breedes dreadfull doubts. Oft fire is without smoke,
And perill without show: therefore your stroke,

Sir Knight, with-hold, till further tryall made.'

'Ah Ladie/ (sayd he) 'shame were to revoke

The forward footing for an hidden shade:

Vertue gives her selfe light through darknesse for to wade/

13. * Yea but ' (quoth she) ' the perill of this place
I better wot 2 then you : though nowe too late
To wish you backe returne with foule disgrace,
Yet wisedome warnes, whilest foot is in the gate,
To stay the steppe, ere forced to retrate.

This is the wandring wood, this Errours den,
A monster vile, whom God and man does hate:
Therefore I read 3 beware.' 'Fly, fly!' (quoth then
The fearefull Dwarf e) 'this is no place for living men.'

14. But, full of fire and greedy hardiment, 4

The youthfull Knight could not for ought be staide;

But forth unto the darksom hole he went,

And looked in: his glistring armor made

A litle glooming light, much like a shade;

By which he saw the ugly monster plaine,

Halfe like a serpent horribly displaide, 5

But th'other halfe did womans shape retaine,

Most lothsom, filthie, foule, and full of vile disdaine. 6

1 On the watch. 2 Know. 3 Advise.

4 Hardihood. 6 Spread out. 6 That which is despicable.


15. And, as she lay upon the durtie ground,
Her huge long taile her den all overspred,

Yet was in knots and many boughtes 1 upwound,

Pointed with mortall sting. Of her there bred

A thousand yong ones, which she dayly fed,

Sucking upon her poisnous dugs; each one

Of sundrie shapes, yet all ill-favored:

Soone as that uncouth 2 light upon them shone,

Into her mouth they crept, and suddain all were gone.

16. Their dam upstart out of her den effraide, 3
And rushed forth, hurling her hideous taile
About her cursed head; whose folds displaid
Were stretcht now forth at length without entraile. 4
She lookt about, and seeing one in mayle,

Armed to point, sought backe to turne againe;

For light she hated as the deadly bale, 5

Ay 6 wont 7 in desert darknes to remaine,

Where plain none might her see, nor she see any plaine.

17. Which when the valiant Elfe 8 perceiv'd, he lept
As Lyon fierce upon the flying pray,

And with his trenchand 9 blade her boldly kept

From turning backe, and forced her to stay:

Therewith enrag'd she loudly gan to bray, 10

And turning fierce her speckled taile advaunst,

Threatning her angrie sting, him to dismay;

Who, nought aghast, his mightie hand enhaunst 11 :

The stroke down from her head unto her shoulder glaunst.

18. Much daunted with that dint her sence was dazd;
Yet kindling rage her selfe she gathered round,
And all attonce her beastly bodie raizd

With doubled forces high above the ground:

Tho, 12 wrapping up her wrethed 13 sterne 14 arownd,

Lept fierce upon his shield, and her huge traine

All suddenly about his body wound,

That hand or foot to stirr he strove in vaine.

God helpe the man so wrapt in Errours endlesse traine!

1 Loops. 2 Unaccustomed. 3 Frightened. 4 Entanglement.

5 Evil. 6 Ever. 7 Accustomed. 8 Fairy. 9 Trenchant, cutting.
10 Cry out. Raised. 12 Then. 13 Twisted. 14 Tail.


19. His Lady, sad to see his sore constraint, 1

Cride out, 'Now, now, Sir knight, shew what ye bee;

Add faith unto your force, and be not faint;

Strangle her, els she sure will strangle thee. ;

That when he heard, in great perplexitie,

His gall did grate 2 for grief e and high disdaine;

And, knitting all his force, got one hand free,

Wherewith he grypt her gorge 3 with so great paine,

That soone to loose her wicked bands did her constraine. 4

20. Therewith she spewd out of her filthie maw
A floud of poyson horrible and blacke,

Full of great lumps of flesh and gobbets 5 raw,
Which stunck so vildly, that it forst him slacke
His grasping hold, and from her turne him backe.
Her vomit full of bookes and papers was,
With loathly frogs and toades, which eyes did lacke,
And creeping sought way in the weedy gras:
Her filthie parbreake 6 all the place defiled has.

21. As when old father Nilus gins to swell
With timely pride above the Aegyptian vale
His fattie waves doe fertile slime outwell,
And overflow each plaine and lowly dale:
But, when his later spring gins to avale, 7

Huge heapes of mudd he leaves, wherein there breed

Ten thousand kindes of creatures, partly male

And partly f email, of his fruitful seed;

Such ugly monstrous shapes elswher may no man reed. 8

22. The same so sore annoyed has the knight,
That, welnigh choked with the deadly stinke,
His forces faile, ne can no lenger fight:

Whose corage when the feend perceivd to shrinke,
She poured forth out of her hellish sinke 9
Her fruitfull cursed spawne of serpents small,
Deformed monsters, fowle, and blacke as inke,
Which swarming all about his legs did crall,
And him encombred sore, but could not hurt at all.

1 Distress. 2 Irritate. 3 Throat. 4 Compel. 6 Mouthfuls.

6 Vomit. 7 To sink. 8 Imagine. 9 Deposit.


23. As gentle shepheard in sweete eventide,
When ruddy Phebus gins to welke 1 in west,
High on an hill, his flocke to vewen wide,
Markes which doe byte their hasty supper best;
A cloud of cumbrous gnattes doe him molest,
All striving to infixe their feeble stinges,

That from their noyance he no where can rest;
But with his clownish hands their tender wings
He brusheth oft, and oft doth mar their murmurings.

24. Thus ill bestedd, 2 and fearefull more of shame
Then of the certeine perill he^stood in,
Halfe furious unto his foe he came,
Resolvd in minde all suddenly to win,

Or soone to lose, before he once would lin 3 ;

And stroke at her with more then manly force,

That from her body, full of filthie sin,

He raft her hatefull heade without remorse:

A streame of cole-black blood forth gushed from her corse.

25. Her scattered brood, soone as their Parent deare
They saw so rudely falling to the ground,
Groning full deadly, all with troublous feare
Gathred themselves about her body round,
Weening 4 their wonted entrance to have found
At her wide mouth; but being there withstood, 5
They flocked all about her bleeding wound,
And sucked up their dying mothers bloud,

Making her death their life, and eke" her hurt their good.

26. That detestable sight him much amazde,
To see th' unkindly Impes, of heaven accurst,
Devoure their dam; on whom while so he gazd,
Having all satisfide their bloudy thurst,

Their bellies swolne he saw with fulnesse burst,
And bowels gushing forth: well worthy end
Of such as drunke her life the which them nurst!
Now needeth him no lenger labour spend,
His foes have slaine themselves, with whom he should

2 Beset. 3 Cease. 4 Thinking. 5 Prevented. 6 Also.

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryEdmund SpenserSelections from Spenser's The faerie queene; → online text (page 1 of 14)