Edmund Spenser 1552-1599

Review: A poet’s characteristics may be uncovered in two ways: first, by studying the meter, rhyme, language, thoughts, and feelings of the poems and second, by reviewing comments, letters, reviews, and memoirs of peers, critics, and the poet.

Our attention is given to Edmund Spenser in appreciation for giving us a new stanza. According to Thomas Warton this new stanza is “the finest ever conceived by the soul of man”. The Spenserian stanza was his greatest achievement. It was formed by adding an alexandrine to the ababbcbc stave of Chaucer thus the rhyme pattern ababbcbcc.

“He found the octave stanza not roomy enough so first ran it over into another line, and then ran that added line over into an Alexandrine, in which the melody of one stanza seems forever longing and feeling forward after that which is to follow." J. R. Lowell Works.

Chaucer’s A Monk’s Tale:

Thre hundred foxis took Samson for ire,
And alle their tayles he togider bond;
And sette the foxes tailes alle on fyre,
For he in every tail hath knyt a brond;
And thay brent alle the cornes of that lond,
And alle their olyves and their vynes eeke.
A thousand men he slew eek with his hond,
And hadde no wepon but an asses cheeke.

Creating Spenser’s Faerie Queene:

Lo I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske,
As time her taught, in lowly Shepheards weeds,
Am now enforst a far unfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds,
And sing of Knights and Ladies gentle deeds;
Whose prayses hauing slept in silence long,
Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
To blazon broad emongst her learned throng:
Fierce warres and faithfull loues shall moralize my song.

We witness the impact of the Spenserian stanza as poets throughout the ages have tried their hand. Here are some excerpts:

O mortal man, who livest here by toil,
Do not complain of this thy hard estate;
That like an emmet thou must ever moil,
Is a sad sentence of an ancient date:
And, certes, there is for it reason great;
For, though sometimes it makes thee weep and wail,
And curse thy star, and early drudge and late,
With outen that would come a heavier bale,
Loose life, unruly passions, and diseases pale. James Thomson Castle of Indolence 1748

Ah me! full sorely is my heart forlorn,
To think how modest worth neglected lies;
While partial fame doth with her blasts adorn
Such deeds alone, as pride and pomp disguise;
Deeds of ill sort, and mischievous emprize!
Lend me thy clarion, goddess! let me try
To sound the praise of merit, ere it dies;
Such as I oft have chaunced to espy,
Lost in the dreary shades of dull obscurity. William Shenstone Schoolmistress 1737

It became a favorite of the Romanticists.

From Lord Byron’s Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
Oh, thou! in Hellas deem'd of heavenly birth,
Muse! form'd or fabled at the minstrel's will!
Since shamed full oft by later lyres on earth,
Mine dares not call thee from thy sacred hill:
Yet there I've wander'd by thy vaunted rill;
Yes! sigh'd o'er Delphi's long deserted shrine,
Where, save that feeble fountain, all is still;
Nor mote my shell awake the weary nine
To grace so plain a tale -- this lowly lay of mine.

John Keats The Eve of St. Agnes:

St. Agnes' Eve - Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman's fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem'd taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin's picture, while his prayer he saith.

Percy Bysshe Shelley The Revolt of Islam: (Also in Adonais)

When the last hope of trampled France had failed
Like a brief dream of unremaining glory,
From visions of despair I rose, and scaled
The peak of an aërial promontory,
Whose caverned base with the vexed surge was hoary;
And saw the golden dawn break forth, and waken
Each cloud and every wave:--but transitory
The calm; for sudden, the firm earth was shaken,
As if by the last wreck its frame were overtaken.

Sir Walter Scott in The Vision of Don Roderick. A remarkable 93 Spenserian stanzas:

Lives there a strain, whose sounds of mounting fire
May rise distinguished over the din of war,
Or died it with yon master of the lyre,
Who sung beleaguered Ilion's evil star?
Such, Wellington, might reach thee from afar,
Wafting its descant wide o'er ocean's range;
Nor shouts, nor clashing arms, its mood could mar,
All as it swell'd 'twixt each loud trumpet-change,
That clangs to Britain victory, to Portugal revenge!

Robert Burns in The Cotter's Saturday Night:

At length his lonely cot appears in view,
Beneath the shelter of an aged tree;
Th' expectant wee-things, toddlin, stacher through
To meet their dad, wi flichterin noise and glee.
His wee bit ingle, blinkin bonilie,
His clean hearth-stane, his thrifty wifie's smile,
The lisping infant, prattling on his knee,
Does a' his weary kiaugh and care beguile,
An makes him quite forget his labor and his toil.

William Wordsworth in The Female Vagrant:

The staff I yet remember which upbore
The bending body of my active sire;
His seat beneath the honeyed sycamore
When the bees hummed, and chair by winter fire;
When market-morning came, the neat attire
With which, though bent on haste, myself I deck'd;
My watchful dog, whose starts of furious ire,
When stranger passed, so often I have check'd;
The red-breast known for years, which at my casement peck'd

Alfred Tennyson in The Lotus-eaters:

Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave
To each, but whoso did receive of them
And taste, to him the gushing of the wave
Far far away did seem to mourn and rave
On alien shores; and if his fellow spake,
His voice was thin, as voices from the grave;
And deep-asleep he seem’d, yet all awake,
And music in his ears his beating heart did make

Spencer lived though a memorable time in the history of England: the Defeat of the Spanish Armada, the solution to Mary, Queen of Scots, exploration of a new world, and the establishment of a new faith in itself, all fertile ground for a poet. There were three periods in his life: Cambridge, the years of education 1552-1576; the Wanderjahre, an unsettled time 1576-1588 divided between London northern England of this he says “Mery London, my most kydnly nurse, That to me gave this lifes first native sourse”; and the Meisterjahre, the achievement years,” in Ireland 1588-1599. No long travels abroad, or journeys to exotic worlds; he held all within his own mind. During his Cambridge period he studied Italian models like The Idylls of Sannazaro and the epics of Orlando of Ariosto and the works of a somewhat deranged Tasso. During this period Spencer wrote The Shepherdes Calendar published in 1579. In this work you will find both Chaucer and Spencer as characters.

“The gentle Shepherd sate besides a Spring:
All in the Shadow of a bushy Brere,
That Colin hight, which well could pipe and sing,
For he of Tityrus his Songs did lere:
There as he sate in secret Shade alone,
Thus 'gan he make of Love his piteous Moan.” The Sheheardes Calender December

Tityrus is Chaucer; Colin is Spenser.

Its significance lies in that the talk was rustic English in word and thought, not Latin, not French, not Italian.. A critic wrote “Sorry I am that I cannot find none another with whom I might couple him in his rare gift of poetry.”

The work marks the beginning of the English Renaissance. We have “a new poet among us”... “The poet and prophet of beauty” as Milton once described him. He returned to London with the first three books of The Faerie Queene. He planned for twelve, only six were completed.

First characteristic: melody.

Aristotle places melody as the first of three genres of "poetry.” Melody meaning words that are pleasant because of their rhythm, tone, and arrangement. “The emotional concord and sequence of sounds.” But his great glory is that he taught his own language to sing and move to measures harmonious and noble. It was Spencer to prove:

“That no tongue hath the muse’s heired
For verse, and that sweet music to the ear
Struck out of rhyme, so naturally as this.” The Shepherde’s Calender

It was he who:
“Taught the dumb on high to sing,
And heavy ignorance aloft to fly
That added feathers to the learned's wing,
And gave to grace a double majesty."
With golden wings aloft doth fly
Above the reach of ruinous decay,
And with brave plumes doth beat the azure sky,
Admired of base-born men from far away." The Shepherde’s Calender

“And now they nigh approached to the stead
Whereas those mermaids dwelt; it was a still
And calmy bay, on th’ one side sheltered
With the broad shadow of an hoary hill.” Fairie Queene
“So now to Guyon as he passed by,
Their pleasant tunes they sweetly thus applied;
‘O thou fair son of gentle Faery,
Thou art in mighty arms most magnified
Above all knights that ever battle tried;
O turn they rudder hiterward a while!
Here may thy storm-beat vessel safely ride;
This is the port of rest from troublous toil,
The world’s sweet inn from pain and wearisome turmoil’
“His treble a strange kind of harmony,
Which Guyon’s senses softly tickeled,
That he the boatman bade row easily
And let him hear some part of their rare melody.” Fairie Queene

But let hat man with better sense advise,
That of the world least part to us is read;
And daily how through hardy enterprize
Many great regions are discovered,
Which to late age were never mentioned,
Who ever heard of the’ Indian Peru?
Or who in venturous vessel measured
The Amazon, hugh river, now found true?
Or fruitfullest Virgina who did ever view? Second Book of the Faerie Queene

What more Felicity can fall to Creature,
Than to enjoy Delight with Liberty,
And to be Lord of all the Works of Nature,
To reign in th' Air from Earth to highest Sky,
To feed on Flowres, and Weeds of glorious Feature,
To take what ever thing doth please the Eye?
Who rests not pleased with such Happiness,
Well worthy he to taste of Wretchedness. The Fate of the Butterfly

“In the softness and melody of his verse, the luxurious richness and harmony of his colorings, the delicacy of his fanciful conceptions...His verse,” said Matthew Arnold, “is more fluid, slips more easily and quickly along, than the verse of almost any other English Poet.”

“He had the subtle perfection of phrase and that happy coalescence of music and meaning, where each reinforces the other, that define a man as poet and make all ears converts and partisans...No other English poet has found the variety and compass which enlivened the octave stanza under his sensitive touch...The music makes great part of the meaning, and leads the thought along its pleasant paths...his fine ear, abhorrent of barbarous dissonance, his dainty tongue, that loves to prolong the relish of a musical phrase...There is no ebb and flow in his meter more than on the shores of the Adriatic, but wave follows back in fluent music to be mingled with and carried forward by the next...” James R. Lowell

“What he did was to reveal to English ears as it had never been revealed before, at least since the days of Chaucer, the sweet music, the refined grace, the inexhaustible versatility of the English tongue...This was the music and melody of his verse. It was this wonderful, almost unfailing, sweetness of numbers which probably as much as anything else set the Faerie Queene at once above all contemporary poetry...” Richard W. Church

“Spenser’s verse is like a river, wide and deep and strong, but moderating its waves and conveying them all in a steady, soft, irresistible sweep forward...no poem runs with such an entire absence of effort, with such an easy eloquence...” George Saintsbury

“He shows his mature hand in the the most airily fanciful of his poems, a marvel for delicate conception and treatment, whose breezy verse seems to float between a blue sky and golden earth in imperishable sunshine. No other English poet has found the variety and compass which enlivened the octave stanza under his sensitive touch. It can hardly be doubted that in Clarion the butterfly he has symbolized himself, and surely never was the poetic temperament so picturesquely exemplified.”

“His best thoughts were born in music. The spirit of poetry is not only felt in his sentiments and made visible in his imagery, but it steals out in the recurring chimes of his complicated stanza.” Edwin Percy Whipple, American Critic.

“Of the color, the savor, the music of life, his poem is full; only the color is brighter, the taste sweeter, the music grander, than any which it is given to mortal senses to know.” R. M Lovett

Our Second Characteristic: Morality

At Pembroke College the “sage and serious Spenser” adopted the teachings of Puritanism. Where men were to live for things eternal and detach themselves from things temporal it became the conflict of flesh and spirit. Spenser called the evil force of the world “the Blatant Beast” also known as Scandal, a thousand-tongued monster produced by Cerberus and Chimaeram, the personification of the invidious voice in the world of envy and revilement. The word blatant derived from the Scottish word blatand meaning bleating. Eventually “blatant” came to mean mean “loud, clamorous” the additional meanings of “unashamed, flagrant” does not appear until the late 19th century.

Note: In Greek mythology the dog Cerberus guarded the entrance to the gate of the underworld. He had three heads, a snake’s tail and a row of serpent heads growing out of his back. He was charged with the duty of eating anyone who tried to escape and preventing the living from entering. Chimaeram was a fire-breathing female with the body of a lion in front, a goat in the middle, and a serpent behind. Finally destroyed by Bellerophon.

In Book VI, Canto 2 of The Faerie Queene Calidore pursues it Blatant Beast, overcomes it and chains it up. Unfortunately it escaped and “now he raungeth through the world againe.” and anyone who trie to restrain it “shall become a target for the Blatant Beast.” In subsequent Cantos of this Book, The hermit gives them the secret to overcome the Beast’s poison: only temperance, personal virtue, and honesty can overcome the effects of attack by the Beast.

In Canto 2 of Book Five of Faerie Queene Artegall and Talus find a crowd on the beach listening to the speech of a giant. In this speech, the giant encourages everyone to redistribute the resources of the earth, from forests and mountains to monetary wealth. Artegall argues against es this idea as a disruption of God’s system he counter-argues that right or wrong cannot be requantified and redistributed.

Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day,
Didst make thy triumph over death and sin:
And having harrow'd hell, didst bring away
Captivity thence captive, us to win:
This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin,
And grant that we for whom thou diddest die,
Being with thy dear blood clean wash'd from sin,
May live for ever in felicity.
And that thy love we weighing worthily,
May likewise love thee for the same again:
And for thy sake, that all like dear didst buy,
With love may one another entertain.
So let us love, dear love, like as we ought,
Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught. Amoretti, Sonnet, LXVII

This sonnet an octave, sestet, followed by two couplets, the poem is based on the duality mortality and immortality; permanence and transiency of all matter.

“But that same gentle spirit, from whose pen
Large streams of honnie and sweete nectar flowe,
Scorning the boldness of such base-born men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashlie throwe,
Doth rather chose to sit in idle cell,
Than so himselfe to mockerie to sell” Teares of the Muses

“Let none then blame me, if in discipline
Of virtue and of civil uses lore,
I do not forme them to the common line
Of presentayes, which are corrupted sore,
But to the antique use which was of yore,
When good was onely for it selfe desyred,
And all men sought their owne, and none noe more;
When Justice was not for most meed out-hered,
But simple Truth did rayne, and was of all admyred.” Faerie Queene

“The Patron of true Holinesse
Foule Errour doth defeate:
Hypocrisie, him to entrappe,
Doth to his home entreate.” Canto I Faerie Queene

This next is an interesting alliterative written in stopped heroic couplet:

“Full little knowest thou that hast not tried,
What hell it is, in suing long to bide:
To lose good days that might be better spent;
To waste long nights in pensive discontent;
To speed to day, to be put back tomorrow;
To feed on hope, to pine with fear and sorrow;
To have the Prince’s grace, yet want her Peer’s
To have thy asking yet wait many years;
To fret thy soul with crosses and with cares:
To eat thy heart through comfortless; despair;
To fawn, to crouch, to wait, to ride, to run,
To spend, to give, to want, to be undone. Mother Hubbard’s Tale

“We must admire the intrinsic nobleness of Spencer’s general aim, his conception of human life, at once so exacting and so indulgent, his high ethical principles and ideals, his unfeigned honor for all that is pure and brave and unselfish and tender, his generous estimate of what is due from man to man of service, affection, and fidelity...It is the quality of soul which frankly accepts the conditions in human life of labor, of obedience, of effort, of unequal success, which does not quarrel with them of evade them, but takes for granted with unquestioning alacrity a continual struggle with difficulty, with pain, with evil, and makes it a point of hor not to be dismayed or wearied out by them...It is cheerful and serious willingness for hard work and endurance as being inevitable and very bearable necessities, together with even a pleasure in encountering trails which put a man on his mettle, an enjoyment of the contest and the risk, even in play...” R . Church

“The beauty of material objects never obscures to him the beauty of holiness.” E. P. Whipple

“His rebukes of clerical worldliness are in the Puritan tone...no man can read the “Fairie Queene and be anything but the better for it Through that rude age when Maids of Honor drank beer for breakfast and Hamlet could say a gross thing to Ophelia, he passes serenely, abstracter and hight, the Don Quixote of poets...With a purity like that of bolted snow, he had none of its coldness” Lowell

“Among very great poems, the Divina Commedia of Dante and the Faery Queene of Spenser stand alone in taking as their direct theme moral or spiritual virtue, to be exhibited, enforced, and illustrated.” Wm. M. Rossetti.

“The poet freely chooses what pleases his fancy in classical or neo-classical mythology; kyet at heart he is almost Puritan. Not, indeed, Puritan in any turning away from innocent delights; not Puritan in casting dishonor on our earthly life, its beaty, its plendor, its joy, its passion; but Puritan as Milton was when he wrote Lydicas in his weight of moral purpose, in his love of grave plainness in religion and humble laboriousness in those who are shepherds under Christ... The ethereal teaching of Spenser, extracted from his poetry, is worthy of careful study... By his enthusiasm on behalf of noblest moral qualities, by his strenuous joy in the presence of the noblest human creatures - man and woman - Spenser breathes into us a breath of life...” Edward Dowden

“Milton himself extolled his moral teachings; his philosophical idealism is evidently no mere poet’s plaything or parrot’s lesson, but thoroughly thought out and believed in.” George Saintsbury

“The moral seriousness which underlies the poem marks the great difference between Faerie Queene and its Italian prototype. Spenser...chose as the model of his great work the Orlando Furioso of Ariosto, Both Ariosto and Spenser deal with chivalry; but while Ariosto had merely the delight of the artist in the brilliant color which chivalry gave to life, with easy contempt of the cynic for its moral elements, Spenser found in its persons and ideals a means of making goodness attractive.” Wm. Moody

“Spenser is moral, too, (comparison with Chaucer) and lays great stress on distinctions of right and wrong, beautiful and ugly. Nature knows no such values. Whatever of hers happens to fit our desires we rightly enough call good or valuable. Such classifications belong not to nature but to our judging minds. Good and bad, high and low, noble and ignoble are words that express the relations which things bear to us. Parted from man nothing is good, nothing bad. Each object merely exists. To get moral or aesthetic worth it must be studied with reference to some human need. Chaucer, as a true naturalist, does not sit in judgment. He watches, whatever conduct occurs and reports it vivaciously, whether man call it good or bad. Nobody is condemned. The coarse is coarse, the refined, refined. Such natural equality is shocking to Spenser. He is ever applying moral standards, discriminating those desires which ennoble from those which degrade. In his ideal world the struggle between good and evil, beauty and ugliness, is incessant.” George H. Palmer

Our Third characteristic: Imagined Splendor

To examine for the “imagined splendor” of Spenser we look at the characters of Faerie Queene, the mother of all legends. It opens with Arthur the ancient king of the Brits aroung the 6th century then add Gloriana aka Faerie Queene aka Queen Elizabeth a character with no part just a destination. The Redcrosse Knight the hero of Book I; he stands for the virtue of Holiness aka George, and eventually St. George, the patron saint of England. “Saint George of mery England, the sign of victory” Book I Canto IX. He actually represents the Christian fighting against evil--or the Protestant fighting the Catholic Church. Then there is Una - another major protagonist. Meek, humble, and beautiful, but strong when it is necessary; she represents Truth. Then her opposite, Duessa, the alluring beauty, representing falsehood. My favorite is Archimago the sorcerer capable of changing his own appearance or that of others; in the end, his magic is proven weak and ineffective. Britomart is the heroine of Book III, the female warrior, representing Chastity. She searches for her future husband, Arthegall, whom she saw in a vision through a magic mirror. Then Florimell who represents Beauty. Many adore her but she has love for only one knight, who seems to be the only character who isn’t interested, isn’t that the case. Finally there is Satyrane a satyr, a half-human, half-goat creature. Dubbed "nature's knight," the best a man can be through his own natural abilities without the enlightenment of Christianity and God's grace.

Now with that we have “hideous giants and dragons, puissant knights, enchanted weapons, grim caves, and gloomy dungeons” Disraeli says “We do not often pause at elevations which raise the feeling of the sublime.” And this from Milton “To come fully under the spell of the ‘Faery Queen’ we must make ourselves as little children listening to the wondrous tales of a nurse...we yield ourselves to the poet in such a spirit, he makes hour hearts throb with...wonder and dread.”

Spencer was the poet of allegory thus The Faerie Queene is an allegory.

“The personages that move like cream figures through the cantos of the poem are thus no mere personified abstractions: they are rather pictorial emblems, many of which are lumed before us with such grandeur of conception and beauty...”

The characters are symbols of Christianity - faith, hope, and charity. Also there is politics. Spenser was a Protestant and Puritan and devoted to Queen Elizabeth and an enemy of the Catholic Church is corrupt.

Now to the legend:

“Una, who has been abandoned in the forest, is searching for her knight. She encounters a lion, who she tames with her beauty.

“Lo! Underneath her scornful feet was layn
A dreadful dragon with a hideous trayne;
And in her hand she held a mirrhour bright,
Wherein her face seh often viewed fayne,
And in her self-loved semblance took delight.”

The lion becomes her guardian as she searches for Archimago, who has disguised himself as the Red Cross Knight. They find each other but immediately are attacked by Sans Loy, who does not recognize the disguised Archimago. When the lion intervenes to protect Una he is killed by Sans Loy. Una successfully resists Sans Loy's attempts to seduce her, and she is quickly rescued by Fauns and Satyrs, the wood gods, who worship her as a god.

“From lawlesse lust by wondrous grace fayre Una is releast:
Whom salvage nation does adore, and learnes her wise beheast.”

The woodsman, Satyrane, helps her to escape. They meet Archimago who informs them of the death of the Red Cross Knight. While Satyrane engages Sans Loy in a battle, Una flees. Meanwhile, Duessa catches up with the Red Cross Knight. As the knight drinks from an enchanted spring, the giant, Orgoglio, appears and attacks the knight. Duessa agrees to become the giant's mistress in the hope that it will help in her effort to kill Arthur. Duessa and the Red Cross Knight become the prisoner of the giant. The dwarf takes the knight's spear, armor, and shield and leaves. He meets with Una and tells her of all that has happened.

“The Knight and Una entering fayre her greet,
And bid her joy of that her happy brood;
Who then requites them with court’sies seeming meet,
And entertaynes with friendly cheereful mood.”

Next, Prince Arthur appears and assures Una that he will rescue the Red Cross Knight from Orgoglio. After a fierce battle, Arthur kills the giant and disarms Duessa. Book II Faerie Queene

“A satyre’s sonne, yborne in forrest wyld,
By strange adventure as it did betyde,
And there begotten of a lady myld,
Fayre Thyamis, the daughter of Labryde;
That was in sacred bandes of wedlocke tyde
To Therion, a loose unruly swayne,
Who had more joy to raunge the forrest wyde,
And chase the salvage beast with busie payne,
Then serve his ladies love, and waste in pleasures vayne.” Canto VI xxi

What the readers said:

“In the world into which Spenser carries us, there is neither time or space, or rather is is outside of and independent of them both, and so is purely ideal, or more truly, imaginary; yet is is full of form, color, and all earthly luxury, and so far if not real yet apprehensible by the senses.” James Lowell Works

“This work (FQ) is full of life and light and other-wordliness of poetry...This place, somewhere between mind and matter, between soul and sense, between the actual and the possible, is precisely the region which Spenser assigns to the poetic sensibility of impression.” Lowell

“He waves the wand of enchantment, and at once embodies airy beings...The two worlds of reality and of fiction are poised on the wings of his imagination” William Haslitt

“Spenser’s power of taking up real objects, persons, and incidents of plunging these in some solvent of the imagination and then of recreating them...The mere visible shows of Spenser’s poem are indeed goodly enough to beguile a summer’s day in some old wood and to hold us from morning to evening in a waking dream.” Edward Dowden

“This fount of living and changing forms is inexhaustible in Spenser; he is always imaging; it is his specialty. He has but to close his eyes and apparitions arise; they abound in him, crowd, overflow; in vain he pours them forth; they continually float up, more copious and more dense...Magic is the mold of his mind, and impresses its shape upon all that he imagines or thinks. If he looks at landscape, after an instant, he sees it quite differently. He carries it, unconsciously, into an enchanted land; the azure heaven sparkles like a canopy of diamonds, meadows are clothed with flowers, a biped population flutters in the balmy air, palaces of jasper shine among the trees, radiant ladies appear, carved balconies above galleries of emerald. A moist twig is cast into the bottom of a mine and is brought out again a hoop of diamonds...He leads us to the summit of fairy-land soaring above history, on that extreme verge where objects vanish and pure idealism begins.” Hippolyte Taine

“The conventional supposition was that at Court, everyone knew better, all was perpetual sunshine, perpetual holiday, perpetual triumph, perpetual love-making. It was the happy reign of the good and wise and lively. It was the discomfiture of the base, the faithless, the wicked, the traitorous.” R. W. Church

“Spenser is the farthest removed from the ordinary cares and haunts of the world of all the poets that ever wrote except, perhaps, Ovid; ...The poetic faculty is so abundantly and beautifully predominant in him above every other...that he always been felt by his countrymen to be what Charles lamb called him, ‘the poet’s poet.’” Leigh Hunt

“If readers want poetry, if they want to be translated from a world which is not one of beauty into a world where the very uglinesses are beautiful, into a world of perfect harmony in color and sound, of an endless sequence of engaging event and character, of noble passions and actions not lacking in their due contrast, then let them go to Spenser with certainty of satisfaction.” George Saintsbury.

Our Fourth Characteristic: Incongruities. hmmm Not all is well with the critics.

“Much can they praise the trees so straight and high,
The sailing Pine, the Cedar proud and tall,
The vine-prop Elm, the Poplar never dry,
The builder Oak, sole king of forests all,
The Aspine good for staves, the Cypress funeral.
The Laurel, meed of mighty Conquerors
And Poets sage, the Fir that weepeth still,
The Willow worn of forlorn Paramours,
The Yew obedient to the bender's will,
The Birch for shafts, the Sallow for the mill,
The Mirrhe sweet bleeding in the bitter wound,The warlike Beech, the Ash for nothing ill,The fruitful Olive, and the Platane round,
The carver Holm, the Maple seldom inward sound.” Faerie Queene

The famous “hate” Canto:

“Hencefoorth I hate what euer Nature made,
And in her workmanship no pleasure finde:
For they be all but vaine, and quickly fade,
So soone as on them blowes the Northern winde,
They tarrie not, but flit and fall away,
Leauing behind them nought but griefe of minde,
And mocking such as thinke they long will stay.
I hate the heauen, because it doth withhould
Me from my loue, and eke my loue from me;
I hate the earth, because it is the mould
Of fleshly slime and fraile mortalitie;
I hate the fire, because to nought it flyes,
I hate the Ayre, because sighes of it be,
I hate the Sea, because it teares supplyes.
I hate the day, because it lendeth light
To see all things, and not my loue to see;
Because they breed sad balefulnesse in mee:
I hate all times, because all times doo fly
So fast away, and may not stayed bee,
But as a speedie post that passeth by.
I hate to speake, my voyce is spent with crying:
I hate to heare, lowd plaints haue duld mine eares:
I hate to tast, for food withholds my dying:
I hate to see, mine eyes are dimd with teares:
I hate to smell, no sweet on earth is left:
I hate to feele, my flesh is numbd with feares:
So all my senses from me are bereft.

I hate all men, and shun all womankinde;
The one, because as I they wretched are,
The other, for because I doo not finde
My loue with them, that wont to be their Starre;
And life I hate, because it will not last,
And death I hate, because it life doth marre,
And all I hate, that is to come or past.
So all the world, and all in it I hate,
Because it changeth euer too and fro,”

“His own errors are the confusion and inconsistency admitted in the stories and allegorical passages of the ancients and the absurd mixture of Christian heathenish allusions.” Thomas Chalmers.

"Spenser's incongruities, as well as his beauties, are without end. Shepherdes Calender, April. From the ridiculous insignia of 'violins' and 'Tamborins' ["June"], that are here assigned to the Muses, we might almost be led to imagine that Spenser had seen a painting by Carlo Maratti, who have very facetiously drawn Apollo, playing on the fiddle, surrounded by the nine muses." Gentleman's Magazine 56, (February 1786) p. 136.

“Shepherds in real life do not sit in the shade playing on pan pipes, improvising songs for wagers of lambs and curiously carved bowl and discoursing in rhymed verse about morality, religion, and politics... we miss the whole intention and effect of the poetry if we exact from the poet an adherence to the conditions of the actual life of shepherds. The picturesque environment of hill, wood, dale, silly sheep, and ravenous wild beasts is all that the poet cares for...He represents tantalus and Pontius Pilate suffering in the same place of punishment.” William Minto

Note that Tantalus in mythology was punished by being made to stand up to his neck in water which, when he attempted to drink from it, flowed away from him. Thus the word “tantalize”.

Strong in the abundant but unsifted learning of his day a style of learning which, in his case, was strangely inaccurate, he not only mixed the past with the present, fairyland with politics, mythology with the most serious Christian ideas, but he often mixed together the very features which are most discordant in the colors, forms, and methods by which he sought to produce the effect of his pictures...He did not trouble himself with inconsistencies or see absurdities and incongruities.” Church.

Our Fifth Characteristic: Women on a Pedestal

“But if ye saw that which no eyes can see,
The inward beauty of her lively spright,
Garnisht with heavenly guifts of high degree,
Much more then would ye wonder at that sight,
And stand astonisht lyke to those which red
Medusaes mazeful hed.
There dwels sweet Love and constant Chastity,
Unspotted Fayth, and comely Womanhood,
Regard of Honour, and mild Modesty;
There Vertue raynes as queene in royal throne,
And giveth lawes alone,
The which the base affections doe obay,
And yeeld theyr services unto her will;
Ne thought of thing uncomely ever may
Thereto approch to tempt her mind to ill.
Had ye once seene these her celestial threasures,
ad unrevealed pleasures,
Then would ye wonder, and her prayses sing,
That all the woods should answer, and your eccho ring” Epithalamion

“But ye fair dames, the world's dear ornaments
And lively images of heaven's light,
Let not your beams with such disparagements
Be dimm'd, and your bright glory dark'ned quite;
But mindful still of your first country's sight,
Do still preserve your first informed grace,
Whose shadow yet shines in your beauteous face.
Loathe that foul blot, that hellish firebrand,
Disloyal lust, fair beauty's foulest blame,
That base affections, which your ears would bland,
Commend to you by love's abused name,
But is indeed the bondslave of defame;
Which will the garland of your glory mar,
And quench the light of your bright shining star. An Hymne in Honour of Beautie

“But to this faire Belphoebe in her berth
The heavens so favourable were and free,
Looking with myld aspect upon the earth,
In th'Horoscope of her nativitee,
That all the gifts of grace and chastitee
On her they poured forth of plenteous horne;
Jove laught on Venus from his soveraigne see,
And Phoebus with faire beames did her adorne,
And all the Graces rockt her cradle being borne.” Faerie Queene Book III, Canto vi

“And on her head a crown of purest gold
Is set, in sign of highest sovereignty;
And in her hand a sceptre she doth hold,
With which she rules the house of God on high,
And manageth the ever-moving sky,
And in the same these lower creatures all
Subjected to her power imperial.

Both heaven and earth obey unto her will,
And all the creatures which they both contain;
For of her fullness which the world doth fill
They all partake, and do in state remain
As their great Maker did at first ordain,
Through observation of her high behest,
By which they first were made, and still increast.

The fairness of her face no tongue can tell;
For she the daughters of all women's race,
And angels eke, in beauty doth excel,
Sparkled on her from God's own glorious face,
And more increas'd by her own goodly grace,
That it doth far exceed all human thought,
Ne can on earth compared be to aught.” An Hymn of Heavenly Beauty

And our last reference from Colin Clouts Come Home Againe - reminder “Colin” is the name Spenser frequently uses. This particular poem is an allegorical pastoral written in 1591 on the occasion of a visit to London:

“For demigods they be, and first did spring
From heaven, though graft in frailness feminine”

“Spenser is the creator of some of the most exquisite embodiments fo female excellence...He has been called “the poet’s poet” he should also be called “the woman’s poet,” for the feminine element in his genius is its loftiest, deepest, most angelic element...The tenderness, the ethereal softness and grace, the moral purity, the sentiment untainted by sentimentality, which characterize his impersonations of female excellence, show, too, that the poet’s brain had been fed from his heart, and that reverence for woman was the instinct of his sensibility before it was confirmed by the insight of his imagination.” E. Whipple

“He pours out the wealth of his respect and tenderness at the feet of his heroines. If any corse man insults them, he calls tho their aid nature and the gods. Never does he bring them on his stage without adorning their name with splendid eulogy.” H. Taine

“Coleridge writes ‘The perfection of woman is to be characterless” meaning that no single prominent quality, however excellent, can equal in beauty and excellence a well-developed. harmonious nature.” E. Dowden

“The mode in which Spenser associated the virtues as well as the graces with his special idea of womanhood...is nowhere more beautifully illustrated than in Book IV, Canto ix, where Scudamour describes the temple of Venus and the recovery of his lost Amoret.” Aubrey DeVere

“Where else is woman in her pure ideal, still so humanly beautiful?” Dover Wilson

Our Fifth Characteristic: Cryptical, Obscure, Disguised

The challenge: Is there another story wherein the main character never appears? Lends truth to the criticism that in the allegory it is easy to find the moral thought, not so easy to find the political. As one critic puts it when speaking of the Faerie Queene “We can hardly lose our way for there is no way to lose.”

Old Spenser next, warm'd with poetic rage,
In ancient tales amused a barb'rous age;
But now the mystic tale, that pleased of yore,
Can charm an understanding age no more. The Spectator Vol. I Thomas Addison

“Whom when the Prince, to battell new addrest,
And threatning high his dreadfull stroke did see,
His sparkling blade about his head he blest,
And smote off quite his right leg by the knee,
That downe he tombled; as an aged tree,
High growing on the top of rocky clift,
Whose hartstrings with keene steele nigh hewen be,
The mightie trunck halfe rent, with ragged rift
Doth roll adowne the rocks, and fall with fearefull drift,”
Or as a Castle reared high and round,
By subtile engins and malitious slight
Is undermined from the lowest ground
And her foundation forst, and feebled quight,
At last downe falles, and with her heaped hight
Her hastie ruine does more heauie make,
And yields it selfe vnto the victours might;
Such was this Gyaunts fall, that seemd to shake
The steadfast globe of earth, as it for feare did quake.” Faerie Queene Book I, Canto vii

“The poet contains great beauties, a sweet and harmonious versification, easy elocution , a fine imagination. Yet does the perusal of his work become so tedious that one never finishes it from the mere pleasure that it affords. If soon become a kind of task-reading, and requires some effort and resolution to carry us on the end...Spenser keeps his place upon our shelves, among the classics, but is seldom seen on the table...” Alexander Hume

“Dryden and others have complained of intricacy and incoherence in the Faerie Queene...for a fact it is that Spenser does often violate the plain laws of space and time. To maintain coherence prolonged actions must sometimes be supposed to happen in no time; and personages are sometimes present or absent as it suits the poet’s convenience, coming and going without remark...The real explanation is, that the poet wrote with great facility and that in ‘winging his flight rapidly through the prescribed labyrinth of sweet sound, he someimes sang himself to sleep, and forgot exactly where he was.” William Minto

“A vein of what are manifestly contemporary allusions breaks across the moral meaning, and one of which it is the work of dissertations to find the key...In Spenser’s allegories we are not seldom at a loss to make out what and how much was really intended, amid a maze of overstrained analogies and oversubtle conceits and attempts to hinder a too close and dangerous identification...There is an intentional dislocation of the parts of the story, when they might make it imprudently close in its reflection of facts or resemblance in portraiture.” Church

“One unpardonable fault, the fault of tediousness, pervades the whole of the Faerie Queene. We become sick of cardinal virtues and deadly sins, and long for the society of plain men and women.” E. P. Whipple

“Exaggeration, profuseness, prolixity, were the literary diseases of the age; an age of great excitement and hope, which had suddenly discovered its wealth and its powers, but not the rules of true economy in using them..There was in Spenser an incontinence of description faculty...But when he gets on a story or scene, he never knows when to stop... The “FQ” as a whole, bears on its face a great fault of construction. It carries with it no adequate account of its own story; it does not explain itself or contain in its own structure what would enable a reader to understand how it arose...The truth is that the power of ordering and connecting a long and complicated plan was not one of Spencer’s gifts.” Church

Our Sixth Characteristic: Pictures, Images

The old man Palinode mournes the loss of his limber muscles and is unable to engage in dance:

“Sicker this morrow, no longer ago,
I saw a shoal of shepherds outgo
With singing, and shouting, and jolly cheer;
Before them yode a lusty tabrere,
That to the menyie a horn-pipe played,
Whereto they dancen each one with his maid,
To see those folks make such jovisance,
Made my heart after the pipe to dance.
Tho to the greenwood they speeden them all,
To fetchen home May with their musical;
And home they bringen in a royal throne.
Crowned as kin; and his queen attone
Was lade Flora, on whom did attend
A fair flock of fairies, and a fresh bend
Of lovely nymphs, O that I were there
To helpen the ladies their May bush to bear!” Shepherde’s Calender

“Therewith she spew’d out of her filthy maw
A flood of poison horrible and black,
Full of great lumps of flesh and gobbets raw,
Which stunk so vilely that it fore’d him slack
His grasping hold, and from her turn aback’
Her vomit full of books and papers was,
With loathly frogs and toads, which eyes did lack,
And creeping sought way in the weedy grass;
Her filthy parbreak all the place defiled has.” Faerie Queene Error

“And all the while she stood upon the ground,
The wakeful dogs did never cease to bay;
As viging warning of the unwonted sound,
With which her iron wheels did them affray,
And her dark grisly look them much dismay,
The messenger of death, the ghastly owl,
With dreary shrieks did also her bewray;
And hungry worlves continually did howl
At her abhorred face, so filthy and so fowl. Fairie Queene

“At length, when most in perill it was brought,
Two Angels, downe descending with swift flight,
Out of the Swelling streame it lightly caught,
And twixt their blessed armes it carried quight
Above the reach of anie living sight:
So now it is transform’d into that starre,
In which all heavenly treasures locked are.” The Ruines of Time

“The fiery sun was mounted now on hight
Vp to the heauenly towers, and shot each where
Out of his golden Charet glistering light;
And fayre Aurora with her rosie heare,
The hatefull darknes now had put to flight,
When as the shepheard seeing day appeare,
His little Goats gan driue out of their stalls,
To feede abroad, where pasture best befalls.

To an high mountaines top he with them went,
Where thickest grasse did cloath the open hills:
They now amongst the woods and thickets ment,
Now in the valleies wandring at their wills,
Spread themselues farre abroad through each descent;
Some on the soft greene grasse feeding their fills;
Some clambring through the hollow cliffes on hy,
Nibble the bushie shrubs, which growe thereby.
“Here also playing on the grassy greene,
Woodgods and Satyres and swift Dryades,
With many fairies oft were dauncing seene,
Not so much did Dan Orpheus represse
The streames of Hebrus with his songs, I woene,
As that faire troupe of woodie goddesses
Staied thee, powring foorth to thee,
From cheerful lookes great mirth and gladsome glee.

The verie nature of the place, resounding
With gentle murmure of the breathing ayre,
A pleasant bowre with all delight abounding
In the fresh shadowe did for them prepayre,
To rest their limbs with wearines redounding.
For first the high palme trees with branches faire
Out of the lowly vallies did arise,
And shoote up their heads into the skyes.” Virgils Gnat - Long since dedicated to the most noble and excellent lord, the earle of leicester, late deceased

“Vivitur ingenio, caeter mortis erunt.” "Genius lives on, all else is mortal."