Tuesday, December 11, 2007


The second & third stanzas of the Introduction of the second Booke (of Temperaunce), reference the newly discovered lands of the New World. As an inhabitant of those lands, they caught my interest enough to want to quote them, besides that there is the typical smooth versification of our poet:

"But let that man with better sence advize,
That of the world least part to us is red:
And dayly how through hardy enterprize,
Many great regions are discovered,
Which to late age were never mentioned.
Who ever heard of th'Indian Peru?
Or who in venturous vessell measured
The Amazons huge river now found trew?
Or fruitfullest Virginia who did ever vew?

"Yet all these were, when no man did them know;
Yet have from wisest ages hidden beene:"

I don't want to club anyone over the head with quotations, as I know most readers' inclination will be to skip over them to see if I have written anything ridiculous relating to sex or failure or perhaps the collapse of civilization. However I took to writing these book reports primarily to try to help myself remember something of what I read, as I found I was starting to forget almost all of it. Also Spenser is not one of those authors like Orwell or Johnson or Wilde with whose quotations one is constantly bombarded even from the most tangentially well-read sources, so I thought it would not be the worst thing for him to have a little presence on my site. To be honest I am a bit burned out and disillusioned at the moment with reading, and to a certain extent with writing, but I don't really know what else to do with myself. Most of my interests would lead me back to reading and confronting mountains of learning and well-staked out territory in some manner. What I probably really need to do is to go on a long quest or pilgrimage of some kind, preferably one that has some tangential importance to human progress--I have discovered that it is fashionable now to trash even the Lewis and Clark expedition as meaningless because it 'accomplished nothing of value that would not have happened anyway'. This attitude poses a problem to modern western Man, because the idea of the quest, whether individual or the group, is one of the main engines which drives any culture, yet increasingly we feel that there is no more ground for us to stake out or seek that a million more able people have not covered and pronounced upon already. One looks inward and finds nothing there that has not already been made manifest, and to a far greater extent, by a thousand others one knows of.

II. 1. 11 (5-8)
"Her looser golden lockes he rudely rent,
And drew her on the ground, and his sharpe sword
Against her snowy brest he fiercely bent,
And threatned death with many a bloudie word;"

This action is taken by one of the villians on the side of intemperance, who doubtless has a more precise identification that eludes me. Violence, or the threat of it, sexual and otherwise, is a constant throughout the work, and is frequently written about in a way that, while solidly moral and judgmental, is also rather arousing.

II. 2. 2 This is a good poem.
"Ah lucklesse babe, borne under cruell starre,
And in dead parents balefull ashes bred,
Full weenest little thou, what sorrowes are
Left thee for portion of thy livelihed,
Poore Orphane in the wide world scattered,
As budding braunch rent from the native tree,
And throwen forth, till it be withered:
Such is the state of men: thus enter wee
Into this life with woe, and end with miseree."

II. 2. 15. Even if you are skipping the poems, this description of a desirable *modest* woman--a subject dear to Spenser's sensibility--might appeal to a romantic spirit:
"She led him up into a goodly bowre,
And comely courted with meet modestie,
Ne in her speach, ne in her haviour,
Was lightnesse seene, or looser vanitie,
But gratious womanhood, and gravitie,
Above the reason of her youthly yeares:
Her golden lockes she roundly did uptye
In beaded tramels, that no looser heares
Did out of order stray about her daintie eares."

II. 2. 29 (8-9)
"Vaine is the vaunt, and victory unjust,
That more to mighty hands, then rightfull cause doth trust."

II. 3. 36. I like this metaphor.
"As fearefull fowle, that long in secret cave
For dread of soaring hauke her selfe hath hid,
Not caring how, her silly life to save,
She her gay painted plumes disorderid,
Seeing at laste her selfe from daunger rid,
Peepes foorth, and soon renewes her native pride;
She gins her feathers foule disfigured
Proudly to prune, and set on every side,
So shakes off shame, ne thinks how erst she did her hide."

II. 3. 41 (1-4) This is about the sort of woman who prefers, and only prefers, men of action:
"In woods, in waves, in warres she wonts to dwell,
And will be found with perill and with paine;
Ne can the man, that moulds in idle cell,
Unto her happie mansion attaine."

Samples from II. v. 32-33 (loose nymphs)
"Amidst a flock of Damzels fresh and gay,
That round about him dissolute did play...
Every of which did loosely disaray
Her upper parts of meet habiliments,
And shewed them naked, deckt with many ornaments.

"And every one of them strove, with most delights,
Him to aggrate, and greatest pleasures shew...
One boasts her beautie, and does yield to vew
Her daintie limbes above her tender hips;
Another her out boastes, and all for tryall strips."

II. vii. 52 (6-9) verses on Socrates
"With which th'unjust Athenians made to dy
Wise Socrates, who thereof quaffing glad
Pourd out his life, and last Philosophy
To the faire Critias his dearest Belamy."
II. vii. 60 (1-5) A harsh reply to Tantalus, upon that wretch's asking for food:
"Nay, nay, thou greedie Tantalus (quoth he)
Abide the fortune of thy present fate,
And unto all that live in high degree,
Ensample be of mind intemperate,
To teach them how to use their present state."

II. viii. 16 (8-9) A villian disputes Sir Guyon's right to a funeral (he is not actually dead but in a swoon):
What herce or steed (said he) should he have dight (adorned),
But be entombed in the raven or the kight?"

II. viii. 50 (2-5) Condition of an inferior being:
"For as a Bittur (bittern--a type of heron) in the Eagles claw,
That may not hope by flight to scape alive,
Still waites for death with dread and trembling aw;
So he now subject to the victours law..."

There is something about this poem that is causing me to be melancholy. I think that is because it either is truly great or is very near to being truly great, and because I feel something of an impossibility to understand it in anything close to what it really is. One feels terribly lonely and unarmed wandering around in it, and companionship in terms of attitude towards the poem is hard to come by. Yet at the same time it does not feel alien. It feels as if something one has lost, something rather powerful, is buried within it, that is probably irretrievable except in fragments and shards of language.

I am going to try to do shorter posts and more of them, as well as to cut down on the quotes. However, they all seem important or good or humorous enough at the time.

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