Thursday, December 13, 2007


I was going to give everybody a break from Spenser by linking to a video called "Lucky Guys Get Amazing Lapdances at Wild Party" at Youtube, but the clip appears to have been taken down. It showed a couple of future exurban mom types doing some heavy grinding on a couple of very smug studs at a frat party. I don't know that I have ever been at a truly "wild party", by which I mean one where reasonably attractive women were drunk and totally out of control, unable to keep their hands and other body parts off of men, etc, though God knows the quest of my entire youth was to find one. Actually I suppose I have been at a couple that fit this description but I was so far from the action myself that I don't really count them.

After my pitiful attempts at poetical analysis in Part 3 I decided to retrench and try to work my way through the dilemmas caused by this poem a little harder. I determined that one of the reasons it is hard to take up much from the lines I am quoting and run a little with them is that unlike contemporary artists the poet is not really confronting us with provocative opinions about the literature, society, religion, or anything else. He is not, nor does he expect his reader to be, in serious doubt over such matters as the nature of virtue and vice, whether one ought to believe everything one reads in the Bible, if feudalism is really the optimal model for attaining human happiness, etc. The problems are almost purely artistic, matters of finding the best form to understand and demonstrate what is already accepted as true. This is the Medieval aspect of Spenser, and it is what people like Ruskin and Henry Adams are getting at when they claim that Western Civilization attained its highest point in the Middle Ages--around 1300. The idea is that men had, compared to ages before and after, a truly lofty sense of their purpose with the least confusion about what that purpose might be.

This ability of the artist to have his content already settled and to find the most suitable form for it, while not regarded in our time as the highest achievement possible, has its advantages. This occurred to me as I was driving around in my new minivan listening to the satellite radio which seems, at first anyway, to have come with it. My children like to listen to the kiddie radio station, most of which is truly execrable, grasping efforts of the "I Like Pretzels" variety by people who are clearly desperate to do anything to be able to call themselves artists, though I do like the Wiggles a little("Big Red Car" and "Ooh It's Captain Feathersword!" are catchier tunes than anything Elton John has ever put out). Whenever they break out something like a selection from the Mary Poppins soundtrack--"A Spoonful of Sugar", say--it's practically time to rock out. The point is, if you are totally on your own playing with your guitar straining to invent a song, you are going, especially if you have no genuine talent or imagination, to end up writing something solipsistic like "I Like Pretzels". You likely won't even be able to reach the heights of "A Spoonful of Sugar" because the concept, and more importantly, its place in the flow of a bigger narrative, likely will not present themselves to you.

I am pretty sure that the painting below actually depicts a scene from Paradise Lost, but I liked it so much I just couldn't leave it out.

II. x. 27-32 recount the story of King Lear (the whole booke is "a chronicle of Briton kings/from Brute to Uther's Rayne.") Here is how he presents the fate of Cordelia:
"Till that her sisters children, woxen strong
Through proud ambition, against her rebeld,
And overcommen kept in prison long,
Till wearie of that wretched life, her selfe she hong."

II. xi. 30 A common theme of old literature:
"So greatest and most glorious thing on ground
May often need the helpe of weaker hand;
So feeble is mans state, and life unsound,
That in assurance it may never stand,
Till it dissolved be by earthly band.
Proofe be thou Prince, the prowest man alive,
And noblest borne of all in Britayne land;
Yet thee fierce Fortune did so nearly drive,
That had not grace thee blest, thou shouldest not survive."

II. xii. 73 (1-8) Though this is about the privation of the soul through lust, it is pretty sexy stuff. This is what I imagine college as like for cool people:
"And all that while, right over him she hong,
With her false eyes fast fixed in his sight,
As seeking medicine, whence she was stong,
Or greedily depasturing (feeding on) delight:
And oft inclining downe with kisses light,
For feare of waking him, his lips bedewed,
And through his humid eyes did suck his spright,
Quite molten into lust and pleasure lewd..."

III. i. 13 Here is some Spenserian nostalgia for days of yore reminiscent of my own writing:
"O goodly usage of those antique times,
In which the sword was servant unto right;
When not for malice and contentious crimes,
But all for praise, and proofe of manly might,
The martiall brood accustomed to fight:
Then honour was the meed of victorie,
And yet the vanquished had no despight:
Let later age that noble use envie,
Vile rancour to avoid, and cruell surquedrie (arrogance).

III. ii. 32 (6-9) Volcanic love:
"Like an huge Aetn' of deep engulfed griefe,
Sorrow is heaped in thy hollow chest,
Whence forth it breakes in sighs and anguish rife,
As smoke and sulphure mingled with confused strife."

For all the wonder of this book, it is hard to maintain a consistent concentration day in, day out, all the way through. The 1962 Catholic History of Western Civilization that I frequently refer to says it is "a technically perfect poem, but lacks power." I would like to attribute my at times flagging attention to this lack of power but I really did not experience or perceive it in this way.

III. v. 23 (7-9), 25 (4-7) Reminders of Man's Fate/Intimacy With Forces of Darkness (I am at home now, so my return key skips a space):

"Downe on the ground his carkas groveling fell;/His sinfull soule with desperate disdain,/Out of her fleshly ferme (habitation) fled to the place of paine."

"And strooke at him with force so violent,/That headlesse him into the foord he sent:/The carkas with the streame was carried downe,/But th'head fell backward on the Continent."

III. v. 42 This is some elegant versification here:

"O foolish Physicke, and unfruitfull paine,/That heales up one and makes another wound:/She his hurt thigh to him recur'd againe,/But hurt his hart, the which before was sound,/Through an unwary dart, which did rebound/From her faire eyes and gracious countenance./What bootes it him from death to be unbound,/To be capitved in endlesse duraunce/Of sorrow and despair without aleggaunce?"

Most commentators on the Fairie Queene make note of how many figures and concepts of paganism populate this work. Especially as many of the Christian messages/scripture references are artfully, and usually beautifully dressed in symbolic garb, (i.e. an upgrade of armor) that nonetheless are probably lost on a great many modern readers, including me, without referring to the notes, the impression made by the ubiquity of various classical and nature gods is a strong one.

III. vii. 12 I noted beside this stanza "like me", which was obviously the immediate impression I had upon reading it, unflattering though it be. I cannot make out on a quick second perusal who or what he and his mother specifically sympolize:

"This wicked woman had a wicked sonne,/The comfort of her age and weary dayes,/A laesie loord, for nothing good to donne,/But stretched forth in idlenesse alwayes,/Ne ever cast his mind to covet prayse,/Or ply him selfe to any honest trade,/But all the day before the sunny rayes/He us'd to sing, or slepe in slothful shade:/Such laesiness both lewd and poore attonce him made."

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