Monday, December 17, 2007


I did not know many women when I was young, but among those in whose presences I chanced on occasion to find myself, quite a few claimed that their favorite movie was "Harold and Maude". When I finally saw the movie, which is watchable more for the fascination of the enormous 1971-era cars and dreary landscape (leaves, and vegetation in general, as well as bright sunlight, seem to have been in short supply around the years 1969-71, judging from the films of the period) and the Cat Stevens soundtrack, which sounds great in the actual movie, than the excruciating plot, which centers around a geek who has a love affair with a octogenarian, my reaction was "How the hell can this be anybody's favorite movie, especially a young girl's?" Meanwhile other men were regularly meeting attractive and volatile women who told them their favorite movies were "Betty Blue" or "Henry and June", and behaved accordingly (these films, as far as I could tell, were about women who required, and got, constant stimulation and high-intensity sex). Always slow to catch on to the most blatant codes (perhaps this is what is meant by being unable to recognize an allegory even when it is swallowing you alive), it just occurred to me a few days ago that the alleged favorite films were nothing but a means of informing you in what regard you were held, certainly as far as your sexual prospects went, by reference to the fate of the leading male characters in the films named. Subconsciously one always knew this; when my future wife claimed to be partial to uplifting and wholesome American films from the 1940s (to me; who knows what she would have said had a pulsating superman been present at the conversation, which thankfully, one was not), I knew that I had some hope, though being me I did not make out what form that hope must inevitably take, and therefore made no preparations for it. The point in all of this relating to the Faerie Queene is that it is possible I may be struck by more penetrating insights about what it really means in 10 or 15 years, and I will be able to add those too late epiphanies to the compendium of worldy wisdom I hope to accumulate for my sons to give them a little more advantage when they embark upon the great contest of life than I blundered into battle with.

The advantage to someone like me, who is a rather plodding scholar, of a longer work over a shorter one is that the longer one becomes a very distinct part of your life for the period in which you are reading it. Impressions have a greater chance of penetrating even the dull mind. One senses a degree of companionship with the author has been attained by the mere virtue of having been confined in the same carriage or boarding house with him for so many weeks. A lot of readers apparently don't care for this, and consider it presumptuous, especially in a multimedia age, for any person to demand twenty, or more, hours of another person's life to read his book, but I have always found that illusion of intimacy--the author cannot really escape my company either without my willing it--to be the primary reward of the habit.

III. viii. 42 (1-5) The theme of the third booke by the way is chastitie:
"Eternall thraldome was to her more liefe,
Then losse of chastitie, or chaunge of love:
Die had she rather in tormenting griefe,
Then any should of falsenesse her reprove,
Or loosenesse, that she lightly did remove."

III. ix. 30 This is a difficult part to make out exactly (I believe Cupid may just be working his perfidious effects on a pair of lovers with the aid of alcohol), but the poetry, as far as both language and the artfulness of the images, is remarkable:
"Thenceforth to her he sought to intimate
His inward griefe, by means to him well knowne,
Now Bacchus fruit out of the silver plate
He on the table dasht, as overthrowne,
Or of the fruitfull liquor overflowne,
And by the dancing bubbles did divine,
Or therein write to let his love be showne;
Which well she red out of the learned line,
A sacrament prophane in mistery of wine."

III. x. 48 A cuckold watches his wife in action:
"At night, when they all went to sleepe, he vewd,
Whereas his lovely wife emongst them lay,
Embraced of a Satyre rough and rude,
Who all the night did minde his joyous play:
Nine times he heard him come aloft ere day,
That all his hart with gealosie did swell;
But yet that nights ensample did bewray,
That not for nought his wife them loved so well,
When one so oft a night did ring his matins bell."

There are a large number of female warriors (as well as monsters) in the poem, which brings to mind that allegory in itself is entirely, as Blake pointed out, a pagan form, and is in fact antithetical to Christianity, which is revealed truth.

This painting is David's Death of Sappho, with Phaon. It too has nothing to do with the Faerie Queene (there is a Phaon character in the poem, but there is no allusion to this story). However, it came up when I was searching for a picture and I decided I wanted it in my collection. I have expressed my fondness for David, albeit largely unexamined, on this site before. This painting looks to be in the collection of the Hermitage in St Petersburg, which I still have a hope of getting to someday, though for what serious purpose at this point I could not pretend to say. It looks increasingly unlikely that that will happen anyway however.
III. xii. 18 (1-5) Displeasure is like me. Pleasance, of course, must be Mrs Bourgeois Surrender:

"After them went Displeasure and Pleasance.
He looking lompish and full sullein sad,
And hanging downe his heavy countenance;
She chearefull fresh and full of joyance glad,
As if no sorrow she ne felt ne drad..."

III. xii. 24 (3-5), 25 Catalogue of unsettled spirits:
"Repentance feeble, sorrowfull, and lame:
Reproch despightfull, carelesse, and unkind;
Shame most ill-favourd, bestiall, and blind...
"And after them a rude confused rout
Of persons flockt, whose names is hard to read:
Emongst them was sterne Strife, and Anger stout,
Unquiet care,and fond Unthriftihead,
Lewd Losse of Time, and Sorrow seeming dead,
Inconstant Chaunge, and false Disloyaltie,
Consuming Riotise, and guilty Dread,
Of heavenly vengeance, faint Infirmitie,
Vile Povertie, and lastly Death with infamie."

IV. i. 21-22 On discord. This could be sung over legs of mutton and ale, like a real epic poem. The theme of the 4th Booke is Friendship, by the way.
"And all within the riven walls were hung
With ragged monuments of time forepast,
All which the sad effects of discord sung:
There were rent robes, and broken scepters plast,
Alters defyl'd, and holy things defast,
Disshivered speares, and shields ytorne in twaine,
Great cities ransackt, and strong castles rast,
Nations captived, and huge armies slaine:
Of all which ruines there some relicks did remaine.

"There was the sign of antique Babylon,
Of fatall Thebes, of Rome that raigned long,
Of sacred Salem, and sad Ilion,
For memorie of which on high there hong
The golden Apple, cause of all their wrong,
For which the three faire Goddesses did strive:
There also was the name of Nimrod strong,
Of Alexander, and his Princes five,
Which shar'd to them the spoiles that he had got alive."

IV. i. 51 (5) Good line:
"All things not rooted well, will soon be rotten."

IV. ii. 27 (1-4) Western civilization in a nutshell:
"And of them all she that is fayrest found,
Shall have that golden girdle for reward,
And of those Knights who is most stout on ground,
Shall to that fairest Ladie be prefard..."

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