Thursday, December 20, 2007

In this posting I am going to attempt to grapple somewhat with ideas and actual poetry, as I am under the influence of a mood which tells me that as I will likely never return to this subject again once I have come to the end of this series, there is no point in rushing through it, especially given that I am scarcely paying it any attention as it is.

The picture below is taken from a 1913 children's book called Stories From Spenser. I wonder how many children read this book, or what influence it might have had on them, but I have not found any record of it. The scene depicts action from the 11th Canto of the 1st Booke generally, though to put some caption to it, I think I. xi. 5 is most fitting:

"Then bad the knight his lady yede aloofe,
And to an hill her selfe with draw aside,
From whence she might behold that batailles proofe
And eke be safe from daunger far descryde:
She him obayd, and turnd a little wyde."
IV. ii. 46 (3-5) Verse 45 describes the rape of a fairy nymph by a knight who came upon her combing her golden locks, presumably while in a state of undress, by a crystal flood, which got "three lovely babes, that proved three champions bold" on her. The young lads were raised in seclusion in the forest (their father having ridden off immediately after the gratification of his lust), but their genes would manifest themselves:

"Then shewing forth signes of their fathers blood,
They loved armes, and knighthood did ensew,
Seeking adventures, where they anie knew."

This getting of children by rape in this manner is, in most classical literature and art both ancient and modern (pre-1700), always set either in fairyland or some remote age, though the act is otherwise presented as the natural and obvious consequence of a lusty young man without the benefit of up to date education and civilizing coming across a luscious and lonely lass in the woods.

IV. iii. 27 (6-9) This is a striking and well-executed image:
"But when the floud is spent, then backe againe
His borrowed waters forst to redisbourse,
He sends the sea his owne with double gaine,
And tribute eke withall, as to his Soveraine."

IV. iv. 28 (6-9) This is a typical scenario in fight scenes involving knights on horseback; some variation of this is repeated about thirty or forty times in this poem alone. Indeed, for a significant portion of the lifespan of Western literary history--around 500 years-- the dominant narrative was of guys in armor swordfighting. This was one of the great lessons impressed upon me in 2007:
"A mightie spear eftsoones at him he bent;
Who seeing him come on so furiously,
Met him mid-way with equall hardiment,
That forcibly to ground they both together went."

IV. v. 35 (4-5) Regarding a blacksmith. Humorous:
"And fingers filthie, with long nayles unpared,
Right fit to rend the food, on which he fared."

IV. viii. 27 (5-8) On the hardiness of men of former ages:
"And eke that age despysed nicenesse vaine,
Enur'd to hardnesse and to homely fare,
Which them to warlike discipline did trayne,
And manly limbs endur'd with litle care..."

This picture has the words "Faerie Queene" in its title, though this refers it seems to a particular and curious self-image held by the artist and evoked by the terms rather than to anything connected with the poem.

IV. ix. 18 (5-9), 19 (1-4) The perils of being in the power and debt of a mighty man for a desirable woman, and the security against these which the virtues of true chivalry ensure:

"But now in feare of shame she more did stond/Seeing herselfe all soly succourlesse/Left in the victors powre, like vassall bond/Whose will her weaknesse could no way represse/In case his burning lust should breake into excesse."

"But cause of feare sure had she none at all/Of him, who goodly learned had of yore/The course of loose affection to forstall/And lawlesse lust to rule with reasons lore."

IV. x. 14 (8-9) "And time to steal, the threasure of man's day/Whose smallest minute lost, no riches render may." The book I used in this reading this poem was a 1935 Oxford University Press volume of 'Spenser's Poetical Works', which I found in Brattleboro, of all places. It had a glossary but not much in the way of explanatory notes. The previous owner, or one of them, of the book was a fellow whose name, though it is hard to decipher his handwriting, appears to have been Jim Swan; he lived at 40 Monroe Street in New York City. As this is in lower Manhattan near the Manhattan bridge, my suspicion is that the building Jim Swan, and my book, once inhabited have been razed and replaced with some more modern construction, though I am probably wrong. Swan appears to have read the Faerie Queene all the way through--at least he has marked it, frequently in pink pencil, all the way through. Perhaps he was one of the 12 men Bliss Perry designated as the book's living readership, though I doubt it. He left posterity a brief note beside the two lines above stating simply "Poor Richard!". Only a mid-20th century American, especially a Manhattannite, could have written this with such unaffected enthusiasm.

IV. x. 24 Beautiful nature images. Evokes the old world:

"Fresh shadowes, fit to shroud from sunny ray;

Faire lawnds, to take the sunne in season dew;

Sweet springs, in which a thousand Nymphes did play;

Soft rombling brookes, that gentle slomber drew;

High reared mounts, the lands about to vew;

Low looking dales, disloigned from common gaze;

Delightful bowres, to solace lovers trew;

False Labyrinthes, fond runners eyes to daze;

All which by nature made did nature selfe amaze."

I can offer little comment where the poetry speaks so clearly for itself.

IV. x. 53 (3-7) Much of this canto continues the emphasis on courage always carrying the day with the ladies:

"For sacrilege me seem'd the Church to rob, (the robbery would be of a recluse virgin from the temple of Venus)

And folly seem'd to leave the thing undonne,

Which with so strong attempt I had begonne.

Tho shaking off all doubt and shamefast feare,

Which Ladies love I heard had never wonne..."

IV. xi. 16 (1-4) I just like the rhyme. (Humorous):

"For Albion the sonne of Neptune was,

Who for the proofe of his great puissance,

Out of his Albion did on dry-foot pas

Into old Gall, that now is cleeped France..."

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