Thursday, January 24, 2008

Faerie Queene 10

This is the point, now that I am nearing the end, when I begin to feel I will miss this subject once it is over and buried in the archives. Every topic one takes up is an opportunity to make, in some way, the experience, the perception of all life better, even if only momentarily; but most of the time the opportunity ends up eluding one, and one feels the loss. This is where I am at the moment.

VI. viii. 41, 42 & 43 (1-3) This is a lot, but I think it is finely done. With this poet it is extremely hard for me to lay hands on the details that make this work. It is something along the lines of: by maintaining his pristine, finely molded verses even when describing savage characters and their vile lust for a beautiful naked woman, he imparts something of the refinement of his writing into our image of the woman, and even our own lust, and elevates them perhaps to something resembling a civilized man. Perhaps:
"But all bootes not: they hands upon her lay;
And first they spoil her of her jewels deare,
And afterwards of all her rich array;
The which amongst them they in peeces teare,
And of the pray each one a part doth beare.
Now being naked, to their sordid eyes
The goodly threasures of nature appeare:
Which as they view with lustfull fantasyes,
Each wisheth to him selfe, and to the rest envyes.

"Her yvorie necke, her alabaster brest,
Her paps, which like white silken pillowes were,
For love in soft delight thereon to rest;
Her tender sides, her bellie white and clere,
Which like an Altar did it selfe uprere,
To offer sacrifice divine thereon;
Her goodly thighes, whose glorie did appeare
Like a triumphall Arch, and thereupon
The spoiles of Princes hang'd, which were in battel won.

"Those daintie parts, the dearlings of delight,
Which mote not be prophaned of common eyes,
Those villeins vew'd with loose lascivious sight..."

The observation of my man James Swan (the previous owner of my book) blows me away. At VI. viii. 47 (9) he notes when Sir Calepine catches up "his armes streight to the noise forth past" that he had been stripped of his arms 35 pages earlier and had not had occasion to acquire new ones. That is like finding an inconsistency between two panels at opposite ends of a frieze that is twenty feet above one's head. I can't believe he noticed that on his own. He didn't seem to have that kind of keenness.

Spenser is one of the very few English language authors, it is worth remembering, whose chance it was to be free from the immense shadow of Shakespeare, and comparisons with the same, while active, which is a state of mind scarcely imaginable for almost any other English poet. The ancients would have loomed as giants and exerted a considerable influence on him of course, but one still had the luxury of working in a language, at least, as well as in many significant ways a distinct culture on which these precursors had no claim. We cannot as yet meaningfully rewrite Shakespeare and the other icons of post-medieval culture as Shakespeare, Racine, etc, even onto Joyce, were able to do with the ancients. But Spenser is almost, I think, as if obliterated by his nearness to Shakespeare; and if he were truly great, it seems we ought to be able to rewrite him, if we cannot read him as he was originally written.

VI. x. 35 Fine contrast between the heroic and the ordinary cowardly man, delightful rhymes. I am not, in the future, going to reproduce so many quotations. This happens to be a very unique book full of many wondrous feats that I am certain I would forget otherwise:
"Which Coridon first hearing ran in hast
To rescue her, but when he saw the feend,
Through cowherd feare he fled away as fast,
Ne durst abide the daunger of the end;
His life he steemed dearer than his frend.
But Calidore soone comming to her ayde,
When he the beast saw ready now to rend
His loves deare spoile, in which his heart was prayde,
He ran at him enraged in stead of being frayde."

VI. x. 37 (3-4) Followed by the judgement of Coridon:
"But Coridon for cowherdize reject,
Fit to keepe sheepe, unfit for loves content:"
It is easy to forget, and unfortunately it is not clearly articulated by the zealots of firearms and other weaponry who view the bearing and willingness to use arms as a moral question, that in primitive times and economies, indeed even as it is today in druglord and mafiosi culture, where all one's possessions, including one's women, are at great risk of being physically taken from one at any time, it is genuinely necessary that one is able to personally muster some force to defend them, a necessity that does not really exist on an immediate level in today's world, such that many get by quite nicely without even confronting the question. VI. xi. 1 This is a tremendous poem, lost in this vast work, that if any minor poet of the 19th or 20th century had published singly in a magazine would have had the triumph of his career:
"The joyes of love, if they should ever last,
Without affliction or disquietnesse,
That worldly chaunces do amongst them cast,
Would be on earth too great a blessednesse,
Liker to heaven, than mortall wretchednesse.
Therefore the winged God, to let men weet,
That here on earth is no sure happinesse,
A thousand sowres hath tempred with one sweet,
To make it seem more deare and dainty, as is meet."

The sudden descent into captivity/slavery/murder (not sensational, criminal murder such as makes the newspapers, but murder as a force afoot in the world rendering its victims into oblivion) is a recurring and doubtless symbolic theme throughout this book, as well as many other works of similar antiquity. It is again a state of existence of which we in modern society are not so much exactly ignorant, but unwary, faithful that our wealth or inoffensiveness will somehow protect us.

We have a sighting of the old one-guy-armed-with-a-spear-single-handedly-kills-a-hundred-other-men motif. Being a democratic man, I tend to identify too much with the hapless slayees to fully embrace the greatness of the champion. It is one of my goals to overcome this weakness however.

XI. xii. 23 (1-3) In this stanza it is revealed that the hero Calidore has just completed a tour through the estates of man, leaving many massacres behind, and is now at last come to the Clergy. I completely missed this detail.

XI. xii. 30 (6-9). The demon Calidore is fighting in this booke breaks into a monastery in the climactic scene and runs amok, smashing the altars, chasing the monks, etc, until the hero puts him down in what I suppose could be seen as an expression of the triumph of civilisation over barbarism:
"His shield he on him threw, and fast downe held,
Like as a bullocke, that in bloudy stall
Of butchers balefull hand to grounde is feld,
Is forcibly kept downe, till he be thoroughly queld."

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