Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

systems of Greece and Rome, which are based, not on the accent of syllables but on the length of time it takes to pronounce them. The first line of the “ Æneid,” for instance, is scanned thus:

“Arma vi | rumque ca | no, Tro | jæ qui | primus ab | oris.” The only way in which this can be read so as to seem musical to an uneducated English ear is by accenting the first syllable of each foot.

[graphic]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

EDMUND SPENSER

1552—1599

From an old print in the British Museum Probably the Romans had the same trouble. This, however, throws the accent off the first syllables of cano and “Trojæ,” where it belongs in prose. At best it was a clumsy scheme, vastly inferior to that of making the poetic ictus and the prose accent identical, which in the Middle Ages gradually, even in Latin, took its place. Harvey, however, so far prevailed on Spenser that the latter tried to write English verse in quantity, with very sorrowful results, and might have continued to do so had not the latter's departure from the university in 1576, when he took his master's degree, separated the friends.

During the next three years Spenser lived in Lancashire, where he fell in love with a lady named Rosalind, who failed to reciprocate his affection, and where he wrote, partly in her honor, a series of twelve pastoral poems, or bucolics, called the " Shepherd's Calendar," the publication of which in 1579 delighted everybody except evidently the aforesaid Rosalind. Its metre was such a triumphant answer to Harvey's theory of versification that it may be said once and for all to have fixed the science of English verse. In plan and in matter, it was classical enough to satisfy even Harvey, being an imitation of the French and Italian imitations of Virgil, who was himself an imitator of the Greek Theocritus, who lived in Sicily about 250 B.C. The pastorals of Theocritus arc delightful pictures of rural life, as true and fresh to-day as they were 2200 years ago. His Italian and French imitators, however, were not content to write simply, but represented all sorts of great people allegorically as shepherds, and this style Spenser adopted. Thus, in the “Shepherd's Calendar," he himself is Colin Clout; Harvey is Hobbinol; Bishop Grindal is Algrind; Chaucer is the god of Shepherds; Queen Elizabeth is the “ Queen of Shepherds all ”; and Henry VIII is the great God Pan.” Spenser's bucolics are twelve in number, one for each month. Those for January, March, June, and December deal with Colin's unrequited love for Rosalind; in those for February, May, July, and September, morality and religion are discussed; that for April is complimentary to Queen Elizabeth; November is an elegy in honor of a great lady whom the poet calls Dido; in August is described a singing match between two shepherds; and October is devoted to a lament for the decay of poetry. Though the language is rustic, the poems are highly artificial. Their melody and power, however, were such that, when they were published, Spenser was at once hailed as the “new poet” in order to distinguish him from Chaucer, the old poet,” the only name in English literature great enough, his admirers thought, to be set side by side with his.

Spenser left his Lancashire retirement in 1579, came up to London, and, by virtue of the friendship of Harvey and the merit of the

Shepherd's Calendar," speedily found himself on terms of warm, friendship with Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, Lord Grey of Wilton, the Earl of Leicester, and Queen Elizabeth herself. He was

[ocr errors]

filled with hopes of high preferment. The Queen was so pleased with his poems that she ordered her treasurer, Lord Burleigh, to pay him 100 pounds. Burleigh, however, being actuated by motives of economy, enmity to Leicester, or indifference to poetry, is said to have exclaimed, when he received the order, that it was too much. “Then give him," said the Queen, “what is reason.” To this he agreed, , but, evidently thinking that reason meant nothing, neglected to pay the poet, who thereupon put into the Queen's hands the following

verse:

“I was promised on a time
To have reason for my rime;
From that time unto this season

I received nor rime nor reason.' Burleigh in consequence was sharply reprimanded and ordered to pay Spenser the 100 pounds he had been promised at first.

In another quarter, however, he received more substantial aid. Ireland was at that moment in one of those periodical states of eruption which have characterized its history during the last eight centuries. Lord Grey was designated by the Queen to restore order, and Spenser went with him as his private secretary. In this capacity he witnessed and probably did not disapprove military measures of such severity as the massacre of a garrison after it had surrendered, or civil measures of such simplicity as the execution of the inmates of a jail in order to make room for fresh prisoners. He was himself exposed on more than one occasion to deadly peril. He came to regard the Irish with aversion and contempt. He lived, as do the English of Mr. Rudyard Kipling's Indian stories, in a little world exiled from all it holds dear, solacing his abundant leisure with the study of philosophy and the composition of poetry. When at length the land was reduced to submission, he was rewarded with a share of the spoils in the shape of a grant of 3000 acres of land taken by force from its rightful owners. Here, about 30 miles northwest from Cork, on the north side of a fine lake, in the midst of a vast plain terminated on the east by the County of Waterford Mountains, on the south by Nagle Mountains, on the west by the Mountains of Kerry, and on the north by Bally-howra Hills, or, as Spenser calls them, the Mountains of Mole, surrounded by lovely scenery and by the hatred of his Irish pleased

to De ives

said to

ich. s he a ected to

the fol

orders 1. tantia.

1 stars

e last 2

store om

tenants, the poet took up his residence in Kilcolman Castle, from the towers of which he commanded a view of above half the width of Ireland. Here, in the abundant leisure which his exile afforded, he composed the greatest of his poems and one of the greatest of all time, the “ Faerie Queene."

He himself describes it as an allegory, disposed into“ twelve books, fashioning XII morall vertues.” Each book was to contain twelve cantos and each canto was to consist of about fifty stanzas of nine lines each. The whole, had Spenser completed it, would therefore have reached the enormous total of 64,800 lines, about six times the length of “ Paradise Lost.” As a matter of fact, only a trifle over half of the work, as Spenser planned it, has come down to us. The rest probably was never written; if it was, it perished in the ruin that, in 1598, overtook Spenser's fortunes.

The object of the work, according to the poet's preface, was to fashion a gentleman or a noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline. In order to attain this end Spenser planned to tell how Arthur, before he became king, beheld in a vision the Faery Queen, who typifies glory, and how he went forth to find her. As a matter of fact, he does nothing of the sort. Instead he explains in his preface that the beginning of his story is to be told in Book XII, where is to be described the annual feast of the Faery Queen, which lasted twelve days, "upon which XII severall days the occasion of the XII severall adventures happened, being undertaken by XII severall knights, are in these XII books severally handled and discoursed.” Thus in Book I the Redcross Knight, or Holiness, is assigned by the Faery Queen to destroy a dragon which for many years has blockaded the parents of Una. The hero slays the dragon; is induced by Hypocrisy to abandon Una, who is thereupon guarded by a lion; is led astray by the enchantress Duessa; is captured by a Gyaunt proud; is rescued by Prince Arthur; in a battle of three days, overcomes the Dragon Despeyre; and in the end is triumphantly betrothed to Una. Though it is impossible to unravel all the details of the allegory, they were probably clear enough to Spenser's contemporaries. The Faery Queen seems to be Queen Elizabeth; Una, the English church; her guardian, the British Lion; Duessa, Mary Queen of Scots; and the Dragon

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

the spa

nate by Ji

the Ice

Itains. his L

I

Despeyre the Spanish Armada. In Book II, which deals with the second day, Sir Guyon, or Temperance, similarly is sent out on a quest; and in Book III Sir Scudamore, or Chastity, goes forth to liberate Amoretta, a lady who was kept in bondage by a vile enchanter named Busirane, but he is unable to succeed until aided by Britomartis, a lady knight, who is Queen Elizabeth herself.

In working out this plan Spenser himself informs us that he imitated Homer, Virgil, Ariosto, and Tasso. One feature of the poem, however, is original—the form of the verse, which he invented and which has ever since been known as the Spenserian Stanza. Its mechanical structure, its varied melody, its dignified beauty, and its vividness are well illustrated in the following specimens:

I. I. I.
“A gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine,

Yclad in mightie arms and silver shielde,
Wherein old dints of deepe woundes did remaine,

The cruell marks of many a bloody fielde;

Yet armes till that time did he never wield.
His angry steede did chide his foming bitt,

3
As much disdayning to the curbe to yield;
Full jolly knight he seemed, and fair did sitt,

3 As one for knightly giusts and fierce encounters fitt.”

3
I. 12. 42.
“Now, strike your sailes, yee jolly Mariners,

For we be come unto a quiet rode,
Where we must land some of our passengers,

And light this weary vessell of her lode.

Here she a while may make her safe abode
Till she repaired have her tackles spent

3
And wants supplide ; And then again abroad
On the long voiage, whereto she is bent.

3 Well may she speede and fairely finish her intent!”

3 II.

70.
Eftsoones they heard a most melodious sound

Of all that mote delight a daintie eare,
Such as attonce might not on living ground,

Save in this Paradise, be heard elsewhere;

Right hard it was for wight which did it heare
To read what manner musicke that mote bee;

3
For all that pleasing is to living eare
Was there consorted in one harmonee;

3 Birds, voices, instruments, windes, waters, all agree.”

3 The chief fault of the poem is that it is tiresome. We become weary of cardinal virtues and deadly sins, as Macaulay says, and long for the society of plain men and women. In other words, the

[ocr errors]

I

[ocr errors]

12.

[ocr errors]

I

w W NW NN N

« AnteriorContinuar »