Somehow April is nearly gone. I can’t believe time is running so swiftly! You have probably been worrying about where the April entry is for The Shephearde’s Calender is (although, I guess if you are truly anxious or really want to read ahead, it was published nearly half a millennium ago, and can now be found online). The April entry is uncommonly beautiful, but it also highlights a problem with 16th century poetry—namely that poets had to suck up to aristocrats so hard. Fortunately this is not a problem in the modern world, where the great masters do not care for poetry and sucking up to them does no good. However ancient poems are filled with long eloquent digressions about the merits of some long dead lord or king…or in this case a queen.
At any rate, the poem starts promisingly, with the aged shepherd Hobbinoll lamenting an amorous misfortune to his friend, Thenot. It seems that Hobbinoll’s favorite beautiful young shepherd, Colin, has fallen in love with a lovely young woman, Rosalind. However before we can explore gender issues among 16th century English fops…er, I mean shepherds… the poem abruptly veers off. Hobbinoll wants to demonstrate Colin’s skill at poetry by reciting a poem which he (Colin) made for Elisa, the Queene of shepheardes (a fairly transparent sobriquet for real-world sovereign Elizabeth, Queen of England). The remainder of the poem is a beautiful mixture of spring imagery, classical allusions, and panegyric metaphors flattering Elizabeth, who was Spenser’s great patron (he certainly didn’t starve to death while she was alive). The ramifications of the curious framing device are left unstated and unpursued…at least during April. However we now know that Colin and Rosalind are out there and that Hobinoll has a sharp interest in them.… We also know that daffodils used to be called “daffadowndillies” (and I think we should return to that 5 syllable usage immediately). I guess that’s enough of an introduction. Without further preliminaries, here is
TEll me good Hobbinoll, what garres thee greete?
What? hath some Wolfe thy tender Lambes ytorne?
Or is thy Bagpype broke, that soundes so sweete?
Or art thou of thy loued lasse forlorne? Or bene thine eyes attempred to the yeare,
Quenching the gasping furrowes thirst with rayne?
Like April shoure, so stremes the trickling teares
Adowne thy cheeke, to quenche thye thirstye payne.
Nor thys, not that, so muche doeth make me mourne,
But for the ladde, whom long I lovd so deare,
Nowe loues a lasse, that all his loue doth scorne:
He plonged in payne, his tressed locks dooth teare. Shepheards delights he dooth them all forsweare,
Hys pleasaunt Pipe, whych made vs meriment,
He wylfully hath broke, and doth forbeare
His wonted songs, wherein he all outwent.
What is he for a Ladde, you so lament?
Ys loue such pinching payne to them, that proue?
And hath he skill to make so excellent,
Yet hath so little skill to brydle loue?
Colin thou kenst, the Southerne shepheardes boye:
Him Loue hath wounded with a deadly darte.
Whilome on him was all my care and ioye,
Forcing with gyfts to winne his wanton heart. But now from me hys madding mynd is starte,
And woes the Widdowes daughter of the glenne:
So now fayre Rosalind hath bred hys smart,
So now his frend is chaunged for a frenne.
But if his ditties bene so trimly dight,
I pray thee Hobbinoll, record some one:
The whiles our flockes doe graze about in sight,
And we close shrowded in thys shade alone.
Contented I: then will I singe his laye
Of fayre Elisa, Queene of shepheardes all:
Which once he made, as by a spring he laye,
And tuned it vnto the Waters fall.E dayntye Nymphs, that in this blessed Brooke
doe bathe your brest,
Forsake your watry bowres, and hether looke,
at my request:
And eke you Virgins, that on Parnasse dwell,
Whence floweth Helicon the learned well,
Helpe me to blaze
Her worthy praise,
Which in her sexe doth all excell.
Of fayre Elisa be your siluer song,
that blessed wight:
The flowre of Virgins, may shee florish long,
In princely plight.
For she is Syrinx daughter without spotte,
Which Pan the shepheards God of her begot:
So sprong her grace
Of heauenly race,
No mortal blemishe may her blotte.
See, where she sits vpon the grassie greene,
(O seemly sight)
Yclad in Scarlot like a mayden Queene,
And Ermines white.
Vpon her head a Cremosin coronet,
With Damaske roses and Dafadillies set:
And Primroses greene
Embellish the sweete Violet.
Tell me, haue ye seene her angelick face,
Like Phoebe fayre?
Her heauenly haueour, her princely grace
can you well compare?
The Redde rose medled with the White yfere,
In either cheeke depeincten liuely chere.
Her modest eye,
Where haue you seene the like, but there?
I sawe Phoebus thrust out his golden hedde,
vpon her to gaze:
But when he sawe, how broade her beames did spredde,
it did him amaze.
He blusht to see another Sunne belowe,
Ne durst againe his fyrye face out showe:
Let him, if he dare,
His brightnesse compare
With hers, to haue the ouerthrowe.
Shewe thy selfe Cynthia with thy siuer rayes,
and be not abasht:
When shee the beames of her beauty displayes,
O how art thou dasht?
But I will not match her with Latonaes seede,
Such follie great sorow to Niobe did breede.
Now she is a stone,
And makes dayly mone,
Warning all others to take heede.
Pan may be proud, that euer he begot
such a Bellibone,
And Syrinx reioyse, that euer was her lot
to beare such an one.
Soone as my younglings cryen for the dam,
To her will I offer a milkwhite Lamb:
Shee is my goddesse plaine,
And I her shepherds swayne,
Albee forswonck and forswatt I am.
I see Calliope speede her to the place,
Where my Goddesse shines:
And after her the other Muses trace,
with their Violines.
Bene they not Bay braunches, which they doe beare,
All for Elisa, in her hand to weare?
So sweetely they play,
And sing all the way,
That it a heauen is to heare.
Lo how finely the graces can it foote
to the Instrument:
They daucen deffly, and singen soote,
in their merriment.
Wants [not] a fourth grace, to make the daunce euen?
Let that rowme to my Lady be yeuen:
She shalbe a grace,
To fyll the fourth place,
And reigne with the rest in heauen.
And whither rennes this beuie of Ladies bright,
raunged in a rowe?
They bene all Ladyes of the lake behight,
that vnto her goe.
Chloris, that is the chiefest Nymph of al,
Of Oliue braunches beares a Coronall:
Oliues bene for peace,
When wars doe surcease:
Such for a Princesse bene principall.
Ye shepheards daughters, that dwell on the greene,
hye you there apace:
Let none come there, but that Virgins bene,
to adorne her grace.
And when you come, whereas shee is in place,
See, that your rudenesse doe not you disgrace:
Binde your fillets faste,
And gird in your waste,
For more finesse with a tawdrie lace.
Bring hether the Pincke and purple Cullambine,
Bring Coronations, and Sops in wine,
worne of Paramoures.
Strowe me the ground with Daffadowndillies,
And Cowslips, and Kingcups, and loued Lillies:
The pretie Pawnce,
And the Cheuisaunce,
Shall match with the fayre flowre Delice.
Now ryse vp Elisa, decked as thou art,
in royall aray:
And now ye daintie Damsells may depart
echeone her way,
I feare, I haue troubled your troupes to longe:
Let dame Eliza thanke you for her song.
And if you come hether,
When Damsines I gether,
I will part them all you among.
And was thilk same song of Colins owne making?
Ah foolish boy, that is with loue yblent:
Great pittie is, he be in such taking,
For nought caren, that bene so lewdly bent.
Sicker I hold him, for a greater fon,
That loues the thing, he cannot purchase.
But let vs homeward: for night draweth on,
And twincling starres the daylight hence chase.