Remember back when it was February and the world was a tattered veil of gray misery? Well now it is glorious May, and it is hard to recall those dark times. The birds are singing. The flowers are blooming. Shepherdesses float through Wall Street dressed in summer frocks. Fortunately we have poetry to keep us ever mindful of the darkness & perfidy of the world.
Below is the May installment of Shepheardes Calender: the poem starts out gloriously with exquisite descriptions of Arcadian revels. There could hardly be a more sumptuous evocation of spring in the country. If you cannot smell the blooming flowers and hear the songs of the happy youths, then your heart is devoid of pastoral poetry.
But then Spenser starts in with the animal metaphors and we sense that even in May we are not in a Disney movie. First we have the ape which loves her baby so much that she throttles it by hugging it. Then there is the parable of the young kid who ignores his nanny goat’s stern warnings and opens up his door to the crafty fox..who has come dressed as a pathetic salesman. This story has all sorts of double meanings, but right now there are so many foxes at the door it is hard to know what to make of it. Spenser lived in England, where commerce rules…and he died penniless, so perhaps there is a lesson about business and businesspeople from the sly merchant fox.
Yet, even if this segment ends with a dark fable, there are many delights to be had herein. Besides all of this sorry business about barely disguised tricksters lying and manipulating a gullible audience in order to make a meal of them couldn’t be valid in contemporary America…could it?
Anyway, here is
Shepheardes Calender V: Maye
Is not this the merry Month of May,
When Love-Lads masken in fresh Array?
How falls it then, we no merrier been,
Ylike as others, girt in gawdy Green?
Our blonket Liveries been all too sad
For thilk same Season, when all is yclad
With Pleasance; the Ground with Grass, the Woods
With green Leaves, the Bushes with blossoming Buds.
Youth’s Folk now flocken in every where,
To gather May-Buskets, and smelling Breere:
And home they hasten the Posts to dight,
And all the Kirk-Pillers e’er Day-light,
With Hawthorn Buds, and sweet Eglantine,
And Girlonds of Roses, and Sops in Wine.
Such Merry-make holy Saints doth queam:
But we here sitten as drown’d in a Dream.
For Yonkers, Palinode, such Follies fit,
But we tway been Men of elder Wit.
Siker this morrow, no longer ago,
I saw a Shole of Shepherds out-go,
With singing and shouting, and jolly Cheer:
Before them yode a lusty Tabrere,
That to the Many a Horn-pipe plaid,
Whereto they dauncen each one with his Maid.
To see these Folks make such Jouisaunce,
Made my Heart after the Pipe to daunce.
Tho to the green Wood they speeden them all,
To fetchen home May with their Musical;
And home they bringen in a Royal Throne,
Crowned as King: and his Queen attone
Was Lady Flora, on whom did attend
A fair Flock of Fairies, and a fresh Bend
Of lovely Nymphs. (O that I were there
To helpen the Ladies their May-Bush bear!)
Ah! Piers, been not thy Teeth on edge, to think
How great Sport they gainen with little Swink?
Perdy, so far an I from Envy,
That their Fondness inly I pity:
Those Faitours little regarden their Charge,
While they, letting their Sheep run at large,
Passen their time, that should be sparely spent,
In Lustihed, and wanton Merriment.
Thilk same been Shepherds for the Divel’s sted,
That playen while their Flocks be unfed.
Well it is seen their Sheep be not their own,
That letten them run at random alone.
But they been hired for little Pay,
Of other, that caren as little as they,
What fallen the Flock, so they han the Fleece,
And get all the Gain, paying but a Piece.
I muse, what Account both these will make,
The on for the Hire, which he doth take,
And th’ other for leaving his Lord’s Task,
When great Pan Account of Shepherds shall ask.
Siker now I see thou speakest of Spight,
All for thou lackest some dele their Delight.
I (as I am) had rather be envied,
All were it of my Foe, that fonly pitied:
And yet, if need were, pitied would be,
Rather than other should scorn at me;
For pitied is Mishap that nas Remedy,
But scorned been Deeds of fond Foolery.
What shoulden Shepherds other things tend,
Than sith their God his Good does them send,
Reapen the Fruit thereof, that is pleasure,
The while they here liven at ease and leisure?
For when they been dead, their Good is ygo,
They sleepen in Rest, well as other moe;
Tho with them wends, what they spent in Cost,
But what they left behind them, is lost.
Good is no Good, but if it be spend;
God giveth Good for none other end.
Ah! Palinode, thou art a World’s Child:
Who touches Pitch, mote needs be defil’d.
But Shepherds (as Algrind used to say)
Mought not live ylike, as Men of the Lay.
With them it fits to care for their Heir,
Enaunter their Heritage do impair:
They must provide for means of Maintenance,
And to continue their wont Countenance.
But Shepherd must walk another way,
Sike worldly Sovenance he must fore-say.
The Son of his Loins, why should he regard
To leave enriched with that he hath spar’d?
Should not thilk God, that gave him that Good,
Eke cherish his Child, if in his ways he stood?
For if he mislive, in Lewdness and Lust,
Little boots all the Wealth and the Trust,
That his Father left by Inheritance,
All will be soon wasted with Misgovernance.
But through this, and other their Miscreance,
They maken many a wrong Chevisance,
Heaping up Waves of Wealth and Woe,
The Floods whereof shall them overflow.
Sike Mens Folly I cannot compare
Better than to the Ape’s foolish Care,
That is so enamoured of her young one,
(And yet God wote, such Cause hath she none)
That with her hard Hold, and straight embracing,
She stoppeth the Breath of her Youngling.
So oftentimes, whenas Good is ment,
Evil ensueth of wrong Intent.
The time was once, and may again retorn,
(For ought may happen that hath been beforn)
When Shepherds had none Inheritance,
Ne of Land, nor Fee in Sufferance;
But what might arise of the bare Sheep,
(Were it more or less) which they did keep.
Well I wis was it with Shepherds tho;
Nought having nought feared they to forgo,
For Pan himself was their Inheritance,
And little them served for their Maintenance.
The Shepherd’s God so well them guided,
That of nought they were unprovided:
Butter enough, Honey, Milk, and Whey,
And their Flocks Fleeces them to array.
But Tract of Time, and long Prosperity,
(That Nource of Vice, this of Insolency)
Lulled the Shepherds in such Security,
That not content with loyal Obeysance,
Some ‘gan to gape for greedy Governance,
And match themselves with mighty Potentates,
Lovers of Lordships, and Troublers of States.
Tho ‘gan Shepherds Swains to look aloft,
And leave to live hard, and learn to lig soft.
Tho under colour of Shepherds, some-while,
There crept in Wolves, full of Fraud and Guile,
That often devoured their own Sheep,
And often the Shepherd that did hem keep.
This was the first Sourse of Shepherds Sorrow,
That now nill be quit with bale, nor borrow.
Three things to bear, been very burdenous,
But the fourth to forbear, is outrageous.
Women that of Love’s Longing once lust,
Hardly forbearen, but have it they must:
So when Choler is enflamed with Rage,
Wanting Revenge, is hard to assuage:
And who can counsel a thirsty Soul,
With Patience to forbear the offer’d Boul?
But of all Burdens, that a Man can bear,
Most is, a Fool’s Talk to bear and to hear.
I ween the Giant has not such a Weight,
That bears on his Shoulders the Heaven’s Height.
Thou findest fault, where nys to be found,
And buildest strong Wark upon a weak Ground:
Thou railest on Right, without Reason,
And blamest hem much, for small Encheason.
How woulden Shepherds live, if not so?
What, should they pinen in Pain and Woe?
Nay, say I thereto, by my dear Borrow,
If I may rest, I nill live in Sorrow.
Sorrow ne need to be hastened on:
For he will come without calling anon.
While Times enduren of Tranquillity,
Usen we freely our Felicity:
For when approachen the stormy Stowers,
We mought with our Shoulders bear off the sharp Showres.
And sooth to sain, nought seemeth sike Strife
That Shepherds so twiten each others Life,
And layen their Faults the Worlds before,
The while their Foes done each of hem scorn.
Let none mislike of that may not be amended:
So Conteck soon by Concord mought be ended.
Shepherd, I list no Accordance make
With Shepherd, that does the right way forsake:
And of the twain, if Choice were to me,
Had lever my Foe, than my Friend he be.
For what Concord hen light and dark sam?
Or what Peace has the Lion with the Lamb?
Such Faitours, when their false Hearts been hid,
Will do, as did the Fox by the Kid.
Now Piers, of fellowship, tell us that Saying:
For the Lad can keep both our Flocks from straying.
Thilk same Kid (as I can well devise)
Was too very foolish and unwise.
For on a time, in Sommer Season,
The Goat her Dam, that had good Reason,
Yode forth abroad unto the green Wood,
To brouze, or play, or what she thought good:
But, for she had a motherly Care
Of her young Son, and Wit to beware,
She set her Youngling before her Knee,
That was both fresh and lovely to see,
And full of Favour, as Kid mought be.
His velvet Head began to shoot out,
And his wreathed Horns ‘gan newly sprout:
The Blossoms of Lust to bud did begin,
And sprung forth rankly under his Chin.
My Son (quoth she) and with that ‘gan weep:
(For careful Thoughts in her Heart did creep)
God bless thee, poor Orphan, as he mought me,
And send thee Joy of thy Jollity.
Thy Father (that Word she spake with Pain,
For a Sigh had nigh rent her Heart in twain)
Thy Father, had he lived this Day,
To see the Branches of his Body display,
How would he have joyed at this sweet Sight?
But ah! false fortune such Joy did him spight,
And cut off his Days with untimely Woe,
Betraying him unto the Trains of his Foe.
Now I a wailful Widow behight,
Of my old Age have this one Delight,
To see thee succeed in thy Father’s stead,
And flourish in Flowers of Lustihead.
For even so thy Father his Head upheld,
And so his haughty Horns did he weld.
Tho marking him with melting Eyes,
A thrilling Throb from her Heart did arise,
And interrupted all her other Speech,
With some old Sorrow that made a new Breach:
Seemed she saw in her Youngling’s Face
The old Lineaments of his Father’s Grace.
At last, her sullen Silence she broke,
And ‘gan his new-budded Beard to stroke.
Kiddy (quoth she) thou kenst the great Care
I have of thy Health and thy Welfare,
Which many wild Beasts liggen in wait,
For to entrap in thy tender State:
But most the Fox, Maister of Collusion:
For he has vowed thy last Confusion.
For-thy, my Kiddy, be ruled by me,
And never give trust to his Treacheree:
And if he chance come when I am abroad,
Spar the Yate fast, for fear of Fraud.
Ne for all his worst, nor for his best,
Open the Door at his Request.
So schooled the Goat her wanton Son,
That answered his Mother, All should be done.
Tho went the pensive Dame out of door,
And chaunc’d to stumble at the Threshold-Floor:
Her stumbling Step somewhat her amazed,
(For such as Signs of ill luck been dispraised)
Yet forth she yode, thereat half aghast,
And Kiddy the Door sparred after her fast.
It was not long after she was gone,
But the false Fox came to the Door anone.
Not as a Fox, for then he had be kend,
But all as a poor Pedlar he did wend:
Bearing a Truss of Trifles at his Back,
As Bells, and Babies, and Glasses in his Pack,
A Biggen he had got about his Brain,
For in his Head-piece he felt a sore Pain.
His hinder Heel was wrapt in a Clout,
For with great Cold he had got the Gout.
There at the Door he cast me down his Pack,
And laid him down, and groaned, alack! alack!
Ah! dear Lord, and sweet Saint Charity,
That some good body would once pity me.
Well heard Kiddy all this sore Constraint,
And leng’d to know the Cause of his Complaint:
Tho creeping close, behind the Wicket’s Clink,
Privily he peeped out through a Chink:
Yet not so privily but the Fox him spied,
For deceitful Meaning is double-eyed.
Ah! good young Maister (then ‘gan he cry)
Jesus bless that sweet Face I espy,
And keep your Corps from the careful Stounds,
That in my Carrion Carcass abounds.
The Kid, pitying his Heaviness,
Asked the Cause of his great Distress,
And also who, and whence that he were.
Tho he, that had well ycond his Lear,
Thus medled his Talk with many a Tear:
Sick, sick, alas! a little lack of dead,
But I be relieved by your beastly-head.
I am a poor Sheep; albe my Colour dun:
For with longer Travel I am brent in the Sun.
And if that my Grandsire me said, be true,
Siker I am very sybbe to you:
So be your Goodlihead do not disdain
The base Kinred of so simple Swain.
Of Mercy and Favour then I you pray,
With your Aid to forestall my near Decay.
Tho out of his Pack a Glass he took;
Wherein while Kiddy unwares did look,
He was so enamoured with the Newel,
That nought he deemed dear for the Jewel.
Tho opened he the Door, and in came
The false Fox, as he were stark lame.
His Tail he clapt betwixt his Legs twain,
Lest he should be descryed by his Train.
Being within, the Kid made him good Glee,
All for the Love of the Glass he did see.
After his Chear, the Pedlar ‘gan chat,
And tell many Leasings of this and that:
And how he could shew many a fine knack.
Tho shewed his Ware, and opened his Pack,
All save a Bell, which he left behind
In the Basket, for the Kid to find.
Which when he stooped down to catch,
He popt him in, and his Basket did latch:
Ne stayed he once, the Door to make fast,
But ran away with him in all haste.
Home when the doubtful Dame had her hide,
She mought see the Door stand open wide.
All aghast, loudly she ‘gan to call
Her Kid: but he nould answer at all.
Tho on the Floor she saw the Merchandise,
Of which her Son had set too dear a Price.
What Help? her Kid she knew well is gone:
She weeped and wailed, and made great moan.
Such end had the Kid, for he nould warned be
Of Craft coloured with Simplicity:
And such end perdy does all hem remain,
That of such Falsers Friendship been fain.
Truly Piers, thou art beside thy Wit,
Furthest fro the Mark, weening it to hit.
Now I pray thee, let me thy Tale borrow
For our Sir John, to say to-morrow,
At the Kirk, when it is Holiday:
For well he means, but little can say.
But and if Foxes been so crafty, as so,
Much needeth all Shepherds hem to know.
Of their Falshood more could I recount,
But now the bright Sun ‘ginneth to dismount:
And for the dewy Night now draw’th night,
I hold it best for us home to hie.
Pas men apistos apistei.
Tis d’ ara pistis apisto.