The year progresses and we have finally reached autumn. It’s time to get back to the Shepheardes Calender and see what Spenser has to say! For the month of September, Spenser has crafted a special (and especially hard-to-understand) treat for us. The ninth installation of the poem is written in archaic west-country dialect touched with Welsh. This eclogue is perhaps where Shepherdes Calender comes closest to Middle English. And yet the language is modern, despite the pretensions to antiquity (which coincidentally, lead urbane 17th century poets to despise Spenser…and 18th century pastoralists to imitate his ).
Here is a quick synopsis: after falling on hard times, the shepherd Diggon Davie has sojourned to foreign parts in order to seek greater fortune. However instead of finding wealth he found even greater penury among Catholic shepherds who must neglect their flocks to feed the appetites of priests and profligate lords. The satire soon devolves into a complex political metaphor about rapacious foreign wolves, dangerous domestic foxes, and much argument about what sort of stalwart dogs are needed to protect good Englishmen…er, I mean “shepherds” from the same.
I really like the September eclogue with its hillfolk making fun of fancy popery and the profligate ways of foreign folks. Even the yokel-talk seems oddly familiar (if you are having trouble with it, just read it aloud). I suspect it is not just West Virginians who will enjoy it. Here is the full eclogue:
Shepheardes Calender VIIII: September
HOBBINOL. DIGGON DAVIE.
Diggon Davie, I bid her God-day:
Or Diggon her is, or I missay.
Her was her, while it was Day-light,
But now her is a most wretched Wight.
For Day that was, is wightly past,
And now at last the dirk Night doth haste.
Diggon, areed who has thee so dight:
Never I wilt thee in so poor a plight.
Where is the fair Flock, thou west wont to lead?
Or been they chaffred? or at Mischief dead?
Ah, for love of that is to thee most leef,
Hobbinol, I pray thee gall not my old Grief:
Sike question rippeth up cause of new Woe;
For one open’d, mote unfold many mo.
Nay, but Sorrow close shrouded in Heart,
I know, to keep is a burdenous smart.
Each thing imparted, is more eath to bear:
When the Rain is fallen the Clouds waxen clear.
And now sithence I saw thy head last,
Thrice three Moons been fully spent and past;
Since when thou hast measured much Ground,
And wandred weel about the World round,
So as thou can many things relate:
But tell me first of thy flock’s Estate.
My Sheep been wasted (woe is me therefore!)
The jolly Shepherd that was of yore,
Is now nor jolly, nor Shepherd more,
In foreign Coasts Men said, was plenty;
And so there is, but all of misery.
I dempt there much to have eeked my Store,
But such eeking hath made my Heart sore.
In tho Countries where I have been,
No being for those, that truly mean;
But for such as of Guile maken gain,
No such Country as there to remain.
They setten to Sale their Shops of shame,
And maken a Market of their good Name.
The Shepherds there robben one another,
And layen Baits to beguile her brother.
Or they will buy his Sheep out of the Coat,
Or they will carven the Shepherd’s Throat.
The Shepherd’s Swain you cannot well ken
But it be by his Pride, from other Men:
They looken big as Bulls that been bate,
And bearen the Crag so stiff and so state,
As Cock on his Dunghill, crowing crank.
Diggon, I am so stiff and so stank,
That unneath may I stand any more:
And now the Western Wind bloweth sore,
That now is in his chief Sovereignty,
Beating the withered Leaf from the Tree.
Sit we down here under the Hill;
Tho may we talk and tellen our fill,
And make a Mock at the blustering Blast:
Now say on Diggon what ever thou hast.
Hobbin, ah Hobbin, I curse the Stound,
That ever I cast to have lorn this Ground.
Wele-away the while I was so fond,
To leave the Good that I had in hond,
In hope of better that was uncouth:
So lost the Dog the Flesh in his Mouth.
My seely Sheep (ah seely Sheep)
That hereby I whylom us’d to keep,
All were they lusty, as thou diddest see,
Been all starved with Pine and Penury;
Hardly my self escaped thilk pain,
Driven for Need to come home again.
Ah Fon, now by thy Loss art taught,
That seldom change the better brought.
Content who lives with tried State,
Need fear no change of frowning Fate:
But who will seek for unknown Gain,
Oft lives by Loss, and leaves with Pain.
I wote ne, Hobbin, how I was bewitcht
With vain Desire, and Hope to be enricht.
But siker so it is, as the bright Star
Seemeth a greater, when it is far:
I thought the Soil would have made me rich;
But now I wote it is nothing sich.
For either the Shepherds been idle and still,
And led of their Sheep, what way they will:
Or they been false, and full of Covetise,
And casten to compass many wrong Emprise.
But more been fraught with Fraud and Spight,
Ne in Good nor Goodness taken delight;
But kindle Coals of Conteck and Yre,
Wherewith they set all the World on fire:
Which when they thinken again to quench,
With holy Water they doen hem all drench.
They say they con to Heaven the high-way;
But by my Soul I dare underlay,
They never set Foot in that same bode,
But balk the right way, and strayen abroad.
They boast they han the Devil at commaund;
But ask hem, therefore what they han paund:
Marry that great Pan bought with great borrow,
To quite it from the black Bower of Sorrow.
But they han sold thilk same long ago:
For they would draw with hem many mo.
But let hem gang alone a God’s Name;
As they han brewed, so let them bear blame.
Diggon, I pray thee speak not so dirk:
Such myster saying me seemeth to mirk.
Then plainly to speak of Shepherds most what:
Bad is the best (this English is flat)
Their ill Haviour gars Men missay
Both of their Doctrine, and their Fay.
They say the World is much war than it wont,
All for her Shepherds is beastly and blont.
Other sain, but how truly I note,
All for they holden shame of their Cote:
Some stick not to say (hot Cole on her Tongue)
That sike mischief graseth hem emong,
All for they casten too much of World’s Care,
To deck her Dame, and enrich her Heir:
For such Encheason, if you go nie,
Few Chimneys reeken you shall espie:
The fat Oxe that woont lig in the Stall,
Is now fast stalled in her Crumenall.
Thus chatten the People in their steads,
Ylik as a Monster of many Heads.
But they that shooten nearest the prick,
Sain, other the Fat from their Beards do lick.
For big Bulls of Basan brace hem about,
That with their Horns butten the more stout:
But the lean Souls treaden under foot,
And to seek redress mought little boot;
For liker been they to pluck away more,
Than ought of the gotten good to restore.
For they been like foul Wagmoires overgrast,
That if any Galage once sticketh fast,
The more to wind it out thou dost swink,
Thou mought aye deeper and deeper sink.
Yet better leave off with a little loss,
Than by much wrestling to leefe the gross.
Now, Diggon, I see thou speakest too plain;
Better it were a little to fain
And cleanly cover that cannot be cured:
Such Ill, as is forced, mought needs be endured.
But of sike Pastors how done the Flocks creep?
Sike as the Shepherds, sike been her Sheep,
For they nill listen to the Shepherd’s Voice:
But if he call hem, at their good choice,
They wander at will, and stay at pleasure,
And to their Folds yead at their own leasure.
But they had be better come at their call:
For many han unto mischief fall,
And ben of ravenous Wolves yrent,
All for they nould be buxome and bent.
Fie on thee, Diggon, and all thy foul leasing:
Well is known that sith the Saxon King,
Never was Wolf seen, many nor some,
Nor in all Kent, nor in Christendom:
But the fewer Wolves (the sooth to sain)
The more been the Foxes that here remain.
Yes, but they gang in more secret wise,
And with Sheeps clothing doen hem disguise.
They talk not widely as they were woont,
For fear of Raungers and the great Hoont:
But privily prolling to and fro,
Enaunter they mought be inly know.
Or privy or pert if any bin,
We have great Bandogs will sear their Skin.
Indeed thy Ball is a bold big Cur,
And could make a jolly hole in their Fur.
But not good Dogs hem needeth to chase,
But heedy Shepherds to discern their face:
For all their Craft is in their Countenance,
They been so grave, and full of maintenance.
But shall I tell thee what my self know,
Chaunced to Roffin not long ygoe?
Say it out, Diggon, whatever it hight,
For not but well mought him betight.
He is so meek, wise, and merciable,
And with his word his work is convenable.
Colin Clout I ween be his self Boy,
(Ah for Colin he whylom my Joy
Shepherds sich, God mought us many send,
That doen so carefully their Flocks tend.)
Thilk same Shepherd mought I well mark,
He has a Dog to bite or to bark;
Never had Shepherd so keen a Cur,
That waketh, and if but a Leaf stur.
Whilom these wonned a wicked Wolf,
That with many a Lamb had gutted his Gulf,
And ever at night wont to repair
Unto the Flock, when the Welkin shone fair,
Yclad in clothing of seely Sheep,
When the good old Man used to sleep:
Tho at midnight he would bark and ball,
(For he had eft learned a Cur’s Call)
As if a Wolf were among the Sheep.
With that the Shepherd would break his Sleep,
And send out Lowder (for so his Dog hote)
To raunge the Fields with open throte.
Tho when as Lowder was far away,
This wolvish Sheep would catchen his Prey,
A Lamb, or a Kid, or a Weanell wast:
With that to the Wood would he speed him fast.
Long time he used this slippery prank,
Ere Roffy could for his Labour him thank.
At end, the Shepherd his practise spied,
(For Roffy is wise, and as Argus eyed)
And when at Even he came to the Flock,
Fast in their Folds he did them lock,
And took out the Woolf in his counterfeit Cote,
And let out the Sheeps-Blood at his throte.
Marry Diggon, what should him affray
To take his own where ever it lay?
For had his Weasand been a little widder,
He would have devoured both hidder and shidder.
Mischief light on him, and God’s great Curse,
Too good for him had been a great deal wurse;
For it was a perillous Beast above all,
And eke had he con’d the Shepherd’s Call;
And oft in the night came to the Sheep-Cote,
And called Lowder, with a hollow Throte,
As if the old Man’s self had been.
The Dog his Maister’s Voice did it ween,
Yet half in doubt he open’d the door,
And ran out, as he was wont of yore.
No sooner was out, but swifter than Thought,
Fast by the Hide the Wolf Lowder caught;
And had not Roffy ren to the Steven,
Lowder had been slain thilk same Even.
God shield Man, he should so ill have thrive,
All for he did his Devoir believe.
If sike been Wolves, as thou hast told,
How mought we, Diggon, hem behold?
How, but with Heed and Watchfullness,
Forstallen hem of their Wiliness.
For-thy with Shepherds fits not play,
Or sleep, as some doen, all the long day:
But ever liggen in watch and ward,
From suddain Force their Flocks for to gard.
Ah Diggon, thilk same Rule were too straight,
All the cold Season to watch and wait.
We been of Flesh, Men as other be,
Why should we be bound to such Misery?
What-ever thing lacketh changeable Rest,
Mought needs decay, when it is at best.
Ah, but Hobbinol, all this long Tale
Nought easeth the Care that doth me forhaile;
What shall I do? what way shall I wend,
My piteous plight and loss to amend?
Ah good Hobbinol, mought I thee pray,
Of Aid or Counsel in my decay.
Now by my Soul, Diggon, I lament
The hapless Mischief that has thee hent:
Netheless thou seest my lowly Sail,
That froward Fortune doth ever avail.
But were Hobbinol as God mought please,
Diggon should soon find favour and ease.
But if to my Cottage thou wilt resort,
So as I can, I will thee comfort;
There maist thou lig in a vetchy Bed,
Till fairer Fortune shew forth his head.
Ah Hobbinol, God mought it thee requite,
Diggon on few such Friends did ever lite.
Inopem me copia fecit.