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Ash Wednesday is 40 days before Easter. It begins the Lenten season which commemorate the 40 days that Christ spent in the wilderness fasting while being tempted by the world (and by the great Adversary). Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness came just after he was baptized by Saint John and before his Galilean ministry. The story was not particularly germane to the events of holy week and the Passion, yet it is built into Lent nonetheless.
I find the story of Christ in the wilderness powerful. The story of a man overcoming hedonism, materialism, and egoism for something far greater has a singularly compelling power. Indeed, the episode seemingly gave rise to Christian monasticism—which was one of the defining forces of the middle ages. However, even though there are parts of the life of Jesus which appear again and again and again in art, the temptation in the wilderness is underrepresented because of the challenge it poses for visual artists (save perhaps for the grand finale, where the devil takes Christ to a high place and offers him the whole world for a moment of adoration). The asceticism and emptiness which make up the majority of the event does not lend itself well to visual idiom.
Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness (James Tissot, ca. 1890, gouache on paper)
This is why I am presenting this impressive image by James Tissot, a French weirdo who spent his youth illustrating lavish high fashion events of the nineteenth century before having an extreme religious conversion (which coincided with the French Catholic revival). Thereafter, Tissot painted episodes from the Bible, and he is among the greatest of Biblical illustrators not just for his innovative, passionate, and exquisite images, but also because he departs so thoroughly from the centuries of Christian artistic convention. There are stories in the Bible which were painted by almost nobody ever…except for James Tissot.
Here is Tissot’s version of Christ in the wilderness. The Son of Man has encountered Satan in the guise of a fellow hermit proffering plain food. The landscape is weirdly alien and empty…a truly fitting canvas for this monumental moral conflict. Yet, closer study reveals it is a surprisingly accurate depiction of the hot evaporitic lgeology around the Dead Sea. Jesus turns away from the Devil, and yet he simultaneously turns away from us, the viewers. His face is perfectly revealed—yet like the naked landscape of canyons and dunes it is somehow mysterious and hidden. Our eyes fall instead on the Devil, who kneels before Jesus, off center at the bottom of the picture and yet dominates the composition with weird energy. Blackened by the sun he holds up weird lumps of bread. He looks just like a friendly Osama Bin Laden. The temptation is clear, but the rejection of the bread (and its dangerous peddler) is even more strongly demonstrated by the arrangement of the figures.
Tissot’s early works show perfectly fashionable aristocrats who exemplify every aspect of worldliness and status consciousness. That effete tutelage has given this austere painting its power. Think about the disturbing Beckett-like simplicity of this arrangement. Yet there is a universe of meaning in the relationship between these three principals (Jesus, Satan, us).
When I was barely an adolescent I read “Les Miserables” and the vast scope of the work caught my brain on fire. It was like living hundreds–or maybe thousands–of lives over multiple generations. We can (and will) return to that remarkable novel’s great themes of humanism, systematic oppression, historicism, Christianity, and economics (among other things), but for now I would like to concentrate on the first chapter of Book III. The chapter is titled “The Year 1817” and it details what everyone was talking about in France in 1817.
Naturally, the excited 14-year-old me was hoping for soaring words about battle, republic, redemption, and perfect compassion, and so the chapter was an immense disappointment. It was about the mincing affairs of unknown aristocrats and quibbles about fashion or taste which were utterly incomprehensible (and even more ridiculous). Here is a random sample of this Bourbon Restoration word salad:
Criticism, assuming an authoritative tone, preferred Lafon to Talma. M. de Feletez signed himself A.; M. Hoffmann signed himself Z. Charles Nodier wrote Therese Aubert. Divorce was abolished. Lyceums called themselves colleges. The collegians, decorated on the collar with a golden fleur-de-lys, fought each other apropos of the King of Rome. The counter-police of the chateau had denounced to her Royal Highness Madame, the portrait, everywhere exhibited, of M. the Duc d’Orleans, who made a better appearance in his uniform of a colonel-general of hussars than M. the Duc de Berri, in his uniform of colonel-general of dragoons– a serious inconvenience.
It goes on in this fashion for several pages. If you want the full effect, you can read the rest here (along with the other 1200 pages of the book, come to think of it).
Now I can understand these words individually, and even piece together their social importance, but the sense of momentous grandeur is entirely gone. This is, of course, as Victor Hugo wanted it. His true story was about people vastly beneath the notice of M. the Duc d’Orleans. To give the appropriate sense of scale, he needed to show how ephemeral the allegedly important and noteworthy people and things in a year actually are. What is really important takes longer to comprehend—and even the consensus of history keeps changing as history progresses. Naturally Hugo also wanted us to take a step back from our own time and realize that soon it will all be as dull, insipid, and inconsequential as the affairs of 1817.
I really really hope you will take that lesson to heart, because most of our shared experience is made of flotsam—stupid tv shows, bad songs, political hacks who are already fading away, ugly fashions, and useless hype. In 25 years, nobody but old fogeys and experts in early 21st century culture will have any idea who Beyonce is. In a hundred years nobody will understand Facebook or Google. Even if he destroys the republic and precipitates universal war, precious few people will recall Trump in 2217. By next week we will have forgotten this accursed “Milo” (who, I guess, is a failed actor who pretended to be a Nazi to make money off of conservative frenzy?). It already doesn’t make sense!
As you proceed through the year 2017, hang on to the lessons of “The Year 1817”. Most things that are current and fashionable and celebrated are useless piffle. Celebrity culture has always been a meretricious mask used to defraud people of their money and attention. The great are mostly not so great (sorry, Beyonce and Duc de Orleans), but beyond that, even the fundamental concept of current events or contemporary culture is predominantly a soap-bubble. And where does that leave us?
The November eclogue of the Shepheardes Calender is the best and strongest, but, alas, it is also the most mournful. It is an elegy for a dead shepherd maiden. The poetry actually accomplishes what some other parts of the work do not: it marries the allusions of ancient Rome and Greece with the Christian worldview of Early Modern England. Additionally the poem alloys the Chaucerian English (which Spenser always looks back towards with such longing) with the modern English he used for writing and speaking. The best parts of the poem anticipate metaphysical poetry…and maybe even some of Victorian verse. If you listen to the sad yet thunderous music of the lament there is also not a little of Shakespeare in it: it is strange to be reminded that he had powerful antecedents and did not spring like Minerva from godhead.
Shepheardes Calender XI: November.
Colin, my Dear, when shall it please thee sing,
As thou wert wont, Songs of some Jouisance
Thy Muse too long slumbereth in sorrowing,
Lulled asleep through Love’s misgovernance.
Now somewhat sing, whose endless Sovenance
Emong the Shepherds Swains may aye remain;
Whether thee list thy loved Lass advance,
Or honour Pan with Hymns of higher Vein.
Thenot, now nis the time of Merry-make,
Nor Pan to herie, nor with Love to play;
Sike Mirth in May is meetest for to make,
Or Summer Shade, under the cocked Hay.
But now sad Winter welked hath the Day,
And Phoebus weary of his yearly Task,
Ystablisht hath his Steeds in lowly lay,
And taken up his Inn in Fishes Hask,
Thilk sullen Season sadder Plight doth ask,
And loatheth sike Delights, as thou doost praise:
The mournful Muse in Mirth now list ne mask,
As she was wont in Youngth and Summer-days.
But if thou algate lust light Virelays,
And looser Songs of Love to underfong
Who but thy self deserves sike Poet’s Praise?
Relieve thy Oaten Pipes, that sleepen long.
The Nightingale is Sovereign of Song,
Before him fits the Titmouse silent be:
And I, unfit to thrust in skilful Throng,
Should Colin make judge of my foolery?
Nay, better learn of hem that learned be,
And han been watred at the Muses Well:
The kindly Dew drops from the higher Tree,
And wets the little Plants that lowly dwell.
But if sad Winter’s Wrath, and Season chill,
Accord not with thy Muse’s Merriment;
To sadder times thou maist attune thy Quill,
And sing of Sorrow and Death’s Dreriment,
For dead is Dido, dead alas and drent!
Dido, the great Shepherd his Daughter sheen:
The fairest May she was that ever went,
Her like she has not left behind I ween.
And if thou wilt bewail my woeful Teen,
I shall thee give yond Cosset for thy pain:
And if thy Rimes as round and rueful been,
As those that did thy Rosalind complain,
Much greater Gifts for Guerdon thou shalt gain,
Than Kid or Cosset, which I thee benempt;
Then up I say, thou jolly Shepherd Swain,
Let not my small Demand be so contempt.
Thenot, to that I chose, thou dost me tempt,
But ah! too well I wote my humble vein,
And how my Rimes been rugged and unkempt:
Yet as I con, my Cunning I will strain.
Up then Melpomene, the mournfulst Muse of nine,
Such cause of mourning never hadst afore;
Up grisly Ghosts, and up my ruful Rime,
Matter of Mirth now shalt thou have no more:
For dead she is, that Mirth thee made of yore,
Dido my Dear, alas, is dead,
Dead, and lieth wrapt in Lead:
O heavy Herse!
Let streaming Tears be poured out in store:
O careful Verse!
Shepherds, that by your Flocks on Kentish Downs abide,
Wail ye this woful Waste of Nature’s Wark:
Wail we the Wight, whose Presence was our Pride;
Wail we the Wight, whose Absence is our Cark.
The Sun of all the World is dim and dark;
The Earth now wants her wonted light,
And all we dwell in deadly Night;
O heavy Herse!
Break we our Pipes, that shrill’d as loud as Lark:
O careful Verse!
Why do we longer live, (ah why live we so long?)
Whose better Days Death hath shut up in Woe?
The fairest Flower our Girlond all among,
Is faded quite, and into Dust ygo;
Sing now ye Shepherd’s Daughters, sing no mo
The Songs that Colin made you in her praise,
But into Weeping turn your wanton Lays.
O heavy Herse!
Now is time to die: Nay, time was long ygo.
O careful Verse!
Whence is it, that the Flowret of the Field doth fade,
And lieth buried long in Winter’s Bale?
Yet soon as Spring his Mantle hath displayde,
It flowreth fresh, as it should never fail.
But thing on Earth that is of most avail,
As Vertue’s Branch and Beauty’s Bud,
Reliven not for any good.
O heavy Herse!
The Branch once dead, the Bud eke needs must quail:
O careful Verse!
She while she was, (that was a woful Word to sain)
For Beauty’s Praise and Pleasance had no Peer:
So well she couth the Shepherds entertain
With Cakes and Cracknels, and such Country Cheer.
Ne would she scorn the simple Shepherd’s Swain;
For she would call him often heam,
And give him Curds and clouted Cream.
O heavy Herse!
Als Colin Clout she would not once disdain:
O careful Verse!
But now sike happy Cheer is turn’d to heavy Chaunce,
Such Pleasance now displac’d by Dolor’s dint:
All Musick sleeps, where Death doth lead the Daunce,
And Shepherds wonted Solace is extinct.
The blue in black, the green in gray is tinct:
The gaudy Girlonds deck her Grave,
The faded Flowers her Corse embrave.
O heavy Herse!
Mourn now my Muse, now mourn with Tears besprint:
O careful Verse!
O thou great Shepherd Lobbin, how great is thy Grief,
Where bin the Nosegays that she dight for thee?
The coloured Chaplets wrought with a chief,
The knotted Rush-rings, and gilt Rosemaree?
For she deemed nothing too dear for thee.
Ah, they been all yclad in Clay,
One bitter Blast blew all away.
O heavy Herse!
Thereof nought remains but the Memoree:
O careful Verse!
Ay me that dreery Death should strike so mortal Stroke,
That can undo Dame Nature’s kindly Course:
The faded Locks fall from the lofty Oke,
The Flouds do gasp, for dried is their Source,
And Flouds of Tears flow in their stead perforce.
The mantled Meadows mourn,
Their sundry Colours tourn:
O heavy Herse!
The Heavens do melt in Tears without remorse:
O careful Verse!
The feeble Flocks in Field refuse their former Food,
And hang their Heads, as they would learn to weep:
The Beasts in Forest wail as they were wood,
Except the Wolves, that chase the wandring Sheep,
Now she is gone, that safely did hem keep.
The Turtle on the bared Branch,
Laments the Wound, that Death did lanch.
O heavy Herse!
And Philomel her Song with Tears doth steep:
O careful Verse!
The Water Nymphs, that wont with her to sing and dance,
And for her Girlond Olive Branches bear,
Now baleful Boughs of Cypress done advance:
The Muses that were wont green Bays to wear,
How bringen bitter Elder Branches sere:
The fatal Sisters eke repent,
Her vital Threed so soon was spent.
O heavy Herse!
Mourn now my Muse, now mourn with heavy Chear:
O careful Verse!
O trustless State of earthly things, and slipper Hope
Of mortal Men, that swink and sweat for nought,
And shooting wide, do miss the marked Scope:
Now have I learn’d (a Lesson dearly bought)
That nis on Earth assurance to be sought:
For what might be in earthly Mould;
That did her buried Body hold;
O heavy Herse!
Yet saw I on the Beere when it was brought:
O careful Verse!
But maugre Death, and dreaded Sisters deadly spight:
And Gates of Hell, and fiery Furies force;
She hath the Bonds broke of eternal Night,
Her Soul unbodied of the burdenous Corse.
Why then weeps Lobbin so without remorse?
O Lobb, thy Loss no longer lament;
Dido nis dead, but into Heaven hent:
O happy Herse!
Cease now my Muse, now cease thy Sorrow’s sourse,
O joyful Verse!
Why wail we then? why weary we the Gods with Plaints,
As if some Evil were to her betight?
She reigns a Goddess now emong the Saints,
That whylom was the Saint of Shepherds light;
And is enstalled now in Heavens hight.
I see the blessed soul, I see,
Walk in Elysian Fields so free.
O happy Herse!
Might I once come to thee (O that I might!)
O joyful Verse!
Unwise and wretched Men to weet what’s Good or Ill,
We deem of Death as doom of ill Desert:
But knew we, Fools, what it us brings until,
Die would we daily, once it to expert:
No Danger there the Shepherd can assert;
Fair Fields and pleasant Layes there been;
The Fields aye fresh, the Grass aye green:
O happy Herse!
Cease now my Song, my Woe now wasted is,
O joyful Verse!
Dido is gone afore (whose turn shall be the next?)
There lives she with the blessed Gods in Bliss;
There drinks she Nectar with Ambrosia mixt,
And Joys enjoys, that mortal Men do miss.
The Honour now of highest Gods she is,
That whylom was poor Shepherds Pride,
While here on Earth she did abide:
O happy Herse!
Cease now my Song, my Woe now wasted is:
O joyful Verse!
Aye frank Shepherd, how been thy Verses meint
With doleful Pleasance, so as I ne wot,
Whether rejoyce or weep for great constraint?
Thine be the Cosset, well hast thou it got.
Up Colin up, ynough thou mourned hast:
Now ‘gins to mizzle, hie we homeward fast.
La mort ny mord.
Throughout October, I had the uneasy feeling that I was missing something….and lo! such was indeed the case… Sadly, I somehow forgot about the Shepheardes Calender October eclogue. I am now faced with an unappealing choice. Either I must publish the October chapter swiftly, before your memory of October fades away forever, or I must wait for next year. The Shephearde’s Calender came out in 1579, and the passage of the years is not making it any easier to understand, so I think we better have a belated little piece of October in November. On the plus side, the October eclogue actually makes sense: Cuddy is lamenting the poet’s life and the meager remuneration thereof. It all sounds too familiar somehow…. Here it is.
A R G V M E N T.
IN Cuddie is set out the perfecte paterne of a Poete, whishe finding no maintenaunce of his state and studies, complayneth of the contempte of Poetrie, and the causes thereof: Specially hauing bene in all ages, and euen amongst the most barbarous alwayes of singular accounpt & honor, & being indeede so worthy and commendable an arte: or rather no arte, but a diuine gift and heauenly instinct not to bee gotten by laboure and learning, but adorned with both: and poured into the witte by a certaine [enthusiasmos], and celestiall inspiration, as the Author hereof els where at large discourseth, in his booke called the English Poete, which booke being lately come to my hands, I mynde also by Gods grace vpon further aduisement to publish.
Cuddy, for shame hold up thy heavy Head,
And let us cast with what delight to chace,
And weary this long lingring Phoebus’ Race.
Whylom thou wont the Shepherd’s Lads to lead,
In Rimes, in Riddles, and in Bidding base:
Now they in thee, and thou in sleep art dead.
Piers, I have piped earst so long with pain,
That all mine Oaten Reeds been rent and wore;
And my poor Muse hath spent her spared Store,
Yet little Good hath got, and much less Gain.
Such Pleasance makes the Grashopper so poor,
And lig so laid, when Winter doth her strain.
The dapper Ditties thee I wont devise,
To feed Youth’s Fancy, and the flocking Fry,
Delighten much: what I the bett for-thy?
They han the Pleasure, I a slender Prize.
I beat the Bush, the Birds to them do fly:
What good thereof to Cuddy can arise?
Cuddy, the Praise is better than the Price,
The Glory eke much greater than the Gain:
O what an honour is it, to restrain
The Lust of lawless Youth with good Advice?
Or prick them forth with Pleasance of thy Vein,
Whereto thou list their trained Wills entice.
Soon as thou ‘gins to set thy Notes in frame,
O how the rural Routs to thee do cleave!
Seemeth thou doost their Soul of Sense bereave,
All as the Shepherd, that did fetch his Dame
From Pluto’s baleful Bower withouten leave:
His Musick’s Might the hellish Hound did tame.
So praysen Babes the Peacock’s spotted Train,
And wondren at bright Argus’ blazing Eye;
But who rewards him ere the more for-thy?
Or feeds him once the fuller by a grain?
Sike Praise is Smoke, that sheddeth in the Sky;
Sike Words been Wind, and wasten soon in vain.
Abandon then the base and viler Clown,
Lift up thy self out of the lowly Dust;
And sing of bloody Mars, of Wars, of Giusts;
Turn thee to those that weld the aweful Crown,
To doubted Knights, whose woundless Armour rusts,
And Helms unbruzed, wexen daily brown.
There may thy Muse display her fluttering Wing,
And stretch her self at large from East to West;
Whither thou list in fair Elisa rest,
Or if thee please in bigger Notes to sing,
Advance the Worthy whom she loveth best,
That first the white Bear to the Stake did bring.
And when the stubborn Stroke of stronger Stounds,
Has somewhat slackt the Tenor of thy String;
Of Love and Lustihead tho mayst thou sing,
And carrol loud, and lead the Millers round;
All were Elisa one of thilk same Ring,
So mought our Cuddy’s Name to Heaven sound.
Indeed the Romish Tityrus, I hear,
Through his Mecoenas left his Oaten Reed,
Whereon he earst had taught his Flocks to feed;
And laboured Lands to yield the timely Ear;
And eft did sing of Wars and deadly Dreed,
So as the Heavens did quake his Verse to hear.
But ah! Mecoenas is yclad in Clay,
And great Augustus long ygo is dead;
And all the worthies liggen wrapt in Lead,
That matter made for Poets on to play.
For ever, who in Derring-do were dread,
The lofty Verse of hem was loved aye.
But after Vertue ‘gan for Age to stoup,
And mighty Manhood brought a bed of ease;
The vaunting Poets found nought worth a Pease,
To put in preace among the learned Troup:
Tho ‘gan the Streams of flowing Wits to cease,
And sunbright Honour pen’d in shameful Coup.
And if that any Budds of Poesy,
Yet of the old Stock ‘gan to shoot again:
Or it Mens Follies mote so force to fain,
And roll with rest in Rimes of Ribaudry;
Or as it sprang, it wither must again:
Tom Piper makes us better Melody.
O peerless Poesie, where is then thy place?
If not in Princes Palace thou dost sit
(And yet is Princes Palace the most fit)
Ne Breast of baser Birth doth thee embrace;
Then make thee Wings of thine aspiring Wit,
And, whence thou cam’st, fly back to Heaven apace.
Ah Percy, it is all too weak and wan,
So high to sore and make so large a flight:
Her peeced Pineons been not so in plight,
For Colin fits such famous Flight to scan;
He, were he not with Love so ill bedight,
Would mount as high, and sing as soot as Swan.
Ah Fon, for Love does teach him climb so high
And lifts him up out of the loathsom Mire:
Such immortal Mirror, as he doth admire,
Would raise one’s Mind above the starry Sky,
And cause a caitive Courage to aspire:
For lofty Love doth loath a lowly Eye.
All otherwise the state of Poet stands;
For lordly Love is such a Tyrant fell,
That where he rules, all Power he doth expell,
The vaunted Verse a vacant Head demands,
Ne wont with crabbed Care the Muses dwell:
Unwisely weaves, that takes two Webs in hand.
Who ever casts to compass weighty Prize,
And think to throw out thundering Words of Threat,
Let pour in lavish Cups and thrifty Bits of Meat;
For Bacchus’ Fruit is friend to Phoebus’ Wise:
And when with Wine the Brain begins to sweat,
The Numbers flow as fast as Spring doth rise.
Thou kenst not, Percie, how the Rime should rage;
O if my Temples were distain’d with Wine,
And girt in Girlonds of wild Ivy Twine,
How I could rear the Muse on stately Stage,
And teach her tread aloft in Buskin line,
With queint Bellona in her Equipage.
But ah, my Courage cools ere it be warm,
For-thy content us in this humble Shade:
Where no such troublous Tides han us assaid,
Here we our slender Pipes may safely charm.
And when my Goats shall han their Bellies laid,
Cuddy shall have a Kid to store his Farm.
Agitante calescimus illo, &c.
Our week of dark art continues apace…hopefully you aren’t too overwhelmed by the vistas of beauty and horror…yet…MWAHAHA… Today we feature an image from a living artist, Santiago Caruso, an Argentine illustrator who is well-known for creating unique artworks for horror literature. Gustave Doré and Alfred Kubin have passed on their great reward, but Santiago is very much in the world of the living, so I am just going to post the one sample image above and recommend that you look him up or, better yet, go to his web gallery (so he gets the traffic for himself). The picture above shows the mind as a haunted cabinet of curiosities–a conceit which appeals to me greatly. Among the oddities on display are a cornucopia, a snake skeleton, and a twisted dark duck, but clearly there is more in the cabinet…and more which might be in the cabinet. The Latin epigram is from the great dark masterpiece of silver-aged Roman literature The Golden Ass. Roughly translated, it says “That which nobody knows about almost did not happen.” It makes one wonder what skeletons are in this ghastly closet (as though that was not already the foremost thought in everyone’s head as our ghastly election enters the homestretch). Go check out Santiago’s other work (although some of it is pretty NSFW) and think about the strange curiosities in your mental cabinet…if you dare…MWAHAHAHA.
This artist needs no introduction. Gustave Doré was the preeminent illustrator of the 19th century. Although he became rich and successful, he was a workaholic, who took joy in his work rather than riches. He never married and lived with his mother until he died unexpectedly of a brief severe illness.
Doré illustrated everything from the Bible, to Nursery Rhymes, to Dante (one of my friends decided to become an artist upon looking at Doré’s version of Dante’s hell). Likewise he provided images for the great poetry and novels of his time. We could write a whole novel about Doré’s life (well we could if it wasn’t entirely spent sitting at a drafting table creating astonishing visual wonderment), but let’s concentrate instead on three especially dark images from his great oeuvre. First, at the top is an image of the end of the crusades. Every paladin and holy knight lies dead in a colossal heap. Collectively they grasp a great cross with their dead limbs as a glowing dove surrounded by a ring of stars ascends upward from the carnage. It is a powerful image of religious war–made all the more sinister by Doré’s apparent approval (and by the fact that it looks oddly like an allegory of the present state of the EU.
Next we come to a picture from European fairy tales: a traveler bedecked in sumptuous raiment stands surrounded on all sides by writhing corpses trapped inside their caskets by bars. The coffins rise high above the lone man in an apparently endless architecture of death. Strange tricky spirits dance at the edges of his sight as he takes in his ghastly location. This is clearly an image of…I…uh…I have no idea…what the hell sort of nightmare fairy tale is this? How did Doré think of this stuff?
Here finally, from Revelations, the final book of the New Testament, is an image of Death himself leading forth the horsemen of the apocalypse and the dark angels. This disturbing posse is descending from the sky to harrow the world of all living things and usher in a static and eternal era of divine singularity (which is the upsetting and unexpected end to a book about a kindly young rabbi who teaches people to be compassionate). Look at Death’s proud cold mien, which alone is composed and immutable in a desperate jagged composition of moving wings, scrabbling claws, ragged clouds, and blades of every sort.
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.
Here we are in the hottest months of the year—the Shepheardes Calender year that is (uh, and the real year too, I guess). I must confess, sometimes Spenser’s 16th century political allusions and classical references (and even his religious homilies and analogies) leave me confounded and sorely vex’d. However in July, the poetic meter suddenly takes on a chantlike quality and the allegorical meaning of the text becomes more straightforward too (and more familiar to my Protestant Appalachian roots—in attitude if not in altitude). Morrel, a somewhat grandiloquent and pompous goatherd has called down from a mountain to Thomalin a shepherd who lives on the plains. The goatherd wants the shepherd to come up to the loftier station, but the latter wants to stay close to his roots and avoid the excesses of pride. Also Morrel’s guileful goats are running amok, whereas Thomalin dutifully keeps his sheep together.
This straightforward (yet somewhat contrived) set-up becomes a metaphor for the contest between Protestantism and Catholicism in England–an all-too-familiar theme for Spenser’s original audience. Thus, as we proceed through the poem, we find ourselves mired in a theological controversy which runs the entire length and breadth of England. The pastoral frolics of sheep and goats transmogrify into a sly commentary on the politicians and theology of the day. In Dante-esque fashion Spenser combines this with classical allusions, and personal grudges. This little poem thus represents the spiritual, the natural, the personal, and the political–all mashed together in the form of two yokels shouting at each other on a hill.
This sounds amazing and it is–but it is also couched in Spenser’s faux Middle English, and the poem contains allusions to historical personages who are no longer well-known. Thus amongst the classical deities and Biblical personages we find the peculiar figure of Algrind—a not-very-subtle anagram of Grindal–who was the bishop of London at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign. Fortunately for us, the bishop encounters another Ferrebeekeeper theme—a mollusk, dropped upon his head by an eagle. It is enough to give the reader brain fever…or maybe that is just July’s heat….
At any rate, without further preamble, allow me to present:
The Shepheardes Calender: July
A R G V M E N T.
THis Æglogue is made in the honour and commendation of good shepheardes, and to the shame and disprayse of proude and ambitious Pastours. Such as Morrell is here imagined to bee.
Is not thilk same a Goat-herd proud,
That sits on yonder Bank;
Whose straying Herd themself doth shroud
Emong the Bushes rank?
What ho, thou jolly Shepherd’s Swain,
Come up the Hill to me:
Better is, than the lowly Plain,
Als for thy Flock and thee.
Ah! God shield, Man, that I should clime,
And learn to look aloft
This Read is rife, that oftentime
Great Climbers fall unsoft.
In humble Dales is footing fast,
The Trode is not so tickle;
And though one fall through heedless haste,
Yet is his Miss not mickle.
And now the Sun hath reared up
His fiery-footed Teme,
Making his way between the Cup
And golden Diademe:
The rampant Lion hunts he fast,
With Dogs of noisom Breath,
Whose baleful barking brings in haste,
Pine, Plagues, and drery Death.
Against his cruel scorching Heat,
Where thou hast Coverture,
The wasteful Hills unto his Threat
Is a plain Overture.
But if thee lust, to holden chat
With seely Shepherd’s Swain:
Come down, and learn the little what,
That Thomalin can sain.
Siker, thous but a lasy Loord,
And rekes much of thy Swink,
That with fond Terms, and witless Words
To blear mine Eyes dost think.
In evil hour thou henst in hond
Thus holy Hills to blame;
For sacred unto Saints they stond,
And of them han their Name.
St. Michel’s Mount who does not know,
That wards the Western Coast?
And of St. Bridget’s Bow’r I trow,
All Kent can rightly boast:
And they that con of Muses Skill,
Fain most what, that they dwell
(As Goat-herds wont) upon a Hill,
Beside a learned Well.
And wonned not the great God Pan
Upon Mount Olivet;
Feeding the blessed Flock of Dan,
Which did himself beget?
O blessed Sheep! O Shepherd great!
That bought his Flock so dear:
And them did save with bloody Sweat,
From Wolves that would them tear.
Beside, as holy Fathers sain,
There is a holy Place,
Where Titan riseth from the Main,
To ren his daily Race:
Upon whose Tops the Stars been staied,
And all the Sky doth lean;
There is the Cave where Phoebe laied
The Shepherd long to dream.
Whilom there used Shepherds all
To feed their Flocks at will,
Till by his Folly one did fall,
That all the rest did spill.
And sithence Shepherds been foresaid
From Places of Delight;
For-thy, I ween thou be afraid,
To clime this Hilles hight.
Of Synah an I tell thee more,
And of our Lady’s Bow’r:
But little needs to crow my Store,
Suffice this Hill of our.
Here hen the holy Faunes Recourse,
And Sylvanes haunten rathe;
Here has the salt Medway his Sourse,
Wherein the Nymphs do bathe:
The salt Medway, that trickling streams
Adown the Dales of Kent,
Till with his elder Brother Thames,
His brackish Waves be meynt.
Here grows Melampode, every where,
And Teribinth, good for Goats:
The one, my madding Kids to smear,
The next to heal their Throats.
Hereto, the Hills been nigher Heaven,
And thence the Passage eath:
As well can prove the piercing Levin,
That seldom falls beneath.
Siker thou speakest like a lewd Lorel,
Of Heaven to deemen so:
How be I am but rude and borrel,
Yet nearer ways I know.
To Kirk the nar, so God more far,
Has been an old said Saw;
And he that strives to touch a Star,
Oft stumbles at a Straw.
Alsoon may Shepherds clime to Sky,
That leads in lowly Dales;
As Goat-herd proud, that sitting high,
Upon the Mountain fails.
My seely Sheep like well below,
They need not Melampode;
For they been hale enough, I trow,
And liken their Abode.
But if they with thy Goats should yede,
They soon might be corrupted;
Or like not of the frowy Fede,
Or with the Weeds be glutted.
The Hills, where dwelled holy Saints,
I reverence and adore;
Not for themself, but for the Saints,
Which hen been dead of yore.
And now they been to Heaven forewent,
Their Good is with them go;
Their Sample only to us lent,
That als we mought do so.
Shepherds they weren of the best,
And lived in lowly Leas;
And sith their Souls be now at rest,
Why done we them Disease?
Such one he was (as I have heard
Old Algrind often sain)
That whilom was the first Shepherd;
And liv’d with little Gain:
And meek he was, as meek mought be;
Simple, as simple Sheep;
Humble, and like in each degree
The Flock which he did keep.
Often he used of his Keep
A Sacrifice to bring;
Now with a Kid, now with a Sheep,
The Altars hallowing.
So louted he unto the Lord,
Such Favour couth he find,
That never sithence was abhor’d
The simple Shepherds kind.
And such I ween the Brethren were,
That came from Canaan;
The Brethren twelve, that kept yfere
The Flocks of mighty Pan.
But nothing such thilk Shepherd was,
Whom Ida Hill did bear,
That left his Flock to fetch a Lass,
Whose Love he bought too dear:
For he was proud, that ill was paid,
(No such mought Shepherds be)
And with leud Lust was over-laid;
Tway things doen ill agree.
But Shepherds mought be meek and mild,
Well eyed, as Argus was,
With fleshly Follies undefil’d,
And stout as Steed of Brass.
Sike one (said Algrind) Moses was,
That saw his Maker’s Face,
His Face more clear than crystal Glass,
And spake to him in place.
This had a Brother (his Name I know)
The first of all his Coat:
A Shepherd true, yet not so true,
As he that earst I hote.
Whilom all these were low, and leef,
And lov’d their Flocks to feed,
They never stroven to be chief,
And simple was their Weed.
But now (thanked be God therefore)
The World is well amend:
Their Weeds been not so nightly wore,
Such Simpless mought them shend.
They been yclad in Purple and Pall,
So hath their God them blist;
They reign and rulen over all,
And lord it as they list:
Ygirt with Belts of Glitter and Gold,
(Mought they good Shepherds been)
Their Pan their Sheep to them has sold,
I say, as some have seen.
For Palinode (if thou him ken)
Yode late on Pilgrimage
To Rome (if such be Rome) and then
He saw thilk Misusage.
For Shepherds (said he) there doen lead,
As Lords done otherwhere;
Their Sheep han Crusts, and they the Bread;
The Chips, and they the Chear:
They han the Fleece, and eke the Flesh,
(O seely Sheep the while!)
The Corn is theirs, let others thresh,
Their Hands they may not file.
They han great Store, and thrifty Flocks,
Great Friends, and feeble Foes:
What need hem caren for their Flocks,
Their Boys can look to those?
These Wizards welter in Wealth’s Waves,
Pamper’d in Pleasures deep;
They han fat Kerns and leany Knaves,
Their fasting flocks to keep.
Sike mister Men been all misgone,
They heapen Hills of Wrath:
Sike sirly Shepherds hen we none,
They keepen all the Path.
Here is a great deal of good Matter,
Lost for lack of telling:
Now siker I see thou dost but clatter,
Harm may come of melling.
Thou meddlest more than shall have thank
To witen Shepherd’s Wealth:
When Folk been fat, and Riches rank,
It is a Sign of Health.
But say me, what is Algrind, he
That is so oft bynempt?
He is a Shepherd great in Gree,
But hath been long ypent:
One day he sate upon a Hill,
(As now thou wouldest me,
But I am taught by Algrind’s Ill,
To love the low degree)
For sitting so with bared Scalp,
An Eagle soared high,
That weening his white Heat was Chalk,
A Shell-Fish down let fly.
She ween’d the Shell-Fish to have broke,
But therewith bruis’d his Brain:
So now astonied with the Stroke,
He lies in lingring Pain.
Ah! good Algrind, his Hap was ill,
But shall be better in time:
Now farewel, Shepherd, sith this Hill
Thou hast such doubt to clime.
In medio Virtus.
In summo Felicitas.
It’s time for our monthly installment of the Shepheardes Calender, an epic poetic journey through the 12 months of the year which takes the form of dialogues between classically-minded shepherds concerning love, poetry, sheep, and politics. Ultimately the poem is about nature and the nature of reality and, of course, it is about love. We have come half-way through the year, from January’s abject darkness to glowing light of June. The exceedingly beautiful month of May featured a very peculiar and dark sort of fable. Likewise glorious June features a sad tale of love lost… The beauteous shepherdess Rosalind has left Colin for his arch-rival…yet this lament is couched within lovely pastoral poetry.
What is going on with this thing anyway? Who are these people and what are they talking about? Spenser wrote his poems for sophisticated classically-trained courtiers who delighted in unraveling complicated intrigues and unmasking hidden figures. By this time, it has become plain that the unhappy, but gifted Colin represents Spenser himself. Likewise the figure of Tityrus, “the God of Shepherds,” is Chaucer, the progenitor of English verse. The identity of Rosalind, who appeared back in January to inaugurate the entire work, would seem to be the central mystery of The Shephearde’s Calender, but who she is…whether she represents love in general, or fame, or poetry…or whether she is some actual golden haired beauty whom the melancholic Spenser fixated upon is lost in time.
The poetry of each season has an entirely different character just as the months are each different. So far the words have been honeyed and filigreed to the point where they are too pretty to understand, but June features the summer solstice–the turn of the year. As the year darkens and winds down, the poems become earthier and easier to understand. Perhaps we can get some closure on this Colin/Rosalind romance then, but if things are not good in June, when will they be good?
Well, there are still six months to come, but for now, here is June’s Aeglogue:
Lo! Colin, here the Place, whose pleasant Sight
From other Shades hath wean’d my wandring Mind:
Tell me, what wants me here, to work Delight?
The simple Air, she gentle warbling Wind,
So calm, so cool, as no where else I find:
The grassy Ground with dainty Daisies dight,
The Bramble Bush, where Birds of every kind
To th’ Water’s Fall their Tunes attemper right.
O! happy Hoblinol, I bless thy State,
That Paradise hast found which Adam lost.
Here wander may thy Flock early or late,
Withouten Dread of Wolves to been ytost;
Thy lovely Lays here mayst thou freely boast:
But I, unhappy Man! whom cruel Fate,
And angry God, pursue from Coast to Coast,
Can no where find, to shroud my luckless Pate.
Then if by me thou list advised be,
Forsake the Soil, that so doth thee bewitch:
Leave me those Hills, where Harbrough nis to see,
Nor Holly-bush, nor Brere, nor winding Ditch;
And to the Dales resort, where Shepherds rich,
And fruitful Flocks been every where to see:
Here no Night-Ravens lodge, more black than Pitch,
Nor elvish Ghosts, nor ghastly Owls do flee.
But friendly Fairies, met with many Graces,
And lightfoot Nymphs can chace the lingring Night,
With Heydeguies, and trimly trodden Traces;
Whilst Sisters nine, which dwell on Parnass’ hight,
Do make them Musick, for their mere Delight;
And Pan himself to kiss their crystal Faces,
Will pipe and daunce, when Phoebe shineth bright:
Such peerless Pleasures have we in these Places.
And I, whilst Youth, and Course of careless Years,
Did let me walk withouten Links of Love,
In such Delights did joy amongst my Peers;
But riper Age such Pleasures doth reprove,
My Fancy eke from former Follies move
To stayed Steps: for time in passing wears
(As Garments doen, which wexen old above)
And draweth new Delights with hoary Hairs.
Tho couth I sing of Love, and tune my Pipe
Unto my plaintive Pleas in Verses made:
Tho would I seek for Queen-Apples unripe,
To give my Rosalind, and in Sommer Shade
Dight gawdy Girlonds, was my common Trade,
To crown her golden Locks: but Years more ripe,
And Loss of her, whose Love as Life I wayde,
Those weary wanton Toys away did wipe.
Colin, to hear thy Rimes and Roundelays,
Which thou wert wont on wasteful Hills to sing,
I more delight, then Lark in Sommer Days:
Whose Eccho made the neighbour Groves to ring,
And taught the Birds, which in the lower Spring
Did shroud in shady Leaves from sunny Rays;
Frame to thy Song their cheerful cheriping,
Or hold their Peace, for shame of thy sweet Lays.
I saw Calliope with Muses moe,
Soon as thy Oaten Pipe began to sound,
Their Ivory Lutes and Tamburins forgo:
And from the Fountain, where they sate around,
Ren after hastily thy silver Sound.
But when they came, where thou thy Skill didst show,
They drew aback, as half with Shame confound,
Shepherd to see, them in their Art out-go
Of Muses, Hobbinol, I con no Skill,
For they been Daughters of the highest Jove,
And holden Scorn of homely Shepherds-Quill:
For sith I heard that Pan with Phoebus strove,
Which him to much Rebuke and Danger drove,
I never list presume to Parnass’ Hill,
But piping low, in shade of lowly Grove,
I play to please my self, albeit ill.
Nought weigh I, who my Song doth praise or blame,
Ne rive to win Renown, or pass the rest:
With Shepherd fits not follow flying Fame,
But feed his Flock in Fields, where falls him best.
I wote my Rimes been rough, and rudely drest;
The fitter they, my careful Case to frame:
Enough is me to paint out my Unrest,
And pour my piteous Plaints out in the same.
The God of Shepherds, Tityrus is dead,
Who taught me homely, as I can, to make:
He, whilst he lived, was the sovereign Head
Of Shepherds all, that been with Love ytake.
Well couth he wail his Woes, and lightly slake
The Flames, which Love within his Heart had bred,
And tell us merry Tales, to keep us wake,
The while our Sheep about us safely fed.
Now dead he is, and lieth wrapt in Lead,
(O why should Death on him such Outrage show!)
And all his passing Skill with him is fled,
The Fame whereof doth daily greater grow.
But if on me some little Drops would flow
Of that the Spring was in his learned Hed,
I soon would learn these Woods to wail my Woe,
And teach the Trees their trickling Tears to shed.
Then should my Plaints, caus’d of Discourtesee,
As Messengers of this my painful Plight,
Fly to my Love, wherever that she be,
And pierce her Heart with Point of worthy Wight;
As she deserves, that wrought so deadly Spight.
And thou, Menalcas, that by Treachery
Didst underfong my Lass to wax so light,
Should’st well be known for such thy Villany.
But since I am not, as I wish I were,
Ye gentle Shepherds, which your Flock do feed,
Whether on Hills, or Dales, or other where,
Bear witness all of this so wicked Deed:
And tell the Lass, whose Flowre is woxe a Weed,
And faultless Faith is turn’d to faithless Fear,
That she the truest Shepherd’s Heart made bleed,
That lives on Earth, and loved her most dear.
O! careful Colin, I lament thy Case,
Thy Tears would make the hardest Flint to flow!
Ah! faithless Rosalind, and void of Grace,
That are the Root of all this rueful Woe!
But now is time, I guess, homeward to go;
Then rise, ye blessed Flocks, and home apace,
Lest Night with stealing Steps do you foreslo,
And wet your tender Lambs, that by you trace.
Gia speme spenta.
[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 4:1074-78]
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.