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Wherever I go these days, strangers come up to me begging to know spoilers for The Shepheardes Calender, Edmund Spenser’s great 12 part poetic masterpiece from 1579 (which Ferrebeekeeper is publishing in its entirety, month by month, to universal acclaim).  Will spring return to the picturesque English countryside? Will the shepherds ply their Arcadian trade while exchanging classical allusions? Will romantic contrivances lead to deeper questions concerning the human condition? Will love triumph anon?

I can’t answer these burning questions.  You will just have to wait for each additional installment and keep reading…but, by coincidence, here is the March eclogue. The grim months, January and February, are giving way to spring, when all of nature awakes. Two callow shepherd youth, Willye and Thomalin, discourse upon the beauties of the waxing season.  Willye lightly teases his friend Thomalin concerning the season’s longstanding connection with amorous pursuits (as adolescent boys everywhere are wont to goad their fellows), whereupon Thomalin tells a hunting anecdote of firing his crossbow at a beautiful winged child.  This supernatural entity easily avoids the inexperienced shafts of the shepherd and gravely wounds the farm lad with a return arrow.  Oh! The wanton follies of love!

Spenser follows up this little scene with an author’s gloss (which makes use of playfully ironic language to hint at deeper and unspoken undercurrents buried in the allusions). But enough of my prating, you came here to read Spenser and contemplate the paradoxical nature of love as explained by a 16th century aesthete.  So, without further preamble, here is…

The Shepheardes Calender: March

By Edmund Spenser

march

Ægloga Tertia.

 A R G V M E N T.

IN this Æglogue two shepheards boyes taking occasion of the season, beginne to make purpose of loue and other pleasaunce, which to springtime is most agreeable. The speciall meaning hereof is, to giue certaine markes and tokens, to know Cupide the Poets God of Loue. But more particularlye I thinke, in the person of Thomalin is meant some secrete freend, who scorned Loue and his knights so long, till at length him selfe was entangled, and unwares wounded with the dart of some beautifull regard, which is Cupides arrowe.

WILLY. THOMALIN.
Thomalin, why sitten we so,
As weren overwent with Woe.
Upon so fair a Morrow?
The joyous time now nigheth fast,
That shall alegg this bitter Blast,
And slake the Winter Sorrow.

THOMALIN.
Siker Willy, thou warnest well;
For Winter’s Wrath begins to quell,
And pleasant Spring appeareth:
The Grass now ‘gins to be refresht
The Swallow peeps out of her Nest,
And cloudy Welkin cleareth.

WILLY.
Seest not thilk same Hawthorn Stud,
How bragly it begins to bud,
And utter his tender Head?
Flora now calleth forth each Flower,
And bids make ready Maia’s Bower,
That new is uprist from Bed.
Tho shall we sporten in delight,
And learn with Lettice to wex light,
That scornfully looks askaunce:
Tho will we little Love awake,
That now sleepeth in Lethe Lake,
And pray him leaden our daunce.

THOMALIN.
Willy, I ween thou be a Sot;
For lusty Love still sleepeth not,
But is abroad at his Game.

WILLY.
How kenst thou that he is awoke?
Or hast thy self his Slumber broke?
Or made privy to the same?

THOMALIN.
No, but happily I him spide,
Where in a Bush he did him hide,
With Wings of purple and blue:
And were not, that my Sheep would stray,
The privy Marks I would bewray,
Whereby by chaunce I him knew.

WILLY.
Thomalin, have no care for-thy,
My self will have a double Eye,
Ylike to my Flock and thine;
For alas at home I have a Sire,
A Stepdame eke as hot as Fire,
That duly adays counts mine.

THOMALIN.
Nay, but thy seeing will not serve,
My Sheep for that may chaunce to swerve,
And fall into some Mischief.
For sithens is but the third morrow,
That I chauncst to fall asleep with Sorrow,
And waked again with Grief:
The while thilk same unhappy Ewe,
Whose clouted Leg her hurt doth shew,
Fell headlong into a Dell,
And there unjointed both her Bones:
Mought her Neck been jointed attones,
She should have need no more Spell.
Th’ Elf was so wanton and so wood,
(But now I trow can better good)
She mought ne gang on the Green.

WILLY.
Let be, as may be, that is past;
That is to come, let be forecast:
Now tell us what thou hast seen.

THOMALIN.
It was upon a Holy-day
When Shepherds Grooms han leave to play,
I cast to go a shooting:
Long wandring up and down the Land,
With Bow and Bolts in either Hand,
For Birds in Bushes tooting:
At length within the Ivy tod,
(There shrouded was the little God)
I heard a busie bustling.
I bent my Bolt against the Bush,
Listning if any thing did rush,
But then heard no more rustling.
Tho peeping close into the thick,
Might see the moving of some quick,
Whose Shape appeared not;
But were it Fairy, Fiend, or Snake,
My Courage earn’d it to awake,
And manfully thereat shot.
With that sprang forth a naked Swain,
With spotted Wings like Peacocks Train,
And laughing lope to a Tree;
His gilden Quiver at his Back,
And silver Bow which was but slack,
Which lightly he bent at me.
That seeing, I level’d again,
And shot at him with Might and Main,
As thick, as it had hailed.
So long I shot, that all was spent.
Tho pumy Stones I hastily hent,
And threw; but nought availed
He was so wimble and so wight,
From Bough to Bough he leaped light,
And oft the Pumies latched.
Therewith afraid, I ran away;
But he, that earst seem’d but to play,
A Shaft in earnest snatched,
And hit me running, in the Heel;
For then I little smart did feel,
But soon it sore increased.
And now it rankleth more and more,
And inwardly it festereth sore,
Ne wote I how to cease it.

WILLY.
Thomalin, I pity thy Plight,
Perdy with Love thou diddest fight:
I know him by a Token.
For once I heard my Father say,
How he him caught upon a day,
(Whereof he will be wroken)
Entangled in a Fowling-Net,
Which he for Carrion-Crows had set,
That in our Pear-tree haunted:
Tho said, he was a winged Lad,
But Bow and Shafts as then none had;
Else had he sore be daunted.
But see, the Welkin thicks apace,
And stooping Phoebus steeps his race:
It’s time to haste us homeward.

WILLY’S EMBLEM.
To be Wise and eke to Love,
Is granted scarce to Gods above.

THOMALIN’S EMBLEM.
Of Honey and of Gall, in love there is store:
The Honey is much, but the Gall is more.


GLOSS.

THIS Æglogue seemeth somewhat to resemble that same of Theocritus, wherein the boy likewise telling the old man, that he had shot at a winged boy in a tree, was by hym warned, to beware of mischiefe to come.

Ouerwent) overgone.

Alegge) to lessen or aswage.

To quell) to abate.

Welkin) the skie.

The swallow) which bird vseth to be counted the messenger, as it were, the fore runner of springe.

Flora) the Goddesse of flowres, but indede (as saith Tacitus) a famous harlot, which with the abuse of her body hauing gotten great riches, made the people of Rome her heyre: who in remembraunce of so great beneficence, appointed a yearely feste for the memoriall of her, calling her, not as she was, nor as some doe think, Andronica, but Flora: making her the Goddesse of all floures, and doing yerely to her solemne sacrifice.

Maias bowre) that is the pleasaunt fielde, or rather the Maye bushes. Maia is a Goddes and the mother of Mercurie, in honour of whome the moneth of Maye is of her name so called, as sayth Macrobius.

Lettice) the name of some country lasse.

Ascaunce) askewe or asquint.

For thy) therefore.

Lethe) is a lake in hell, which the Poetes call the lake of forgetfulnes. For Lethe signifieth forgetfulnes. Wherein the soules being dipped, did forget the cares of their former lyfe. So that by loue sleeping in Lethe lake, he meaneth he was almost forgotten and out of knowledge, by reason of winters hardnesse, when al pleasures, as it were, sleepe and weare out of mynde.

Assotte) to dote.

His slomber) To breake Loues slomber, is to exercise the delightes of Loue and wanton pleasures.

Winges of purple) so is he feigned of the Poetes.

For als) he imitateth Virgils verse. 

Est mihi namque domi pater, est iniusta nouerca &c.

A dell) a hole in the ground.

Spell) is a kind of verse or charme, that in elder tymes they vsed often to say ouer euery thing, that they would haue preserued, as the Nightspel for theeues, and the woodspell. And herehence I thinke is named the gospell, as it were Gods spell or worde. And so sayth Chaucer, Listeneth Lordings to my spell.

Gange) goe 

An Yuie todde) a thicke bushe.

Swaine) a boye: for so he is described of the Poetes, to be a boye .s. alwayes freshe and lustie: blindfolded, because he maketh no difference of Personages: wyth diuers coloured winges, .s. ful of flying fancies: with bowe and arrow, that is with glaunce of beautye, which prycketh as a forked arrowe. He is sayd also to haue shafts, some leaden, some golden: that is, both pleasure for the gracious and loued, and sorow for the louer that is disdayned or forsaken. But who liste more at large to behold Cupids colours and furniture, let him reade ether Propertius, or Moschus his Idyllion of wandring loue, being now most excellently translated into Latine by the singuler learned man Angelus Politianus: Whych worke I haue seene amongst other of thys Poets doings, very wel translated also into Englishe Rymes. 

Wimble and wighte) Quicke and deliuer.

In the heele) is very Poetically spoken, and not without speciall iudgement. For I remember, that in Homer it is sayd of Thetis, that shee tooke her young babe Achilles being newely borne, and holding him by the heele, dipped him in the River of Styx. The vertue whereof is, to defend and keepe the bodyes washed therein from any mortall wound. So Achilles being washed al ouer, saue anely his hele, by which his mother held, was in the rest [invulnerable]: therfore by Paris was feyned to bee shotte with a poysoned arrowe in the heele, whiles he was busie about the marying of Polyena in the temple of Apollo. Which mysticall fable Eustathius vnfolding, sayth: that by wounding in the hele, is meant lustfull loue. For from the heele (as say the best Phisitions) to the preuie partes there passe certaine veines and slender synnewes, as also the like come from the head, and are carryed lyke little pypes behynd the eares: so that (as sayth Hippocrates) yf those veynes there be cut a sonder, the partie straighte becometh cold and vnfruiteful. which reason our Poete wel weighing, maketh this shepheards boye of purpose to be wounded by Loue in the heele. 

Latched) caught. 

Wroken) reuenged.

For once) In this tale is sette out the simplicitye of shepheards opinion of Loue.

Stouping Phaebus) Is a Periphrasis of the sunne setting.
Embleme.

Hereby is meant, that all the delights of Loue, wherein wanton youth walloweth, be but follye mixt with bitternesse, and sorow sawced with repentaunce. For besides that the very affection of Loue it selfe tormenteth the mynde, and vexeth the body many wayes, with vnrestfulnesse all night, and wearines all day, seeking for that we can not haue: euen the selfe things which best before vs liked, in course of time and chaung of ryper yeares, whiche also therewithall chaungeth our wonted lyking and former fantasies, will then seeme lothsome and breede vs annoyaunce, when yougthes flowre is withered, and we fynde our bodyes and wits aunswere not to suche vayne iollitie and lustfull pleasaunce.

Archery seems to have been invented at the end of the late Paleolithic period.  Thereafter the use of bows and arrows for hunting and combat was widespread throughout most human societies up until the invention of firearms.  Subsequent to the popularization of guns, archery was (and still is) practiced as a recreational activity, but sometimes it is more fashionable than other times.  Right now there is a craze for archery in America thanks largely to the best selling dystopian fantasy novel, The Hunger Games, which features an Appalachian heroine who is forced to use her bow-hunting skills to prevail in an epic gladiatorial contest (that’s her up there at the top of the post as portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence in the blockbuster film).  However archery has become popular as a pastime in other eras and other places thanks to similar fads and crazes.  For example, in the 18th century, big swaths of the European aristocracy became obsessed with pastoral fantasy—the idea of living as milkmaids, shepherds, and rustic hunters.  To celebrate recreational archery (which just finished a star turn at the Olympics), here is a mini gallery of three 18th century masterpieces concerning archery and pastoral ideas of beauty.

Caccia all’anatra (Pietro Longhi, 1760, oil on canvas)

Longhi was famous for painting scintillating little scenes of private life in 18th century Venice.  Usually his paintings abound with lovely blushing courtesans, lecherous lords, bumbling servants, and sly procuresses (those paintings are a treat and you should go check them out). Here a foppish lord is duck hunting in a red jacket with gold embroidery!  The boatmen all seem to be staring at him with mixed expressions of disbelief, contempt, and envy.  Despite his graying hair and outlandish looks, the nobleman seems pretty proficient with his longbow and has already shot three ducks.

Marie Adelaide of France as Diana (Jean-Marc Nattier, 1745, oil on canvas)

Jean-Marc Nettier mostly painted the royal family of France.   Here he has portrayed Princess Marie Adelaide, the sixth child of Louis XV pretending to be the goddess Diana.   The guise proved to be prophetic, for the princess was never married (there were no eligible bachelors of her station alive in Europe).  Dressed in leopardskin and silk the princess/goddess stares haughtily down from the canvas as she fingers her arrows. It is as though she is deciding whether it is worth her effort to shoot the viewer.

Diana and Cupid (Pompeo Batoni, 1761, oil on canvas)

Pompeo Batoni made his living painting wealthy European lords who were visiting Rome.  Although he was a superb portrait painter he did not paint any first order masterpieces–except for this very beautiful painting of Diana tormenting Cupid.  The virgin goddess has taken Cupid’s bow away from him and she playfully holds it out of his reach as he clambers (arrow in hand!) across her lap.  The work features superbly rendered hunting dogs, magnificently opulent scarlet and pink drapery, and a gorgeous triangle composition.  All elements point toward the goddess’ exquisitely painted face which bears a strange intense expression of wry amusement with a hint of wistfulness. This painting is currently owned by the Metropolitan Museum in New York and you should look for it if you are ever there.  Because of its beautiful execution, its luminous color, and its superb condition it is one of those paintings that seem like an actual portal where you could step through into a world of nude goddesses and eternally verdant forests.

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