Verse > Edmund Spenser > Complete Poetical Works
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Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599).  The Complete Poetical Works.  1908.
 
Fowre Hymnes
An Hymne of Heavenly Beautie
 
RAPT with the rage of mine own ravisht thought,
Through contemplation of those goodly sights,
And glorious images in heaven wrought,
Whose wondrous beauty, breathing sweet delights,
Do kindle love in high conceipted sprights,        5
I faine to tell the things that I behold,
But feele my wits to faile, and tongue to fold.
 
Vouchsafe then, O Thou most Almightie Spright,
From whom all guifts of wit and knowledge flow,
To shed into my breast some sparkling light        10
Of thine eternall truth, that I may show
Some litle beames to mortall eyes below
Of that immortall Beautie, there with Thee,
Which in my weake distraughted mynd I see.
 
That with the glorie of so goodly sight,        15
The hearts of men, which fondly here admyre
Faire seeming shewes, and feed on vaine delight,
Transported with celestiall desyre
Of those faire formes, may lift themselves up hyer,
And learne to love with zealous humble dewty        20
Th’ Eternall Fountaine of that heavenly Beauty.
 
Beginning then below, with th’ easie vew
Of this base world, subject to fleshly eye,
From thence to mount aloft by order dew
To contemplation of th’ immortall sky,        25
Of the soare faulcon so I learne to fly,
That flags awhile her fluttering wings beneath,
Till she her selfe for stronger flight can breath.
 
Then looke, who list thy gazefull eyes to feed
With sight of that is faire, looke on the frame        30
Of this wyde universe, and therein reed
The endlesse kinds of creatures, which by name
Thou canst not count, much lesse their natures aime:
All which are made with wondrous wise respect,
And all with admirable beautie deckt.        35
 
First th’ earth, on adamantine pillers founded,
Amid the sea, engirt with brasen bands;
Then th’ aire, still flitting, but yet firmely bounded
On everie side with pyles of flaming brands,
Never consum’d, nor quencht with mortall hands;        40
And last, that mightie shining christall wall,
Wherewith he hath encompassed this All.
 
By view whereof, it plainly may appeare,
That still as every thing doth upward tend,
And further is from earth, so still more cleare        45
And faire it growes, till to his perfect end
Of purest Beautie it at last ascend:
Ayre more then water, fire much more then ayre,
And heaven then fire appeares more pure and fayre.
 
Looke thou no further, but affixe thine eye        50
On that bright shynie round still moving masse,
The house of blessed gods, which men call skye,
All sowd with glistring stars more thicke then grasse,
Whereof each other doth in brightnesse passe;
But those two most, which, ruling night and day,        55
As king and queene, the heavens empire sway.
 
And tell me then, what hast thou ever seene
That to their beautie may compared bee?
Or can the sight that is most sharpe and keene
Endure their captains flaming head to see?        60
How much lesse those, much higher in degree,
And so much fairer, and much more then these,
As these are fairer then the land and seas?
 
For farre above these heavens which here we see,
Be others farre exceeding these in light,        65
Not bounded, not corrupt, as these same bee,
But infinite in largenesse and in hight,
Unmoving, uncorrupt, and spotlesse bright,
That need no sunne t’ illuminate their spheres,
But their owne native light farre passing theirs.        70
 
And as these heavens still by degrees arize,
Untill they come to their first movers bound,
That in his mightie compasse doth comprize
And carrie all the rest with him around,
So those likewise doe by degrees redound,        75
And rise more faire, till they at last arive
To the most faire, whereto they all do strive.
 
Faire is the heaven where happy soules have place,
In full enjoyment of felicitie,
Whence they doe still behold the glorious face        80
Of the Divine Eternall Majestie;
More faire is that where those Idees on hie
Enraunged be, which Plato so admyred,
And pure Intelligences from God inspyred.
 
Yet fairer is that heaven in which doe raine        85
The soveraine Powres and mightie Potentates,
Which in their high protections doe containe
All mortall princes and imperiall states;
And fayrer yet whereas the royall Seates
And heavenly Dominations are set,        90
From whom all earthly governance is fet.
 
Yet farre more faire be those bright Cherubins,
Which all with golden wings are overdight,
And those eternall burning Seraphins,
Which from their faces dart out fierie light;        95
Yet fairer then they both, and much more bright,
Be th’ Angels and Archangels, which attend
On Gods owne person, without rest or end.
 
These thus in faire each other farre excelling,
As to the Highest they approch more neare,        100
Yet is that Highest farre beyond all telling,
Fairer then all the rest which there appeare,
Though all their beauties joynd together were:
How then can mortall tongue hope to expresse
The image of such endlesse perfectnesse?        105
 
Cease then, my tongue, and lend unto my mynd
Leave to bethinke how great that Beautie is,
Whose utmost parts so beautifull I fynd;
How much more those essentiall parts of His,
His truth, his love, his wisedome, and his blis,        110
His grace, his doome, his mercy, and his might,
By which he lends us of himselfe a sight!
 
Those unto all he daily doth display,
And shew himselfe in th’ image of his grace,
As in a looking glasse, through which he may        115
Be seene of all his creatures vile and base,
That are unable else to see his face,
His glorious face, which glistereth else so bright,
That th’ angels selves can not endure his sight.
 
But we fraile wights, whose sight cannot sustaine        120
The suns bright beames, when he on us doth shyne,
But that their points rebutted backe againe
Are duld, how can we see with feeble eyne
The glory of that Majestie Divine,
In sight of whom both sun and moone are darke,        125
Compared to his least resplendent sparke?
 
The meanes, therefore, which unto us is lent,
Him to behold, is on his workes to looke,
Which he hath made in beauty excellent,
And in the same, as in a brasen booke,        130
To reade enregistred in every nooke
His goodnesse, which his beautie doth declare,
For all thats good is beautifull and faire.
 
Thence gathering plumes of perfect speculation,
To impe the wings of thy high flying mynd,        135
Mount up aloft, through heavenly contemplation,
From this darke world, whose damps the soule do blynd,
And like the native brood of eagles kynd,
On that bright Sunne of Glorie fixe thine eyes,
Clear’d from grosse mists of fraile infirmities.        140
 
Humbled with feare and awfull reverence,
Before the footestoole of his Majestie,
Throw thy selfe downe with trembling innocence,
Ne dare looke up with corruptible eye
On the dred face of that great Deity,        145
For feare lest, if he chaunce to looke on thee,
Thou turne to nought, and quite confounded be.
 
But lowly fall before his mercie seate,
Close covered with the Lambes integrity
From the just wrath of his avengefull threate        150
That sits upon the righteous throne on hy:
His throne is built upon Eternity,
More firme and durable then steele or brasse
Or the hard diamond, which them both doth passe.
 
His scepter is the rod of Righteousnesse,        155
With which he bruseth all his foes to dust,
And the great Dragon strongly doth represse,
Under the rigour of his judgement just;
His seate is Truth, to which the faithfull trust;
From whence proceed her beames so pure and bright,        160
That all about him sheddeth glorious light.
 
Light farre exceeding that bright blazing sparke,
Which darted is from Titans flaming head,
That with his beames enlumineth the darke
And dampish air, wherby al things are red:        165
Whose nature yet so much is marvelled
Of mortall wits, that it doth much amaze
The greatest wisards which thereon do gaze.
 
But that immortall light which there doth shine
Is many thousand times more bright, more cleare,        170
More excellent, more glorious, more divine;
Through which to God all mortall actions here,
And even the thoughts of men, do plaine appeare:
For from th’ Eternall Truth it doth proceed,
Through heavenly vertue, which her beames doe breed.        175
 
With the great glorie of that wondrous light
His throne is all encompassed around,
And hid in his owne brightnesse from the sight
Of all that looke thereon with eyes unsound:
And underneath his feet are to be found        180
Thunder, and lightning, and tempestuous fyre,
The instruments of his avenging yre.
 
There in his bosome Sapience doth sit,
The soveraine dearling of the Deity,
Clad like a queene in royall robes, most fit        185
For so great powre and peerelesse majesty,
And all with gemmes and jewels gorgeously
Adornd, that brighter then the starres appeare,
And make her native brightnes seem more cleare.
 
And on her head a crowne of purest gold        190
Is set, in signe of highest soveraignty;
And in her hand a scepter she doth hold,
With which she rules the house of God on hy,
And menageth the ever-moving sky,
And in the same these lower creatures all,        195
Subjected to her powre imperiall.
 
Both heaven and earth obey unto her will,
And all the creatures which they both containe:
For of her fulnesse, which the world doth fill,
They all partake, and do in state remaine,        200
As their great Maker did at first ordaine,
Through observation of her high beheast,
By which they first were made, and still increast.
 
The fairenesse of her face no tongue can tell;
For she the daughters of all wemens race,        205
And angels eke, in beautie doth excell,
Sparkled on her from Gods owne glorious face,
And more increast by her owne goodly grace,
That it doth farre exceed all humane thought,
Ne can on earth compared be to ought.        210
 
Ne could that painter (had he lived yet)
Which pictured Venus with so curious quill
That all posteritie admyred it,
Have purtrayd this, for all his maistring skill;
Ne she her selfe, had she remained still,        215
And were as faire as fabling wits do fayne,
Could once come neare this Beauty soverayne.
 
But had those wits, the wonders of their dayes,
Or that sweete Teian poet which did spend
His plenteous vaine in setting forth her prayse,        220
Seene but a glims of this which I pretend,
How wondrously would he her face commend,
Above that idole of his fayning thought,
That all the world shold with his rimes be fraught!
 
How then dare I, the novice of his art,        225
Presume to picture so divine a wight,
Or hope t’ expresse her least perfections part,
Whose beautie filles the heavens with her light,
And darkes the earth with shadow of her sight?
Ah! gentle Muse, thou art too weake and faint,        230
The pourtraict of so heavenly hew to paint.
 
Let angels, which her goodly face behold
And see at will, her soveraigne praises sing,
And those most sacred mysteries unfold
Of that faire love of mightie Heavens King.        235
Enough is me t’ admyre so heavenly thing,
And being thus with her huge love possest,
In th’ only wonder of her selfe to rest.
 
But who so may, thrise happie man him hold
Of all on earth, whom God so much doth grace,        240
And lets his owne Beloved to behold:
For in the view of her celestiall face
All joy, all blisse, all happinesse have place,
Ne ought on earth can want unto the wight
Who of her selfe can win the wishfull sight.        245
 
For she out of her secret threasury
Plentie of riches forth on him will powre,
Even heavenly riches, which there hidden ly
Within the closet of her chastest bowre,
Th’ eternall portion of her precious dowre,        250
Which Mighty God hath given to her free,
And to all those which thereof worthy bee.
 
None thereof worthy be, but those whom shee
Vouchsafeth to her presence to receave,
And letteth them her lovely face to see,        255
Wherof such wondrous pleasures they conceave,
And sweete contentment, that it doth bereave
Their soule of sense, through infinite delight,
And them transport from flesh into the spright.
 
In which they see such admirable things,        260
As carries them into an extasy,
And heare such heavenly notes, and carolings
Of Gods high praise, that filles the brasen sky,
And feele such joy and pleasure inwardly,
That maketh them all worldly cares forget,        265
And onely thinke on that before them set.
 
Ne from thenceforth doth any fleshly sense,
Or idle thought of earthly things remaine;
But all that earst seemd sweet seemes now offense,
And all that pleased earst now seemes to paine:        270
Their joy, their comfort, their desire, their gaine,
Is fixed all on that which now they see;
All other sights but fayned shadowes bee.
 
And that faire lampe, which useth to enflame
The hearts of men with selfe consuming fyre,        275
Thenceforth seemes fowle, and full of sinfull blame;
And all that pompe, to which proud minds aspyre
By name of honor, and so much desyre,
Seemes to them basenesse, and all riches drosse,
And all mirth sadnesse, and all lucre losse.        280
 
So full their eyes are of that glorious sight,
And senses fraught with such satietie,
That in nought else on earth they can delight,
But in th’ aspect of that felicitie,
Which they have written in their inward ey;        285
On which they feed, and in their fastened mynd
All happie joy and full contentment fynd.
 
Ah! then, my hungry soule, which long hast fed
On idle fancies of thy foolish thought,
And, with false Beauties flattring bait misled,        290
Hast after vaine deceiptfull shadowes sought,
Which all are fled, and now have left thee nought
But late repentance, through thy follies prief;
Ah! ceasse to gaze on matter of thy grief.
 
And looke at last up to that Soveraine Light,        295
From whose pure beams al perfect Beauty springs,
That kindleth love in every godly spright,
Even the love of God, which loathing brings
Of this vile world and these gay seeming things;
With whose sweete pleasures being so possest,        300
Thy straying thoughts henceforth for ever rest.
 
 
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