Edmund Spenser (1552?1599). The Complete Poetical Works. 1908.
The Shepheardes Calender
IN this Æglogue two shepheards boyes, taking occasion of the season, beginne to make purpose of love, and other pleasaunce which to springtime is most agreeable. The speciall meaning hereof is to give certaine markes and tokens to know Cupide, the poets god of love. But more particularlye. I thinke, in the person of Thomalin is meant some secrete freend, who scorned Love 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 arrow.
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. Overwent, overgone. Alegge, to lessen or aswage. To quell, to abate. Welkin, the skie. The swallow, which bird useth to be counted the messenger, and as it were, the forerunner, of springe. Flora, the goddesse of flowres, but indede (as saith Tacitus) a famous harlot, which, with the abuse of her body having 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 bower, that is, the pleasaunt field, 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. Forthy, 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 Love 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 oute of mynde. Assotte, to dote. His slomber: To breake Loves slomber is to exercise the delightes of love and wanton pleasures. Winges of purple, so is he feyned of the poetes. For als: He imitateth Virgils verse,
Est mihi namque domi pater, est injusta noverca, &c.
A dell, a hole in the ground. Spell is a kinde of verse or charme, that in elder tymes they used often to say over every thing that they would have preserved, as the nightspel for theeves, 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 yvie todde, a thicke bush. Swaine, a boye: for so is he described of the poetes to be a boye, sc. alwayes freshe and lustie: blindfolded, because he maketh no difference of personages: wyth divers coloured winges, sc. 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 have shafts, some leaden, some golden: that is, both pleasure for the gracious and loved, and sorow for the lover 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 Love, being now most excellently translated into Latine, by the singuler learned man Angelus Politianus: whych worke I have seene, amongst other of thys poets doings, very wel translated also into Englishe rymes. Wimble and wighte, quicke and deliver. In the heele is very poetically spoken, and not without speciall judgement. 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 over, save onely 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 Polyxena in the temple of Apollo: which mysticall fable Eustathius unfolding sayth: that by wounding in the hele is meant lustfull love. For from the heele (as say the best phisitions) to the previe 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 Hipocrates) yf those veynes there be cut asonder, the partie straighte becometh cold and unfruiteful. Which reason our poete wel weighing, maketh this shepheards boye of purpose to be wounded by Love in the heele. Latched, caught. Wroken, revenged. For once: In this tale is sette out the simplicitye of shepheards opinion of Love. Stouping Phæbus is a periphrasis of the sunne setting.
Hereby is meant, that all the delights of love, wherein wanton youth walloweth, be but follye mixt with bitternesse, and sorow sawced with repentaunce. For besides that the very affection of love it selfe tormenteth the mynde, and vexeth the body many wayes, with unrestfulnesse all night, and wearines all day, seeking for that we can not have, and fynding that we would not have: even the selfe things which best before us lyked, 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 us annoyaunce, when yougthes flowre is withered, and we fynde our bodyes and wits aunswere not to suche vayne jollitie and lustfull pleasaunce.