Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. I. Chaucer to Donne
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
Extracts from The Shepheard’s Calender: Fable of the Oak and the Briar
By Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599)
[1579–80. February.]

  THERE grewe an aged Tree on the greene,
A goodly Oake sometime had it bene,
With armes full strong and largely displayd,
But of their leaves they were disarayde:
The bodie bigge, and mightely pight,        5
Throughly rooted, and of wonderous hight;
Whilome had bene the King of the field,
And mochell mast to the husband did yielde,
And with his nuts larded many swine:
But now the gray mosse marred his rine;        10
His bared boughes were beaten with stormes,
His toppe was bald, and wasted with wormes,
His honor decayed, his braunches sere.
  Hard by his side grewe a bragging Brere,
Which proudly thrust into Thelement,        15
And seemed to threat the Firmament:
It was embellisht with blossomes fayre,
And thereto aye wonned to repayre
The shepheards daughters to gather flowres,
To peinct their girlonds with his colowres;        20
And in his small bushes used to shrowde
The sweete Nightingale singing so lowde;
Which made this foolish Brere wexe so bold,
That on a time he cast him to scold
And snebbe the good Oake, for he was old.        25
  ‘Why standst there (quoth he) thou brutish blocke?
Nor for fruict nor for shadowe serves thy stocke;
Seest how fresh my flowers bene spredde,
Dyed in Lilly white and Cremsin redde,
With Leaves engrained in lusty greene;        30
Colours meete to clothe a mayden Queene?
Thy wast bignes but combers the grownd,
And dirks the beauty of my blossomes rownd:
The mouldie mosse, which thee accloieth,
My Sinamon smell too much annoieth:        35
Wherefore soone I rede thee hence remove,
Least thou the price of my displeasure prove.’
So spake this bold brere with great disdaine:
Little him aunswered the Oake againe,
But yeelded, with shame and greefe adawed,        40
That of a weede he was overcrawed.
  Yt chaunced after upon a day,
The Hus-bandman selfe to come that way,
Of custome for to survewe his grownd,
And his trees of state in compasse rownd:        45
Him when the spitefull brere had espyed,
Causelesse complained, and lowdly cryed
Unto his lord, stirring up sterne strife.
  ‘O, my liege Lord! the God of my life!
Pleaseth you ponder your Suppliants plaint,        50
Caused of wrong and cruell constraint,
Which I your poore Vassall dayly endure;
And, but your goodnes the same recure,
Am like for desperate doole to dye,
Through felonous force of mine enemie.’        55
  Greatly aghast with this piteous plea,
Him rested the goodman on the lea,
And badde the Brere in his plaint proceede.
With painted words tho gan this proude weede
(As most usen Ambitious folke:)        60
His colowred crime with craft to cloke.
  ‘Ah, my soveraigne! Lord of creatures all,
Thou placer of plants both humble and tall,
Was not I planted of thine owne hand,
To be the primrose of all thy land;        65
With flowring blossomes to furnish the prime,
And scarlot berries in Sommer time?
How falls it then that this faded Oake,
Whose bodie is sere, whose braunches broke,
Whose naked Armes stretch unto the fyre,        70
Unto such tyrannie doth aspire;
Hindering with his shade my lovely light,
And robbing me of the swete sonnes sight?
So beate his old boughes my tender side,
That oft the bloud springeth from woundes wyde;        75
Untimely my flowres forced to fall,
That bene the honor of your Coronall:
And oft he lets his cancker-wormes light
Upon my braunches, to worke me more spight;
And oft his hoarie locks downe doth cast,        80
Where-with my fresh flowretts bene defast:
For this, and many more such outrage,
Craving your goodlihead to aswage
The ranckorous rigour of his might,
Nought aske I, but onely to hold my right;        85
Submitting me to your good sufferance,
And praying to be garded from greevance.’
  To this the Oake cast him to replie
Well as he couth; but his enemie
Had kindled such coles of displeasure,        90
That the good man noulde stay his leasure,
But home him hasted with furious heate,
Encreasing his wrath with many a threate;
His harmefull Hatchet he hent in hand,
(Alas! that it so ready should stand!)        95
And to the field alone he speedeth,
(Ay little helpe to harme there needeth!)
Anger nould let him speake to the tree,
Enaunter 1 his rage mought cooled bee;
But to the roote bent his sturdy stroake,        100
And made many wounds in the wast Oake.
The Axes edge did oft turne againe,
As halfe unwilling to cutte the graine;
Semed, the sencelesse yron dyd feare,
Or to wrong holy eld did forbeare;        105
For it had bene an auncient tree,
Sacred with many a mysteree,
And often crost with the priestes crewe, 2
And often halowed with holy-water dewe:
But sike fancies weren foolerie,        110
And broughten this Oake to this miserye;
For nought mought they quitten him from decay,
For fiercely the good man at him did laye.
The blocke oft groned under the blow,
And sighed to see his neare overthrow.        115
In fine, the steele had pierced his pitth,
Tho downe to the earth he fell forthwith.
His wonderous weight made the ground to quake,
Thearth shronke under him, and seemed to shake:—
There lyeth the Oake, pitied of none!        120
  Now stands the Brere like a lord alone,
Puffed up with pryde and vaine pleasaunce;
But all this glee had no continuaunce:
For eftsones Winter gan to approche;
The blustering Boreas did encroche,        125
And beate upon the solitarie Brere;
For nowe no succoure was seene him nere.
Now gan he repent his pryde to late;
For, naked left and disconsolate,
The byting frost nipt his stalke dead,        130
The watrie wette weighed downe his head,
And heaped snowe burdned him so sore,
That nowe upright he can stand no more;
And, being downe, is trodde in the durt,
Of cattell, and brouzed, and sorely hurt.        135
Such was thend of this Ambitious brere,
For scorning Eld—
Note 1. lest. [back]
Note 2. holy vessel, cruise. [back]

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