Verse > Edmund Spenser > Complete Poetical Works
Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599).  The Complete Poetical Works.  1908.
Fowre Hymnes
An Hymne in Honour of Love




  HAVING, in the greener times of my youth, composed these former two hymnes in the praise of love and beautie, and finding that the same too much pleased those of like age and disposition, which, being too vehemently caried with that kind of affection, do rather sucke out poyson to their strong passion, then hony to their honest delight, I was moved by the one of you two most excellent Ladies, to call in the same. But being unable so to doe, by reason that many copies thereof were formerly scattered abroad, I resolved at least to amend, and by way of retractation to reforme them, making in stead of those two hymnes of earthly or naturall love and beautie, two others of heavenly and celestiall. The which I doe dedicate joyntly unto you two honorable sisters, as to the most excellent and rare ornaments of all true love and beautie, both in the one and the other kinde, humbly beseeching you to vouchsafe the patronage of them, and to accept this my humble service, in lieu of the great graces and honourable favours which ye dayly shew unto me, untill such time as I may by better meanes yeeld you some more notable testimonie of my thankfull mind and dutifull devotion.
  And even so I pray for your happinesse.
  Greenwich, this first of September, 1596.
Your Honors most bounden ever
            in all humble service,
Ed. Sp.    

  [The noblewomen to whom this volume is dedicated were sisters, of the great Russell family. The Lady Margaret was that Countess of Cumberland to whom Daniel, a few years later, addressed the most noble of his poems. The Countess of Warwick (whose name was Anne, not Mary) was the widow of Leicester’s brother, ‘the good earl,’ and, as such, had found mention in ‘The Ruins of Time.’
  The words of the dedication have been variously interpreted. The first pair of hymns, composed, we read, ‘in the greener times of my youth,’ (by which we are to understand, probably, the period of the Calendar and of ‘Mother Hubberd’s Tale’) having ‘too much pleased those of like age and disposition,’ were apparently, in 1596, still popular: but one of the noble sisters, disapproving of them, would have them ‘called in;’ whereupon, ‘being unable so to doe,’ the poet ‘resolved at least to amend and by way of retractation to reforme them, making, in stead of those two hymns of earthly or naturall love and beautie, two others of heavenly and celestiall.’ The difficulty is in the final clauses. Did the poet, besides composing the two later hymns, also reduce the earlier to inoffensiveness? or did he let these stand as originally written, and atone for them merely by composing their substitutes? At first, it would seem as if the second interpretation, though more in accord with the words of the letter, were impossible. For in the earlier hymns, as they are printed, there could surely be nothing to shock the most extravagant of prudes: besides, if the lady objected to them in their early form, why should the poet publish them in that form? Yet if, on the other hand, these hymns, as they are printed, be the result of expurgation, one does not see what the poet can have expurgated. Both are organically Platonic: there would seem to be no place in them, at any point, for matter even faintly licentious. Perhaps, however, it has been assumed too readily that the fault of these early hymns was of that kind. Dr. Grosart thinks that the sister who protested was the Countess of Warwick, for she is known to have inclined to Puritanism. If it was she, her protest may very well have been, not against immodesty, but against the very subject matter of these hymns, ‘earthly or naturall love and beautie.’ She may have reprobated them for sinful vanities, just as her nephew, Sidney, being on his death-bed, reprobated his own Arcadia and gave earnest orders for its destruction. In atonement for such a fault, Spenser might well issue the early hymns as they had been written, and let their vanity be foil to the earnestness of the later, composed to replace them. His repentance would then be that of the December eclogue:—
        ‘I, that whilome wont to frame my pype
Unto the shifting of the shepheards foote,
Sike follies nowe have gathered as too ripe,
And cast hem out as rotten and unsoote.
The loser lasse [Rosalind] I cast to please nomore:
One if I please [i. e. God], enough is me therefore.’
The later repentance certainly need not be taken as at all more serious than the earlier, need not be read as an example of ‘the sensitive purity of the poet’s nature.’ In composing his first two hymns he had aimed to embody in verse some of those Neo-Platonic doctrines which were then so popular in Italy, best known to Englishmen, perhaps, in the fourth book of Castiglione’s Courtier. His success had been the more brilliant in that he was first in England to occupy the field. Later, when the Countess of Warwick would have persuaded him that such vanities were unworthy of a ‘sage and serious’ poet, one can understand how he might acquiesce, and, without very real contrition for these youthful hymns, gratify her by others more in consonance with her convictions. For the Neo-Platonic modes of thought were as applicable to Christian doctrine as to theories of ‘earthly or naturall love and beautie,’ and a poet might be sincere in both uses, since neither would be understood literally and since both embodied the spirit of his most serious thought.]


LOVE, that long since hast to thy mighty powre
Perforce subdude my poore captived hart,
And raging now therein with restlesse stowre,
Doest tyrannize in everie weaker part,
Faine would I seeke to ease my bitter smart        5
By any service I might do to thee,
Or ought that else might to thee pleasing bee.
And now t’ asswage the force of this new flame,
And make thee more propitious in my need,
I meane to sing the praises of thy name,        10
And thy victorious conquests to areed;
By which thou madest many harts to bleed
Of mighty victors, with wyde wounds embrewed,
And by thy cruell darts to thee subdewed.
Onely I feare my wits, enfeebled late        15
Through the sharpe sorrowes which thou hast me bred,
Should faint, and words should faile me to relate
The wondrous triumphs of thy great godhed.
But, if thou wouldst vouchsafe to overspred
Me with the shadow of thy gentle wing,        20
I should enabled be thy actes to sing.
Come then, O come, thou mightie God of Love,
Out of thy silver bowres and secret blisse,
Where thou doest sit in Venus lap above,
Bathing thy wings in her ambrosiall kisse,        25
That sweeter farre then any nectar is;
Come softly, and my feeble breast inspire
With gentle furie, kindled of thy fire.
And ye, sweet Muses, which have often proved
The piercing points of his avengefull darts,        30
And ye, faire nimphs, which oftentimes have loved
The cruell worker of your kindly smarts,
Prepare your selves, and open wide your harts,
For to receive the triumph of your glorie,
That made you merie oft, when ye were sorie.        35
And ye, faire blossomes of youths wanton breed,
Which in the conquests of your beautie bost,
Wherewith your lovers feeble eyes you feed,
But sterve their harts, that needeth nourture most,
Prepare your selves to march amongst his host,        40
And all the way this sacred hymne do sing,
Made in the honor of your soveraigne king.
GREAT God of might, that reignest in the mynd,
And all the bodie to thy hest doest frame,
Victor of gods, subduer of mankynd,        45
That doest the lions and fell tigers tame,
Making their cruell rage thy scornefull game,
And in their roring taking great delight,
Who can expresse the glorie of thy might?
Or who alive can perfectly declare        50
The wondrous cradle of thine infancie,
When thy great mother Venus first thee bare,
Begot of Plentie and of Penurie,
Though elder then thine owne nativitie;
And yet a chyld, renewing still thy yeares,        55
And yet the eldest of the heavenly peares?
For ere this worlds still moving mightie masse
Out of great Chaos ugly prison crept,
In which his goodly face long hidden was
From heavens view, and in deepe darknesse kept,        60
Love, that had now long time securely slept
In Venus lap, unarmed then and naked,
Gan reare his head, by Clotho being waked.
And taking to him wings of his owne heate,
Kindled at first from heavens life-giving fyre,        65
He gan to move out of his idle seate,
Weakely at first, but after with desyre
Lifted aloft, he gan to mount up hyre,
And like fresh eagle, make his hardie flight
Through all that great wide wast, yet wanting light.        70
Yet wanting light to guide his wandring way,
His owne faire mother, for all creatures sake,
Did lend him light from her owne goodly ray:
Then through the world his way he gan to take,
The world, that was not till he did it make,        75
Whose sundrie parts he from them selves did sever,
The which before had lyen confused ever.
The earth, the ayre, the water, and the fyre,
Then gan to raunge them selves in huge array,
And with contrary forces to conspyre        80
Each against other, by all meanes they may,
Threatning their owne confusion and decay:
Ayre hated earth, and water hated fyre,
Till Love relented their rebellious yre.
He then them tooke, and tempering goodly well        85
Their contrary dislikes with loved meanes,
Did place them all in order, and compell
To keepe them selves within their sundrie raines,
Together linkt with adamantine chaines;
Yet so as that in every living wight        90
They mixe themselves, and shew their kindly might.
So ever since they firmely have remained,
And duly well observed his beheast;
Through which now all these things that are contained
Within this goodly cope, both most and least,        95
Their being have, and dayly are increast
Through secret sparks of his infused fyre,
Which in the barraine cold he doth inspyre.
Thereby they all do live, and moved are
To multiply the likenesse of their kynd,        100
Whilest they seeke onely, without further care,
To quench the flame which they in burning fynd:
But man, that breathes a more immortall mynd,
Not for lusts sake, but for eternitie,
Seekes to enlarge his lasting progenie.        105
For having yet in his deducted spright
Some sparks remaining of that heavenly fyre,
He is enlumind with that goodly light,
Unto like goodly semblant to aspyre:
Therefore in choice of love, he doth desyre        110
That seemes on earth most heavenly, to embrace;
That same is Beautie, borne of heavenly race.
For sure, of all that in this mortall frame
Contained is, nought more divine doth seeme,
Or that resembleth more th’ immortall flame        115
Of heavenly light, then Beauties glorious beame.
What wonder then, if with such rage extreme
Fraile men, whose eyes seek heavenly things to see,
At sight thereof so much enravisht bee?
Which well perceiving, that imperious boy        120
Doth therwith tip his sharp empoisned darts;
Which, glancing through the eyes with countenance coy,
Rest not till they have pierst the trembling harts,
And kindled flame in all their inner parts,
Which suckes the blood, and drinketh up the lyfe        125
Of carefull wretches with consuming griefe.
Thenceforth they playne, and make ful piteous mone
Unto the author of their balefull bane;
The daies they waste, the nights they grieve and grone,
Their lives they loath, and heavens light disdaine;        130
No light but that whose lampe doth yet remaine
Fresh burning in the image of their eye,
They deigne to see, and seeing it still dye.
The whylst thou, tyrant Love, doest laugh and scorne
At their complaints, making their paine thy play;        135
Whylest they lye languishing like thrals forlorne,
The whyles thou doest triumph in their decay,
And otherwhyles, their dying to delay,
Thou doest emmarble the proud hart of her,
Whose love before their life they doe prefer.        140
So hast thou often done (ay me the more!)
To me thy vassall, whose yet bleeding hart
With thousand wounds thou mangled hast so sore
That whole remaines scarse any little part;
Yet to augment the anguish of my smart,        145
Thou hast enfrosen her disdainefull brest,
That no one drop of pitie there doth rest.
Why then do I this honor unto thee,
Thus to ennoble thy victorious name,
Since thou doest shew no favour unto mee,        150
Ne once move ruth in that rebellious dame,
Somewhat to slacke the rigour of my flame?
Certes small glory doest thou winne hereby,
To let her live thus free, and me to dy.
But if thou be indeede, as men thee call,        155
The worlds great parent, the most kind preserver
Of living wights, the soveraine lord of all,
How falles it then that with thy furious fervour
Thou doest afflict as well the not deserver,
As him that doeth thy lovely heasts despize,        160
And on thy subjects most doest tyrannize?
Yet herein eke thy glory seemeth more,
By so hard handling those which best thee serve,
That ere thou doest them unto grace restore,
Thou mayest well trie if they will ever swerve,        165
And mayest them make it better to deserve,
And having got it, may it more esteeme;
For things hard gotten men more dearely deeme.
So hard those heavenly beauties be enfyred,
As things divine least passions doe impresse,        170
The more of stedfast mynds to be admyred,
The more they stayed be on stedfastnesse:
But baseborne mynds such lamps regard the lesse,
Which at first blowing take not hastie fyre;
Such fancies feele no love, but loose desyre.        175
For Love is lord of truth and loialtie,
Lifting himselfe out of the lowly dust
On golden plumes up to the purest skie,
Above the reach of loathly sinfull lust,
Whose base affect, through cowardly distrust        180
Of his weake wings, dare not to heaven fly,
But like a moldwarpe in the earth doth ly.
His dunghill thoughts, which do themselves enure
To dirtie drosse, no higher dare aspyre,
Ne can his feeble earthly eyes endure        185
The flaming light of that celestiall fyre,
Which kindleth love in generous desyre,
And makes him mount above the native might
Of heavie earth, up to the heavens hight.
Such is the powre of that sweet passion,        190
That it all sordid basenesse doth expell,
And the refyned mynd doth newly fashion
Unto a fairer forme, which now doth dwell
In his high thought, that would it selfe excell;
Which he beholding still with constant sight,        195
Admires the mirrour of so heavenly light.
Whose image printing in his deepest wit,
He thereon feeds his hungrie fantasy,
Still full, yet never satisfyde with it;
Like Tantale, that in store doth sterved ly,        200
So doth he pine in most satiety;
For nought may quench his infinite desyre,
Once kindled through that first conceived fyre.
Thereon his mynd affixed wholly is,
Ne thinks on ought, but how it to attaine;        205
His care, his joy, his hope is all on this,
That seemes in it all blisses to containe,
In sight whereof all other blisse seemes vaine.
Thrise happie man, might he the same possesse,
He faines himselfe, and doth his fortune blesse.        210
And though he do not win his wish to end,
Yet thus farre happie he him selfe doth weene,
That heavens such happie grace did to him lend,
As thing on earth so heavenly to have seene,
His harts enshrined saint, his heavens queene,        215
Fairer then fairest, in his fayning eye,
Whose sole aspect he counts felicitye.
Then forth he casts in his unquiet thought,
What he may do, her favour to obtaine;
What brave exploit, what perill hardly wrought,        220
What puissant conquest, what adventurous paine,
May please her best, and grace unto him gaine:
He dreads no danger, nor misfortune feares;
His faith, his fortune, in his breast he beares.
Thou art his god, thou art his mightie guyde,        225
Thou, being blind, letst him not see his feares,
But cariest him to that which he hath eyde,
Through seas, through flames, through thousand swords and speares:
Ne ought so strong that may his force withstand,
With which thou armest his resistlesse hand.        230
Witnesse Leander in the Euxine waves,
And stout Æneas in the Trojane fyre,
Achilles preassing through the Phrygian glaives,
And Orpheus daring to provoke the yre
Of damned fiends, to get his love retyre:        235
For both through heaven and hell thou makest way,
To win them worship which to thee obay.
And if by all these perils and these paynes
He may but purchase lyking in her eye,
What heavens of joy then to himselfe he faynes!        240
Eftsoones he wypes quite out of memory
What ever ill before he did aby;
Had it bene death, yet would he die againe,
To live thus happie as her grace to gaine.
Yet when he hath found favour to his will,        245
He nathemore can so contented rest,
But forceth further on, and striveth still
T’ approch more neare, till in her inmost brest
He may embosomd bee, and loved best;
And yet not best, but to be lov’d alone;        250
For love can not endure a paragone.
The feare whereof, O how doth it torment
His troubled mynd with more then hellish paine!
And to his fayning fansie represent
Sights never seene, and thousand shadowes vaine,        255
To breake his sleepe and waste his ydle braine;
Thou that hast never lov’d canst not beleeve
Least part of th’ evils which poore lovers greeve.
The gnawing envie, the hart-fretting feare,
The vaine surmizes, the distrustfull showes,        260
The false reports that flying tales doe beare,
The doubts, the daungers, the delayes, the woes,
The fayned friends, the unassured foes,
With thousands more then any tongue can tell,
Doe make a lovers life a wretches hell.        265
Yet is there one more cursed then they all,
That cancker worme, that monster Gelosie,
Which eates the hart, and feedes upon the gall,
Turning all loves delight to miserie,
Through feare of loosing his felicitie.        270
Ah, gods! that ever ye that monster placed
In gentle love, that all his joyes defaced!
By these, O Love, thou doest thy entrance make
Unto thy heaven, and doest the more endeere
Thy pleasures unto those which them partake,        275
As after stormes, when clouds begin to cleare,
The sunne more bright and glorious doth appeare;
So thou thy folke, through paines of Purgatorie,
Dost beare unto thy blisse, and heavens glorie.
There thou them placest in a paradize        280
Of all delight and joyous happie rest,
Where they doe feede on nectar heavenly wize,
With Hercules and Hebe, and the rest
Of Venus dearlings, through her bountie blest,
And lie like gods in yvorie beds arayd,        285
With rose and lillies over them displayd.
There with thy daughter Pleasure they doe play
Their hurtlesse sports, without rebuke or blame,
And in her snowy bosome boldly lay
Their quiet heads, devoyd of guilty shame,        290
After full joyance of their gentle game;
Then her they crowne their goddesse and their queene,
And decke with floures thy altars well beseene.
Ay me! deare lord, that ever I might hope,
For all the paines and woes that I endure,        295
To come at length unto the wished scope
Of my desire, or might my selfe assure,
That happie port for ever to recure!
Then would I thinke these paines no paines at all,
And all my woes to be but penance small.        300
Then would I sing of thine immortall praise
An heavenly hymne, such as the angels sing,
And thy triumphant name then would I raise
Bove all the gods, thee onely honoring,
My guide, my god, my victor, and my king:        305
Till then, dread lord, vouchsafe to take of me
This simple song, thus fram’d in praise of thee.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.