Verse > Edmund Spenser > Complete Poetical Works
Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599).  The Complete Poetical Works.  1908.
The Faerie Queene
Book I. The Legend of the Knight of the Red Crosse.
Canto I

LO! I the man, whose Muse whylome did maske,
As time her taught, in lowly shephards weeds,
Am now enforst, a farre unfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine oaten reeds,
And sing of knights and ladies gentle deeds;        5
Whose praises having slept in silence long,
Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
To blazon broade emongst her learned throng:
Fierce warres and faithfull loves shall moralize my song.
Helpe then, O holy virgin, chiefe of nyne,
Thy weaker novice to performe thy will;
Lay forth out of thine everlasting scryne
The antique rolles, which there lye hidden still,
Of Faerie knights, and fayrest Tanaquill,
Whom that most noble Briton Prince so long        15
Sought through the world, and suffered so much ill,
That I must rue his undeserved wrong:
O helpe thou my weake wit, and sharpen my dull tong.
And thou, most dreaded impe of highest Jove.
Faire Venus sonne, that with thy cruell dart        20
At that good knight so cunningly didst rove,
That glorious fire it kindled in his hart,
Lay now thy deadly heben bowe apart,
And with thy mother mylde come to mine ayde:
Come both, and with you bring triumphant Mart,        25
In loves and gentle jollities arraid,
After his murdrous spoyles and bloudie rage allayd.
And with them eke, O Goddesse heavenly bright,
Mirrour of grace and majestie divine,
Great Ladie of the greatest Isle, whose light        30
Like Phœbus lampe throughout the world doth shine,
Shed thy faire beames into my feeble eyne,
And raise my thoughtes, too humble and too vile,
To thinke of that true glorious type of thine,
The argument of mine afflicted stile:        35
The which to heare vouchsafe, O dearest dread, a while.

        The patrone of true Holinesse
  Foule Errour doth defeate:
Hypocrisie, him to entrappe,
  Doth to his home entreate.

A GENTLE knight was pricking on the plaine,
Ycladd in mightie armes and silver shielde,
Wherein old dints of deepe woundes did remaine,
The cruell markes of many’ a bloody fielde;        40
Yet armes till that time did he never wield:
His angry steede did chide his foming bitt,
As much disdayning to the curbe to yield:
Full jolly knight he seemd, and faire did sitt,
As one for knightly giusts and fierce encounters fitt.        45
But on his brest a bloodie crosse he bore,
The deare remembrance of his dying Lord,
For whose sweete sake that glorious badge he wore,
And dead as living ever him ador’d:
Upon his shield the like was also scor’d,        50
For soveraine hope, which in his helpe he had:
Right faithfull true he was in deede and word,
But of his cheere did seeme too solemne sad;
Yet nothing did he dread, but ever was ydrad.
Upon a great adventure he was bond,
That greatest Gloriana to him gave,
That greatest glorious queene of Faery Lond,
To winne him worshippe, and her grace to have,
Which of all earthly thinges he most did crave;
And ever as he rode his hart did earne        60
To prove his puissance in battell brave
Upon his foe, and his new force to learne;
Upon his foe, a dragon horrible and stearne.
A lovely ladie rode him faire beside,
Upon a lowly asse more white then snow,        65
Yet she much whiter, but the same did hide
Under a vele, that wimpled was full low,
And over all a blacke stole shee did throw:
As one that inly mournd, so was she sad,
And heavie sate upon her palfrey slow:        70
Seemed in heart some hidden care she had;
And by her in a line a milkewhite lambe she lad.
So pure and innocent, as that same lambe,
She was in life and every vertuous lore,
And by descent from royall lynage came        75
Of ancient kinges and queenes, that had of yore
Their scepters stretcht from east to westerne shore,
And all the world in their subjection held,
Till that infernall feend with foule uprore
Forwasted all their land, and them expeld:        80
Whom to avenge, she had this knight from far compeld.
Behind her farre away a dwarfe did lag,
That lasie seemd, in being ever last,
Or wearied with bearing of her bag
Of needments at his backe. Thus as they past,        85
The day with cloudes was suddeine overcast,
And angry Jove an hideous storme of raine
Did poure into his lemans lap so fast,
That everie wight to shrowd it did constrain,
And this faire couple eke to shroud themselves were fain.        90
Enforst to seeke some covert nigh at hand,
A shadie grove not farr away they spide,
That promist ayde the tempest to withstand:
Whose loftie trees, yclad with sommers pride,
Did spred so broad, that heavens light did hide,        95
Not perceable with power of any starr:
And all within were pathes and alleies wide,
With footing worne, and leading inward farr:
Faire harbour that them seemes, so in they entred ar.
And foorth they passe, with pleasure forward led,
Joying to heare the birdes sweete harmony,
Which, therein shrouded from the tempest dred,
Seemd in their song to scorne the cruell sky.
Much can they praise the trees so straight and hy,
The sayling pine, the cedar proud and tall,        105
The vine-propp elme, the poplar never dry,
The builder oake, sole king of forrests all,
The aspine good for staves, the cypresse funerall,
The laurell, meed of mightie conquerours
And poets sage, the firre that weepeth still,        110
The willow worne of forlorne paramours,
The eugh obedient to the benders will,
The birch for shaftes, the sallow for the mill,
The mirrhe sweete bleeding in the bitter wound,
The warlike beech, the ash for nothing ill,        115
The fruitfull olive, and the platane round,
The carver holme, the maple seeldom inward sound.
Led with delight, they thus beguile the way,
Untill the blustring storme is overblowne;
When, weening to returne whence they did stray,        120
They cannot finde that path, which first was showne,
But wander too and fro in waies unknowne,
Furthest from end then, when they neerest weene,
That makes them doubt, their wits be not their owne:
So many pathes, so many turnings seene,        125
That which of them to take, in diverse doubt they been.
At last resolving forward still to fare,
Till that some end they finde, or in or out,
That path they take, that beaten seemd most bare,
And like to lead the labyrinth about;        130
Which when by tract they hunted had throughout,
At length it brought them to a hollowe cave,
Amid the thickest woods. The champion stout
Eftsoones dismounted from his courser brave,
And to the dwarfe a while his needlesse spere he gave.        135
‘Be well aware,’ quoth then that ladie milde,
‘Least suddaine mischiefe ye too rash provoke:
The danger hid, the place unknowne and wilde,
Breedes dreadfull doubts: oft fire is without smoke,
And perill without show: therefore your stroke,        140
Sir knight, with-hold, till further tryall made.’
‘Ah, ladie,’ sayd he, ‘shame were to revoke
The forward footing for an hidden shade:
Vertue gives her selfe light, through darkenesse for to wade.’
‘Yea, but,’ quoth she, ‘the perill of this place
I better wot then you; though nowe too late
To wish you backe returne with foule disgrace,
Yet wisedome warnes, whilest foot is in the gate,
To stay the steppe, ere forced to retrate.
This is the wandring wood, this Errours den,        150
A monster vile, whom God and man does hate:
Therefore I read beware.’ ‘Fly, fly!’ quoth then
The fearefull dwarfe: ‘this is no place for living men.’
But full of fire and greedy hardiment,
The youthfull knight could not for ought be staide,        155
But forth unto the darksom hole he went,
And looked in: his glistring armor made
A litle glooming light, much like a shade,
By which he saw the ugly monster plaine,
Halfe like a serpent horribly displaide,        160
But th’ other halfe did womans shape retaine,
Most lothsom, filthie, foule, and full of vile disdaine.
And as she lay upon the durtie ground,
Her huge long taile her den all overspred,
Yet was in knots and many boughtes upwound,        165
Pointed with mortall sting. Of her there bred
A thousand yong ones, which she dayly fed,
Sucking upon her poisnous dugs, eachone
Of sundrie shapes, yet all ill favored:
Soone as that uncouth light upon them shone,        170
Into her mouth they crept, and suddain all were gone.
Their dam upstart, out of her den effraide,
And rushed forth, hurling her hideous taile
About her cursed head, whose folds displaid
Were stretcht now forth at length without entraile.        175
She lookt about, and seeing one in mayle,
Armed to point, sought backe to turne againe;
For light she hated as the deadly bale,
Ay wont in desert darknes to remaine,
Where plain none might her see, nor she see any plaine.        180
Which when the valiant Elfe perceiv’d, he lept
As lyon fierce upon the flying pray,
And with his trenchand blade her boldly kept
From turning backe, and forced her to stay:
Therewith enrag’d she loudly gan to bray,        185
And turning fierce, her speckled taile advaunst,
Threatning her angrie sting, him to dismay:
Who, nought aghast, his mightie hand enhaunst:
The stroke down from her head unto her shoulder glaunst.
Much daunted with that dint, her sence was dazd,
Yet kindling rage her selfe she gathered round,
And all attonce her beastly bodie raizd
With doubled forces high above the ground:
Tho, wrapping up her wrethed sterne arownd,
Lept fierce upon his shield, and her huge traine        195
All suddenly about his body wound,
That hand or foot to stirr he strove in vaine:
God helpe the man so wrapt in Errours endlesse traine.
His lady, sad to see his sore constraint,
Cride out, ‘Now, now, sir knight, shew what ye bee:        200
Add faith unto your force, and be not faint:
Strangle her, els she sure will strangle thee.’
That when he heard, in great perplexitie,
His gall did grate for griefe and high disdaine;
And knitting all his force, got one hand free,        205
Wherewith he grypt her gorge with so great paine,
That soone to loose her wicked bands did her constraine.
Therewith she spewd out of her filthie maw
A floud of poyson horrible and blacke,
Full of great lumps of flesh and gobbets raw,        210
Which stunck so vildly, that it forst him slacke
His grasping hold, and from her turne him backe:
Her vomit full of bookes and papers was,
With loathly frogs and toades, which eyes did lacke,
And creeping sought way in the weedy gras:        215
Her filthie parbreake all the place defiled has.
As when old father Nilus gins to swell
With timely pride above the Aegyptian vale,
His fattie waves doe fertile slime outwell,
And overflow each plaine and lowly dale:        220
But when his later spring gins to avale,
Huge heapes of mudd he leaves, wherin there breed
Ten thousand kindes of creatures, partly male
And partly femall, of his fruitful seed;
Such ugly monstrous shapes elswher may no man reed.        225
The same so sore annoyed has the knight,
That, welnigh choked with the deadly stinke,
His forces faile, ne can no lenger fight.
Whose corage when the feend perceivd to shrinke,
She poured forth out of her hellish sinke        230
Her fruitfull cursed spawne of serpents small,
Deformed monsters, fowle, and blacke as inke,
Which swarming all about his legs did crall,
And him encombred sore, but could not hurt at all.
As gentle shepheard in sweete eventide,
When ruddy Phebus gins to welke in west,
High on an hill, his flocke to vewen wide,
Markes which doe byte their hasty supper best;
A cloud of cumbrous gnattes doe him molest,
All striving to infixe their feeble stinges,        240
That from their noyance he no where can rest,
But with his clownish hands their tender wings
He brusheth oft, and oft doth mar their murmurings.
Thus ill bestedd, and fearefull more of shame
Then of the certeine perill he stood in,        245
Halfe furious unto his foe he came,
Resolvd in minde all suddenly to win,
Or soone to lose, before he once would lin;
And stroke at her with more then manly force,
That from her body, full of filthie sin,        250
He raft her hatefull heade without remorse:
A streame of cole black blood forth gushed from her corse.
Her scattred brood, soone as their parent deare
They saw so rudely falling to the ground,
Groning full deadly, all with troublous feare,        255
Gathred themselves about her body round,
Weening their wonted entrance to have found
At her wide mouth: but being there withstood,
They flocked all about her bleeding wound,
And sucked up their dying mothers bloud,        260
Making her death their life, and eke her hurt their good.
That detestable sight him much amazde,
To see th’ unkindly impes, of heaven accurst,
Devoure their dam; on whom while so he gazd,
Having all satisfide their bloudy thurst,        265
Their bellies swolne he saw with fulnesse burst,
And bowels gushing forth: well worthy end
Of such as drunke her life, the which them nurst!
Now needeth him no lenger labour spend;
His foes have slaine themselves, with whom he should contend.        270
His lady, seeing all that chaunst, from farre,
Approcht in hast to greet his victorie,
And saide, ‘Faire knight, borne under happie starre,
Who see your vanquisht foes before you lye,
Well worthie be you of that armory,        275
Wherein ye have great glory wonne this day,
And proov’d your strength on a strong enimie,
Your first adventure: many such I pray,
And henceforth ever wish that like succeed it may.’
Then mounted he upon his steede againe,
And with the lady backward sought to wend;
That path he kept which beaten was most plaine,
Ne ever would to any by way bend,
But still did follow one unto the end,
The which at last out of the wood them brought.        285
So forward on his way (with God to frend)
He passed forth, and new adventure sought:
Long way he traveiled, before he heard of ought.
At length they chaunst to meet upon the way
An aged sire, in long blacke weedes yclad,        290
His feete all bare, his beard all hoarie gray,
And by his belt his booke he hanging had;
Sober he seemde, and very sagely sad,
And to the ground his eyes were lowly bent,
Simple in shew, and voide of malice bad,        295
And all the way he prayed as he went,
And often knockt his brest, as one that did repent.
He faire the knight saluted, louting low,
Who faire him quited, as that courteous was;
And after asked him, if he did know        300
Of straunge adventures, which abroad did pas.
‘Ah! my dear sonne,’ quoth he, ‘how should, alas!
Silly old man, that lives in hidden cell,
Bidding his beades all day for his trespas,
Tydings of warre and worldly trouble tell?        305
With holy father sits not with such thinges to mell.
‘But if of daunger, which hereby doth dwell,
And homebredd evil ye desire to heare,
Of a straunge man I can you tidings tell,
That wasteth all this countrie farre and neare.’        310
‘Of such,’ saide he, ‘I chiefly doe inquere,
And shall you well rewarde to shew the place,
In which that wicked wight his dayes doth weare:
For to all knighthood it is foule disgrace,
That such a cursed creature lives so long a space.’        315
‘Far hence,’ quoth he, ‘in wastfull wildernesse,
His dwelling is, by which no living wight
May ever passe, but thorough great distresse.’
‘Now,’ saide the ladie, ‘draweth toward night,
And well I wote, that of your later fight        320
Ye all forwearied be: for what so strong,
But, wanting rest, will also want of might?
The Sunne, that measures heaven all day long,
At night doth baite his steedes the ocean waves emong.
‘Then with the Sunne take, sir, your timely rest,
And with new day new worke at once begin:
Untroubled night, they say, gives counsell best.’
‘Right well, sir knight, ye have advised bin,’
Quoth then that aged man; ‘the way to win
Is wisely to advise: now day is spent;        330
Therefore with me ye may take up your in
For this same night.’ The knight was well content:
So with that godly father to his home they went.
A litle lowly hermitage it was,
Downe in a dale, hard by a forests side,        335
Far from resort of people, that did pas
In traveill to and froe: a litle wyde
There was an holy chappell edifyde,
Wherein the hermite dewly wont to say
His holy thinges each morne and even-tyde:        340
Thereby a christall streame did gently play,
Which from a sacred fountaine welled forth alway.
Arrived there, the litle house they fill,
Ne looke for entertainement, where none was:
Rest is their feast, and all thinges at their will;        345
The noblest mind the best contentment has.
With faire discourse the evening so they pas:
For that olde man of pleasing wordes had store,
And well could file his tongue as smooth as glas:
He told of saintes and popes, and evermore        350
He strowd an Ave-Mary after and before.
The drouping night thus creepeth on them fast,
And the sad humor loading their eye liddes,
As messenger of Morpheus, on them cast
Sweet slombring deaw, the which to sleep them biddes:        355
Unto their lodgings then his guestes he riddes:
Where when all drownd in deadly sleepe he findes,
He to his studie goes, and there amiddes
His magick bookes and artes of sundrie kindes,
He seekes out mighty charmes, to trouble sleepy minds.        360
Then choosing out few words most horrible,
(Let none them read) thereof did verses frame;
With which and other spelles like terrible,
He bad awake blacke Plutoes griesly dame,
And cursed heven, and spake reprochful shame        365
Of highest God, the Lord of life and light:
A bold bad man, that dar’d to call by name
Great Gorgon, prince of darknes and dead night,
At which Cocytus quakes, and Styx is put to flight.
And forth he cald out of deepe darknes dredd
Legions of sprights, the which, like litle flyes
Fluttring about his ever damned hedd,
Awaite whereto their service he applyes,
To aide his friendes, or fray his enimies:
Of those he chose out two, the falsest twoo,        375
And fittest for to forge true-seeming lyes;
The one of them he gave a message too,
The other by him selfe staide, other worke to doo.
He, making speedy way through spersed ayre,
And through the world of waters wide and deepe,        380
To Morpheus house doth hastily repaire.
Amid the bowels of the earth full steepe,
And low, where dawning day doth never peepe,
His dwelling is; there Tethys his wet bed
Doth ever wash, and Cynthia still doth steepe        385
In silver deaw his ever-drouping hed,
Whiles sad Night over him her mantle black doth spred.
Whose double gates he findeth locked fast,
The one faire fram’d of burnisht yvory,
The other all with silver overcast;        390
And wakeful dogges before them farre doe lye,
Watching to banish Care their enimy,
Who oft is wont to trouble gentle Sleepe.
By them the sprite doth passe in quietly,
And unto Morpheus comes, whom drowned deepe        395
In drowsie fit he findes: of nothing he takes keepe.
And more, to lulle him in his slumber soft,
A trickling streame from high rock tumbling downe,
And ever drizling raine upon the loft,
Mixt with a murmuring winde, much like the sowne        400
Of swarming bees, did cast him in a swowne:
No other noyse, nor peoples troublous cryes,
As still are wont t’ annoy the walled towne,
Might there be heard: but carelesse Quiet lyes,
Wrapt in eternall silence farre from enimyes.        405
The messenger approching to him spake,
But his waste wordes retournd to him in vaine:
So sound he slept, that nought mought him awake.
Then rudely he him thrust, and pusht with paine,
Whereat he gan to stretch: but he againe        410
Shooke him so hard, that forced him to speake.
As one then in a dreame, whose dryer braine
Is tost with troubled sights and fancies weake,
He mumbled soft, but would not all his silence breake.
The sprite then gan more boldly him to wake,
And threatned unto him the dreaded name
Of Hecate: whereat he gan to quake,
And, lifting up his lompish head, with blame
Halfe angrie asked him, for what he came.
‘Hether,’ quoth he, ‘me Archimago sent,        420
He that the stubborne sprites can wisely tame;
He bids thee to him send for his intent
A fit false dreame, that can delude the sleepers sent.’
The god obayde, and calling forth straight way
A diverse dreame out of his prison darke,        425
Delivered it to him, and downe did lay
His heavie head, devoide of careful carke;
Whose sences all were straight benumbd and starke.
He, backe returning by the yvorie dore,
Remounted up as light as chearefull larke,        430
And on his litle winges the dreame he bore
In hast unto his lord, where he him left afore.
Who all this while, with charmes and hidden artes,
Had made a lady of that other spright,
And fram’d of liquid ayre her tender partes,        435
So lively and so like in all mens sight,
That weaker sence it could have ravisht quight:
The maker selfe, for all his wondrous witt,
Was nigh beguiled with so goodly sight:
Her all in white he clad, and over it        440
Cast a black stole, most like to seeme for Una fit.
Now when that ydle dreame was to him brought,
Unto that Elfin knight he bad him fly,
Where he slept soundly, void of evil thought,
And with false shewes abuse his fantasy,        445
In sort as he him schooled privily:
And that new creature, borne without her dew,
Full of the makers guyle, with usage sly
He taught to imitate that lady trew,
Whose semblance she did carrie under feigned hew.        450
Thus well instructed, to their worke they haste,
And comming where the knight in slomber lay,
The one upon his hardie head him plaste,
And made him dreame of loves and lust-full play,
That nigh his manly hart did melt away,        455
Bathed in wanton blis and wicked joy.
Then seemed him his lady by him lay,
And to him playnd, how that false winged boy
Her chaste hart had subdewd to learne Dame Pleasures toy.
And she her selfe, of beautie soveraigne queene,
Fayre Venus, seemde unto his bed to bring
Her, whom he, waking, evermore did weene
To bee the chastest flowre that aye did spring
On earthly braunch, the daughter of a king,
Now a loose leman to vile service bound:        465
And eke the Graces seemed all to sing
Hymen iö Hymen, dauncing all around,
Whylst freshest Flora her with yvie girlond crownd.
In this great passion of unwonted lust,
Or wonted feare of doing ought amis,        470
He started up, as seeming to mistrust
Some secret ill, or hidden foe of his:
Lo! there before his face his ladie is,
Under blacke stole hyding her bayted hooke,
And as halfe blushing offred him to kis,        475
With gentle blandishment and lovely looke,
Most like that virgin true, which for her knight him took.
All cleane dismayd to see so uncouth sight,
And halfe enraged at her shamelesse guise,
He thought have slaine her in his fierce despight;        480
But hastie heat tempring with sufferance wise,
He stayde his hand, and gan himselfe advise
To prove his sense, and tempt her faigned truth.
Wringing her hands in wemens pitteous wise,
Tho can she weepe, to stirre up gentle ruth,        485
Both for her noble blood, and for her tender youth.
And sayd, ‘Ah sir, my liege lord and my love,
Shall I accuse the hidden cruell fate,
And mightie causes wrought in heaven above,
Or the blind god, that doth me thus amate,        490
For hoped love to winne me certaine hate?
Yet thus perforce he bids me do, or die.
Die is my dew: yet rew my wretched state
You, whom my hard avenging destinie
Hath made judge of my life or death in differently.        495
‘Your owne deare sake forst me at first to leave
My fathers kingdom’—There she stopt with teares;
Her swollen hart her speech seemd to bereave;
And then againe begonne: ‘My weaker yeares,
Captiv’d to fortune and frayle worldly feares,        500
Fly to your fayth for succour and sure ayde:
Let me not die in languor and long teares.’
‘Why, dame,’ quoth he, ‘what hath ye thus dismayd?
What frayes ye, that were wont to comfort me affrayd?’
‘Love of your selfe,’ she saide, ‘and deare constraint,
Lets me not sleepe, but waste the wearie night
In secret anguish and unpittied plaint,
Whiles you in carelesse sleepe are drowned quight.’
Her doubtfull words made that redoubted knight
Suspect her truth: yet since no’ untruth he knew,        510
Her fawning love with foule disdainefull spight
He would not shend, but said, ‘Deare dame, I rew,
That for my sake unknowne such griefe unto you grew.
‘Assure your selfe, it fell not all to ground;
For all so deare as life is to my hart,        515
I deeme your love, and hold me to you bound;
Ne let vaine feares procure your needlesse smart,
Where cause is none, but to your rest depart.’
Not all content, yet seemd she to appease
Her mournefull plaintes, beguiled of her art,        520
And fed with words, that could not chose but please;
So slyding softly forth, she turnd as to her ease.
Long after lay he musing at her mood,
Much griev’d to thinke that gentle dame so light,
For whose defence he was to shed his blood.        525
At last dull wearines of former fight
Having yrockt a sleepe his irkesome spright,
That troublous dreame gan freshly tosse his braine
With bowres, and beds, and ladies deare delight:
But when he saw his labour all was vaine,        530
With that misformed spright he backe returnd againe.

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