Verse > Edmund Spenser > Complete Poetical Works
Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599).  The Complete Poetical Works.  1908.
The Shepheardes Calender




          GOE, little booke: thy selfe present,
As child whose parent is unkent,
To him that is the president
Of noblesse and of chevalree:
And if that Envie barke at thee,
As sure it will, for succoure flee
Under the shadow of his wing;
And asked, who thee forth did bring,
A shepheards swaine, saye, did thee sing,
All as his straying flocke he fedde:
And when his honor has thee redde,
Crave pardon for my hardyhedde.
But if that any aske thy name,
Say thou wert base begot with blame:
Forthy thereof thou takest shame.
And when thou art past jeopardee,
Come tell me what was sayd of mee:
And I will send more after thee.


  UNCOUTHE, UNKISTE, sayde the olde famous poete Chaucer: whom for his excellencie and wonderfull skil in making, his scholler Lidgate, a worthy scholler of so excellent a maister, calleth the loadestarre of our language: and whom our Colin Clout in his æglogue calleth Tityrus the god of shepheards, comparing hym to the worthines of the Roman Tityrus, Virgile. Which proverbe, myne owne good friend Maister Harvey, as in that good old poete it served well Pandares purpose, for the bolstering of his baudy brocage, so very well taketh place in this our new poete, who for that he is uncouthe (as said Chaucer) is unkist, and unknown to most men, is regarded but of few. But I dout not, so soone as his name shall come into the knowledg of men, and his worthines be sounded in the tromp of Fame, but that he shall be not onely kiste, but also beloved of all, embraced of the most, and wondred at of the best. No lesse, I thinke, deserveth his wittinesse in devising, his pithinesse in uttering, his complaints of love so lovely, his discourses of pleasure so pleasantly, his pastorall rudenesse, his morall wisenesse, his dewe observing of decorum everye where, in personages, in seasons, in matter, in speach, and generally in al seemely simplycitie of handeling his matter, and framing his words: the which, of many thinges which in him be straunge, I know will seeme the straungest, the words them selves being so auncient, the knitting of them so short and intricate, and the whole periode and compasse of speache so delightsome for the roundnesse, and so grave for the straungenesse. And firste of the wordes to speake, I graunt they be something hard, and of most men unused, yet both English, and also used of most excellent authors and most famous poetes. In whom whenas this our poet hath bene much traveiled and throughly redd, how could it be, (as that worthy oratour sayde,) but that walking in the sonne, although for other cause he walked, yet needes he mought be sunburnt; and, having the sound of those auncient poetes still ringing in his eares, he mought needes in singing hit out some of theyr tunes. But whether he useth them by such casualtye and custome, or of set purpose and choyse, as thinking them fittest for such rusticall rudenesse of shepheards, eyther for that theyr rough sounde would make his rymes more ragged and rustical, or els because such olde and obsolete wordes are most used of country folke, sure I think, and think I think not amisse, that they bring great grace and, as one would say, auctoritie to the verse. For albe amongst many other faultes it specially be objected of Valla against Livie, and of other against Saluste, that with over much studie they affect antiquitie, as coveting thereby credence and honor of elder yeeres, yet I am of opinion, and eke the best learned are of the lyke, that those auncient solemne wordes are a great ornament both in the one and in the other; the one labouring to set forth in hys worke an eternall image of antiquitie, and the other carefully discoursing matters of gravitie and importaunce. For if my memory fayle not, Tullie, in that booke wherein he endevoureth to set forth the paterne of a perfect oratour, sayth that ofttimes an auncient worde maketh the style seeme grave, and as it were reverend: no otherwise then we honour and reverence gray heares, for a certain religious regard which we have of old age. Yet nether every where must old words be stuffed in, nor the commen dialecte and maner of speaking so corrupted therby, that, as in old buildings, it seme disorderly and ruinous. But all as in most exquisite pictures they use to blaze and portraict not onely the daintie lineaments of beautye, but also rounde about it to shadow the rude thickets and craggy clifts, that, by the basenesse of such parts, more excellency may accrew to the principall (for oftimes we fynde our selves, I knowe not how, singularly delighted with the shewe of such naturall rudenesse, and take great pleasure in that disorderly order) even so doe those rough and harsh termes enlumine and make more clearly to appeare the brightnesse of brave and glorious words. So ofentimes a dischorde in musick maketh a comely concordaunce: so great delight tooke the worthy poete Alceus to behold a blemish in the joynt of a wel shaped body. But if any will rashly blame such his purpose in choyse of old and unwonted words, him may I more justly blame and condemne, or of witlesse headinesse in judging, or of heedelesse hardinesse in condemning: for not marking the compasse of hys bent, he wil judge of the 110 length of his cast: for in my opinion it is one special prayse, of many whych are dew to this poete, that he hath laboured to restore, as to theyr rightfull heritage, such good and naturall English words as have ben long time out of use and almost cleare disherited. Which is the onely cause that our mother tonge, which truely of it self is both ful enough for prose and stately enough for verse, hath long time ben counted most bare and barrein of both. Which default when as some endevoured to salve and recure, they patched up the holes with peces and rags of other languages, borrowing here of the French, there of the Italian, every where of the Latine; not weighing how il those tongues accorde with themselves, but much worse with ours: so now they have made our English tongue a gallimaufray or hodgepodge of al other speches. Other some, not so wel seene in the English tonge as perhaps in other languages, if they happen to here an olde word, albeit very naturall and significant, crye out streight way that we speak no English, but gibbrish, or rather such as in old time Evanders mother spake. Whose first shame is, that they are not ashamed, in their own mother tonge straungers to be counted and alienes. The second shame no lesse then the first, that what so they understand not, they streight way deeme to be sencelesse, and not at al to be understode. Much like to the mole in Æsopes fable, that, being blynd her selfe, would in no wise be perswaded that any beast could see. The last more shameful then both, that of their owne country and natural speach, which together with their nources milk they sucked, they have so base regard and bastard judgement, that they will not onely themselves not labor to garnish and beautifie it, but also repine that of other it shold be embellished. Like to the dogge in the maunger, that him selfe can eate no hay, and yet barketh at the hungry bullock, that so faine would feede: whose currish kinde, though it cannot be kept from barking, yet I conne them thanke that they refrain from byting.
  Now, for the knitting of sentences, whych they call the joynts and members therof, and for al the compasse of the speach, it is round without roughnesse, and learned wythout hardnes, such indeede as may be perceived of the leaste, understoode of the moste, but judged onely of the learned. For what in most English wryters useth to be loose, and as it were ungyrt, in this authour is well grounded, finely framed, and strongly trussed up together. In regard whereof, I scorne and spue out the rakehellye route of our ragged rymers (for so themselves use to hunt the letter) which without learning boste, without judgement jangle, without reason rage and fome, as if some instinct of poeticall spirite had newly ravished them above the meanenesse of commen capacitie. And being in the middest of all theyr bravery, sodenly eyther for want of matter, or of ryme, or having forgotten theyr former conceipt, they seeme to be so pained and traveiled in theyr remembrance as it were a woman in childebirth, or as that same Pythia, when the traunce came upon her: ‘Os rabidum fera corda domans,’ &c. Nethelesse, let them a Gods name feede on theyr owne folly, so they seeke not to darken the beames of others glory. As for Colin, under whose person the Authour selfe is shadowed, how furre he is from such vaunted titles and glorious showes, both him selfe sheweth, where he sayth,
        ‘Of Muses, Hobbin, I conne no skill,’
        ‘Enough is me to paint out my unrest,’ &c.,
and also appeareth by the basenesse of the name, wherein, it semeth, he chose rather to unfold great matter of argument covertly then, professing it, not suffice thereto accordingly. Which moved him rather in æglogues then other wise to write, doubting perhaps his habilitie, which he little needed, or mynding to furnish our tongue with this kinde, wherein it faulteth, or following the example of the best and most auncient poetes, which devised this kind of wryting, being both so base for the matter, and homely for the manner, at the first to trye theyr habilities, and, as young birdes that be newly crept out of the nest, by little first to prove theyr tender wyngs, before they make a greater flyght. So flew Theocritus, as you may perceive he was all ready full fledged. So flew Virgile, as not yet well feeling his winges. So flew Mantuane, as being not full somd. So Petrarque. So Boccace. So Marot, Sanazarus, and also divers other excellent both Italian and French poetes, whose foting this author every where followeth, yet so as few, but they be wel sented, can trace him out. So finally flyeth this our new poete, as a bird whose principals be scarce growen out, but yet as that in time shall be hable to keepe wing with the best.
  Now, as touching the generall dryft and purpose of his Æglogues, I mind not to say much, him selfe labouring to conceale it. Onely this appeareth, that his unstayed yougth had long wandred in the common labyrinth of Love; in which time, to mitigate and allay the heate of his passion, or els to warne (as he sayth) the young shepheards, sc. his equalls and companions, of his unfortunate folly, he compiled these xij Æglogues, which, for that they be proportioned to the state of the xij monethes, he termeth the Shepheards Calendar, applying an olde name to a new worke. Hereunto have I added a certain glosse or scholion, for thexposition of old wordes and harder phrases: which maner of glosing and commenting, well I wote, wil seeme straunge and rare in our tongue: yet for somuch as I knew many excellent and proper devises, both in wordes and matter, would passe in the speedy course of reading, either as unknowen, or as not marked, and that in this kind, as in other, we might be equal to the learned of other nations, I thought good to take the paines upon me, the rather for that, by meanes of some familiar acquaintaunce, I was made privie to his counsell and secret meaning in them, as also in sundry other works of his: which albeit I know he nothing so much hateth as to promulgate, yet thus much have I adventured upon his frendship, him selfe being for long time furre estraunged; hoping that this will the rather occasion him to put forth divers other excellent works of his, which slepe in silence, as his Dreames, his Legendes, his Court of Cupide, and sondry others; whose commendations to set out were verye vayne, the thinges, though worthy of many, yet being knowen to few. These my present paynes if to any they be pleasurable or profitable, be you judge, mine own good Maister Harvey, to whom I have, both in respect of your worthinesse generally, and otherwyse upon some particular and special considerations, voued this my labour, and the maydenhead of this our commen frends poetrie, himselfe having already in the beginning dedicated it to the noble and worthy gentleman, the right worshipfull Maister Philip Sidney, a special favourer and maintainer of all kind of learning. Whose cause, I pray you sir, yf envie shall stur up any wrongful accusasion, defend with your mighty rhetorick and other your rare gifts of learning, as you can, and shield with your good wil, as you ought, against the malice and outrage of so many enemies as I know wilbe set on fire with the sparks of his kindled glory. And thus recommending the Author unto you, as unto his most special good frend, and my selfe unto you both, as one making singuler account of two so very good and so choise frends, I bid you both most hartely farwel, and commit you and your most commendable studies to the tuicion of the Greatest.
Your owne assuredly to be commaunded,
E. K.    
      POST SCR.
  NOW I trust, Maister Harvey, that upon sight of your speciall frends and fellow poets doings, or els for envie of so many 300 unworthy quidams, which catch at the garlond which to you alone is dewe, you will be perswaded to pluck out of the hatefull darknesse those so many excellent English poemes of yours which lye hid, and bring them forth to eternall light. Trust me, you doe both them great wrong, in depriving them of the desired sonne, and also your selfe, in smoothering your deserved prayses; and all men generally, in withholding 310 from them so divine pleasures which they might conceive of your gallant English verses, as they have already doen of your Latine poemes, which, in my opinion, both for invention and elocution are very delicate and superexcellent. And thus againe I take my leave of my good Mayster Harvey. From my lodging at London, thys 10 of Aprill, 1579.

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