Verse > Edmund Spenser > Complete Poetical Works
Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599).  The Complete Poetical Works.  1908.
The Faerie Queene
Book III. The Legend of Britomartis
Canto II
        The Redcrosse Knight to Britomart
  Describeth Artegall:
The wondrous myrrhour, by which she
  In love with him did fall.

HERE have I cause in men just blame to find,
That in their proper praise too partiall bee,
And not indifferent to woman kind,
To whom no share in armes and chevalree
They doe impart, ne maken memoree        5
Of their brave gestes and prowesse martiall:
Scarse doe they spare to one, or two, or three,
Rowme in their writtes; yet the same writing small
Does all their deedes deface, and dims their glories all.
But by record of antique times I finde,
That wemen wont in warres to beare most sway,
And to all great exploites them selves inclind:
Of which they still the girlond bore away,
Till envious men, fearing their rules decay,
Gan coyne streight lawes to curb their liberty:        15
Yet sith they warlike armes have laide away,
They have exceld in artes and pollicy,
That now we foolish men that prayse gin eke t’ envy.
Of warlike puissaunce in ages spent,
Be thou, faire Britomart, whose prayse I wryte;        20
But of all wisedom bee thou precedent,
O soveraine Queene, whose prayse I would endyte,
Endite I would as dewtie doth excyte;
But ah! my rymes to rude and rugged arre,
When in so high an object they doe lyte,        25
And, striving fit to make, I feare doe marre:
Thy selfe thy prayses tell, and make them knowen farre.
She, traveiling with Guyon, by the way
Of sondry thinges faire purpose gan to find,
T’ abridg their journey long and lingring day:        30
Mongst which it fell into that Fairies mind
To aske this Briton maid, what uncouth wind
Brought her into those partes, and what inquest
Made her dissemble her disguised kind:
Faire lady she him seemd, like lady drest,        35
But fairest knight alive, when armed was her brest.
Thereat she sighing softly, had no powre
To speake a while, ne ready answere make,
But with hart-thrilling throbs and bitter stowre,
As if she had a fever fitt, did quake,        40
And every daintie limbe with horrour shake,
And ever and anone the rosy red
Flasht through her face, as it had beene a flake
Of lightning through bright heven fulmined:
At last, the passion past, she thus him answered:        45
‘Faire sir, I let you weete, that from the howre
I taken was from nourses tender pap,
I have beene trained up in warlike stowre,
To tossen speare and shield, and to affrap
The warlike ryder to his most mishap:        50
Sithence I loathed have my life to lead,
As ladies wont, in pleasures wanton lap,
To finger the fine needle and nyce thread;
Me lever were with point of foemans speare be dead.
‘All my delight on deedes of armes is sett,
To hunt out perilles and adventures hard,
By sea, by land, where so they may be mett,
Onely for honour and for high regard,
Without respect of richesse or reward.
For such intent into these partes I came,        60
Withouten compasse or withouten card,
Far fro my native soyle, that is by name
The Greater Brytayne, here to seeke for praise and fame.
‘Fame blazed hath, that here in Faery Lond
Doe many famous knightes and ladies wonne,        65
And many straunge adventures to bee fond,
Of which great worth and worship may be wonne;
Which I to prove, this voyage have begonne.
But mote I weet of you, right courteous knight,
Tydings of one, that hath unto me donne        70
Late foule dishonour and reprochfull spight,
The which I seeke to wreake, and Arthegall he hight.’
The word gone out she backe againe would call,
As her repenting so to have missayd,
But that he it uptaking ere the fall,        75
Her shortly answered: ‘Faire martiall mayd,
Certes ye misavised beene, t’ upbrayd
A gentle knight with so unknightly blame:
For weet ye well, of all that ever playd
At tilt or tourney, or like warlike game,        80
The noble Arthegall hath ever borne the name.
‘Forthy great wonder were it, if such shame
Should ever enter in his bounteous thought,
Or ever doe that mote deserven blame:
The noble corage never weeneth ought,        85
That may unworthy of it selfe be thought.
Therefore, faire damzell, be ye well aware,
Least that too farre ye have your sorrow sought:
You and your countrey both I wish welfare,
And honour both; for each of other worthy are.’        90
The royall maid woxe inly wondrous glad,
To heare her love so highly magnifyde,
And joyd that ever she affixed had
Her hart on knight so goodly glorifyde,
How ever finely she it faind to hyde:        95
The loving mother, that nine monethes did beare,
In the deare closett of her painefull syde,
Her tender babe, it seeing safe appeare,
Doth not so much rejoyce as she rejoyced theare.
But to occasion him to further talke,
To feed her humor with his pleasing style,
Her list in stryfull termes with him to balke,
And thus replyde: ‘How ever, sir, ye fyle
Your courteous tongue, his prayses to compyle,
It ill beseemes a knight of gentle sort,        105
Such as ye have him boasted, to beguyle
A simple maide, and worke so hainous tort,
In shame of knighthood, as I largely can report.
‘Let bee therefore my vengeaunce to disswade,
And read, where I that faytour false may find.’        110
‘Ah! but if reason faire might you perswade
To slake your wrath, and mollify your mind,’
Said he, ‘perhaps ye should it better find:
For hardie thing it is, to weene by might
That man to hard conditions to bind,        115
Or ever hope to match in equall fight,
Whose prowesse paragone saw never living wight.
‘Ne soothlich is it easie for to read
Where now on earth, or how, he may be fownd;
For he ne wonneth in one certeine stead,        120
But restlesse walketh all the world arownd,
Ay doing thinges that to his fame redownd,
Defending ladies cause and orphans right,
Where so he heares that any doth confownd
Them comfortlesse, through tyranny or might:        125
So is his soveraine honour raisde to hevens hight.’
His feeling wordes her feeble sence much pleased,
And softly sunck into her molten hart:
Hart that is inly hurt is greatly eased
With hope of thing that may allegge his smart;        130
For pleasing wordes are like to magick art,
That doth the charmed snake in slomber lay:
Such secrete ease felt gentle Britomart,
Yet list the same efforce with faind gainesay:
So dischord ofte in musick makes the sweeter lay:        135
And sayd: ‘Sir knight, these ydle termes forbeare,
And sith it is uneath to finde his haunt,
Tell me some markes by which he may appeare,
If chaunce I him encounter paravaunt;
For perdy one shall other slay, or daunt:        140
What shape, what shield, what armes, what steed, what stedd,
And what so else his person most may vaunt.’
All which the Redcrosse Knight to point aredd,
And him in everie part before her fashioned.
Yet him in everie part before she knew,
How ever list her now her knowledge fayne,
Sith him whylome in Brytayne she did vew,
To her revealed in a mirrhour playne,
Whereof did grow her first engraffed payne,
Whose root and stalke so bitter yet did taste,        150
That, but the fruit more sweetnes did contayne,
Her wretched dayes in dolour she mote waste,
And yield the pray of love to lothsome death at last.
By straunge occasion she did him behold,
And much more straungely gan to love his sight,        155
As it in bookes hath written beene of old.
In Deheubarth, that now South-Wales is hight,
What time King Ryence raign’d and dealed right,
The great magitien Merlin had deviz’d,
By his deepe science and hell-dreaded might,        160
A looking glasse, right wondrously aguiz’d,
Whose vertues through the wyde worlde soone were solemniz’d.
It vertue had to shew in perfect sight
What ever thing was in the world contaynd,
Betwixt the lowest earth and hevens hight,        165
So that it to the looker appertaynd;
What ever foe had wrought, or frend had faynd,
Therein discovered was, ne ought mote pas,
Ne ought in secret from the same remaynd;
Forthy it round and hollow shaped was,        170
Like to the world it selfe, and seemd a world of glas.
Who wonders not, that reades so wonderous worke?
But who does wonder, that has red the towre,
Wherein th’ Aegyptian Phao long did lurke
From all mens vew, that none might her discoure,        175
Yet she might all men vew out of her bowre?
Great Ptolomæe it for his lemans sake
Ybuilded all of glasse, by magicke powre,
And also it impregnable did make;
Yet when his love was false, he with a peaze it brake.        180
Such was the glassy globe, that Merlin made,
And gave unto King Ryence for his gard,
That never foes his kingdome might invade,
But he it knew at home before he hard
Tydings thereof, and so them still debar’d.        185
It was a famous present for a prince,
And worthy worke of infinite reward,
That treasons could bewray, and foes convince:
Happy this realme, had it remayned ever since!
One day it fortuned fayre Britomart
Into her fathers closet to repayre;
For nothing he from her reserv’d apart,
Being his onely daughter and his hayre:
Where when she had espyde that mirrhour fayre,
Her selfe awhile therein she vewd in vaine;        195
Tho her avizing of the vertues rare
Which thereof spoken were, she gan againe
Her to bethinke of that mote to her selfe pertaine.
But as it falleth, in the gentlest harts
Imperious Love hath highest set his throne,        200
And tyrannizeth in the bitter smarts
Of them that to him buxome are and prone:
So thought this mayd (as maydens use to done)
Whom fortune for her husband would allot;
Not that she lusted after any one,        205
For she was pure from blame of sinfull blot,
Yet wist her life at last must lincke in that same knot.
Eftsoones there was presented to her eye
A comely knight, all arm’d in complete wize,
Through whose bright ventayle, lifted up on hye,        210
His manly face, that did his foes agrize,
And frends to termes of gentle truce entize,
Lookt foorth, as Phœbus face out of the east
Betwixt two shady mountaynes doth arize:
Portly his person was, and much increast        215
Through his heroicke grace and honorable gest.
His crest was covered with a couchant hownd,
And all his armour seemd of antique mould,
But wondrous massy and assured sownd,
And round about yfretted all with gold,        220
In which there written was, with cyphres old,
Achilles armes, which Arthegall did win.
And on his shield enveloped sevenfold
He bore a crowned litle ermilin,
That deckt the azure field with her fayre pouldred skin.        225
The damzell well did vew his personage,
And liked well, ne further fastned not,
But went her way; ne her unguilty age
Did weene, unwares, that her unlucky lot
Lay hidden in the bottome of the pot:        230
Of hurt unwist most daunger doth redound:
But the false archer, which that arrow shot
So slyly that she did not feele the wound,
Did smyle full smoothly at her weetlesse wofull stound.
Thenceforth the fether in her lofty crest,
Ruffed of love, gan lowly to availe,
And her prowd portaunce and her princely gest,
With which she earst tryumphed, now did quaile:
Sad, solemne, sowre, and full of fancies fraile
She woxe; yet wist she nether how, nor why;        240
She wist not, silly mayd, what she did aile,
Yet wist she was not well at ease perdy,
Yet thought it was not love, but some melancholy.
So soone as Night had with her pallid hew
Defaste the beautie of the shyning skye,        245
And reft from men the worldes desired vew,
She with her nourse adowne to sleepe did lye;
But sleepe full far away from her did fly:
In stead thereof sad sighes and sorrowes deepe
Kept watch and ward about her warily,        250
That nought she did but wayle, and often steepe
Her dainty couch with teares, which closely she did weepe.
And if that any drop of slombring rest
Did chaunce to still into her weary spright,
When feeble nature felt her selfe opprest,        255
Streight way with dreames, and with fantastick sight
Of dreadfull things, the same was put to flight,
That oft out of her bed she did astart,
As one with vew of ghastly feends affright:
Tho gan she to renew her former smart,        260
And thinke of that fayre visage, written in her hart.
One night, when she was tost with such unrest,
Her aged nourse, whose name was Glauce hight,
Feeling her leape out of her loathed nest,
Betwixt her feeble armes her quickly keight,        265
And downe againe in her warme bed her dight:
‘Ah! my deare daughter, ah! my dearest dread,
What uncouth fit,’ sayd she, ‘what evill plight,
Hath thee opprest, and with sad dreary-head
Chaunged thy lively cheare, and living made thee dead?        270
‘For not of nought these suddein ghastly feares
All night afflict thy naturall repose;
And all the day, when as thine equall peares
Their fit disports with faire delight doe chose,
Thou in dull corners doest thy selfe inclose,        275
Ne tastest princes pleasures, ne doest spred
Abroad thy fresh youths fayrest flowre, but lose
Both leafe and fruite, both too untimely shed,
As one in wilfull bale for ever buried.
‘The time that mortall men their weary cares
Do lay away, and all wilde beastes do rest,
And every river eke his course forbeares,
Then doth this wicked evill thee infest,
And rive with thousand throbs thy thrilled brest;
Like an huge Aetn’ of deepe engulfed gryefe,        285
Sorrow is heaped in thy hollow chest,
Whence foorth it breakes in sighes and anguish ryfe,
As smoke and sulphure mingled with confused stryfe.
‘Ay me! how much I feare least love it bee!
But if that love it be, as sure I read        290
By knowen signes and passions which I see,
Be it worthy of thy race and royall sead,
Then I avow by this most sacred head
Of my deare foster childe, to ease thy griefe,
And win thy will: therefore away doe dread;        295
For death nor daunger from thy dew reliefe
Shall me debarre: tell me, therefore, my liefest liefe.’
So having sayd, her twixt her armes twaine
Shee streightly straynd, and colled tenderly,
And every trembling joynt and every vaine        300
Shee softly felt, and rubbed busily,
To doe the frosen cold away to fly;
And her faire deawy eies with kisses deare
Shee ofte did bathe, and ofte againe did dry;
And ever her importund, not to feare        305
To let the secret of her hart to her appeare.
The damzell pauzd, and then thus fearfully:
‘Ah! nurse, what needeth thee to eke my paine?
Is not enough that I alone doe dye,
But it must doubled bee with death of twaine?        310
For nought for me but death there doth remaine.’
‘O daughter deare,’ said she, ‘despeire no whit;
For never sore, but might a salve obtaine:
That blinded god, which hath ye blindly smit,
Another arrow hath your lovers hart to hit.’        315
‘But mine is not,’ quoth she, ‘like other wownd;
For which no reason can finde remedy.’
‘Was never such, but mote the like be fownd,’
Said she, ‘and though no reason may apply
Salve to your sore, yet love can higher stye        320
Then reasons reach, and oft hath wonders donne.’
‘But neither god of love nor god of skye
Can doe,’ said she, ‘that which cannot be donne.’
‘Things ofte impossible,’ quoth she, ‘seeme ere begonne.’
‘These idle wordes,’ said she, ‘doe nought aswage
My stubborne smart, but more annoiaunce breed:
For no no usuall fire, no usuall rage
Yt is, O nourse, which on my life doth feed,
And sucks the blood which from my hart doth bleed.
But since thy faithfull zele lets me not hyde        330
My crime, (if crime it be) I will it reed.
Nor prince, nor pere it is, whose love hath gryde
My feeble brest of late, and launched this wound wyde.
‘Nor man it is, nor other living wight;
For then some hope I might unto me draw;        335
But th’ only shade and semblant of a knight,
Whose shape or person yet I never saw,
Hath me subjected to Loves cruell law:
The same one day, as me misfortune led,
I in my fathers wondrous mirrhour saw,        340
And, pleased with that seeming goodly-hed,
Unwares the hidden hooke with baite I swallowed.
‘Sithens it hath infixed faster bold
Within my bleeding bowells, and so sore
Now ranckleth in this same fraile fleshly mould,        345
That all mine entrailes flow with poisnous gore,
And th’ ulcer groweth daily more and more;
Ne can my ronning sore finde remedee,
Other then my hard fortune to deplore,
And languish as the leafe faln from the tree,        350
Till death make one end of my daies and miseree.’
‘Daughter,’ said she, ‘what need ye be dismayd,
Or why make ye such monster of your minde?
Of much more uncouth thing I was affrayd;
Of filthy lust, contrary unto kinde:        355
But this affection nothing straunge I finde;
For who with reason can you aye reprove,
To love the semblaunt pleasing most your minde,
And yield your heart whence ye cannot remove?
No guilt in you, but in the tyranny of Love.        360
‘Not so th’ Arabian Myrrhe did sett her mynd,
Nor so did Biblis spend her pining hart,
But lov’d their native flesh against al kynd,
And to their purpose used wicked art:
Yet playd Pasiphaë a more monstrous part,        365
That lov’d a bul, and learnd a beast to bee:
Such shamefull lusts who loaths not, which depart
From course of nature and of modestee?
Swete Love such lewdnes bands from his faire companee.
‘But thine, my deare, (welfare thy heart, my deare)
Though straunge beginning had, yet fixed is
On one that worthy may perhaps appeare;
And certes seemes bestowed not amis:
Joy thereof have thou and eternall blis.’
With that upleaning on her elbow weake,        375
Her alablaster brest she soft did kis,
Which all that while shee felt to pant and quake,
As it an earth-quake were: at last she thus bespake:
‘Beldame, your words doe worke me litle ease;
For though my love be not so lewdly bent        380
As those ye blame, yet may it nought appease
My raging smart, ne ought my flame relent,
But rather doth my helpelesse griefe augment.
For they, how ever shamefull and unkinde,
Yet did possesse their horrible intent:        385
Short end of sorowes they therby did finde;
So was their fortune good, though wicked were their minde.
‘But wicked fortune mine, though minde be good,
Can have no end, nor hope of my desire,
But feed on shadowes, whiles I die for food,        390
And like a shadow wexe, whiles with entire
Affection I doe languish and expire.
I, fonder then Cephisus foolish chyld,
Who, having vewed in a fountaine shere
His face, was with the love thereof beguyld;        395
I, fonder, love a shade, the body far exyld.’
‘Nought like,’ quoth shee, ‘for that same wretched boy
Was of him selfe the ydle paramoure,
Both love and lover, without hope of joy;
For which he faded to a watry flowre.        400
But better fortune thine, and better howre,
Which lov’st the shadow of a warlike knight;
No shadow, but a body hath in powre:
That body, wheresoever that it light,
May learned be by cyphers, or by magicke might.        405
‘But if thou may with reason yet represse
The growing evill, ere it strength have gott,
And thee abandoned wholy doe possesse,
Against it strongly strive, and yield thee nott,
Til thou in open fielde adowne be smott.        410
But if the passion mayster thy fraile might,
So that needs love or death must bee thy lott,
Then I avow to thee, by wrong or right
To compas thy desire, and find that loved knight.’
Her chearefull words much cheard the feeble spright
Of the sicke virgin, that her downe she layd
In her warme bed to sleepe, if that she might;
And the old-woman carefully displayd
The clothes about her round with busy ayd,
So that at last a litle creeping sleepe        420
Surprisd her sence. Shee, therewith well apayd,
The dronken lamp down in the oyl did steepe,
And sett her by to watch, and sett her by to weepe.
Earely the morrow next, before that day
His joyous face did to the world revele,        425
They both uprose and tooke their ready way
Unto the church, their praiers to appele,
With great devotion, and with litle zele:
For the faire damzell from the holy herse
Her love-sicke hart to other thoughts did steale;        430
And that old dame said many an idle verse,
Out of her daughters hart fond fancies to reverse.
Retourned home, the royall infant fell
Into her former fitt; forwhy no powre
Nor guidaunce of her selfe in her did dwell.        435
But th’ aged nourse, her calling to her bowre,
Had gathered rew, and savine, and the flowre
Of camphora, and calamint, and dill,
All which she in a earthen pot did poure,
And to the brim with colt wood did it fill,        440
And many drops of milk and blood through it did spill.
Then, taking thrise three heares from of her head,
Them trebly breaded in a threefold lace,
And round about the pots mouth bound the thread,
And after having whispered a space        445
Certein sad words, with hollow voice and bace,
Shee to the virgin sayd, thrise sayd she itt:
‘Come, daughter, come, come; spit upon my face,
Spitt thrise upon me, thrise upon me spitt;
Th’ uneven nomber for this business is most fitt.’        450
That sayd, her rownd about she from her turnd,
She turned her contrary to the sunne,
Thrise she her turnd contrary, and returnd
All contrary, for she the right did shunne,
And ever what she did was streight undonne.        455
So thought she to undoe her daughters love:
But love, that is in gentle brest begonne,
No ydle charmes so lightly may remove;
That well can witnesse, who by tryall it does prove.
Ne ought it mote the noble mayd avayle,
Ne slake the fury of her cruell flame,
But that shee still did waste, and still did wayle,
That through long languour and hart-burning brame
She shortly like a pyned ghost became,
Which long hath waited by the Stygian strond.        465
That when old Glauce saw, for feare least blame
Of her miscarriage should in her be fond,
She wist not how t’ amend, nor how it to withstond.

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