Verse > Edmund Spenser > Complete Poetical Works
Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599).  The Complete Poetical Works.  1908.
The Shepheardes Calender
  THIS Æglogue is rather morall and generall then bent to any secrete or particular purpose. It specially conteyneth a discourse of old age, in the persone of Thenot, an olde shepheard, who, for his crookednesse and unlustinesse, is scorned of Cuddie, an unhappy heardmans boye. The matter very well accordeth with the season of the moneth, the yeare now drouping, and as it were, drawing to his last age. For as in this time of yeare, so then in our bodies, there is a dry and withering cold, which congealeth the crudled blood, and frieseth the wether-beaten flesh, with stormes of fortune and hoare frosts of care. To which purpose the olde man telleth a tale of the Oake and the Bryer, so lively and so feelingly, as, if the thing were set forth in some picture before our eyes, more plainly could not appeare.


  Cud.  Ah for pittie! wil rancke winters rage
These bitter blasts never ginne tasswage?
The kene cold blowes through my beaten hyde,
All as I were through the body gryde.
My ragged rontes all shiver and shake,        5
As doen high towers in an earthquake:
They wont in the wind wagge their wrigle tailes,
Perke as peacock: but nowe it avales.
  The.  Lewdly complainest thou, laesie ladde,
Of winters wracke, for making thee sadde.        10
Must not the world wend in his commun course,
From good to badd, and from badde to worse,
From worse unto that is worst of all,
And then returne to his former fall?
Who will not suffer the stormy time,        15
Where will he live tyll the lusty prime?
Selfe have I worne out thrise threttie yeares,
Some in much joy, many in many teares;
Yet never complained of cold nor heate,
Of sommers flame, nor of winters threat;        20
Ne ever was to fortune foeman,
But gently tooke that ungently came:
And ever my flocke was my chiefe care;
Winter or sommer they mought well fare.
  Cud.  No marveile, Thenot, if thou can beare        25
Cherefully the winters wrathfull cheare:
For age and winter accord full nie,
This chill, that cold, this crooked, that wrye;
And as the lowring wether lookes downe,
So semest thou like Good Fryday to frowne.        30
But my flowring youth is foe to frost,
My shippe unwont in stormes to be tost.
  The.  The soveraigne of seas he blames in vaine,
That, once seabeate, will to sea againe.
So loytring live you little heardgroomes,        35
Keeping your beastes in the budded broomes:
And when the shining sunne laugheth once,
You deemen the spring is come attonce.
Tho gynne you, fond flyes, the cold to scorne,
And, crowing in pypes made of greene corne,        40
You thinken to be lords of the yeare.
But eft, when ye count you freed from feare,
Comes the breme winter with chamfred browes,
Full of wrinckles and frostie furrowes,
Drerily shooting his stormy darte,        45
Which cruddles the blood, and pricks the harte.
Then is your carelesse corage accoied,
Your carefull heards with cold bene annoied:
Then paye you the price of your surquedrie,
With weeping, and wayling, and misery.        50
  Cud.  Ah, foolish old man! I scorne thy skill,
That wouldest me my springing youngth to spil.
I deeme thy braine emperished bee
Through rusty elde, that hath rotted thee:
Or sicker thy head veray tottie is,        55
So on thy corbe shoulder it leanes amisse.
Now thy selfe hast lost both lopp and topp,
Als my budding braunch thou wouldest cropp:
But were thy yeares greene, as now bene myne,
To other delights they would encline.        60
Tho wouldest thou learne to caroll of love,
And hery with hymnes thy lasses glove:
Tho wouldest thou pype of Phyllis prayse:
But Phyllis is myne for many dayes:
I wonne her with a gyrdle of gelt,        65
Embost with buegle about the belt:
Such an one shepeheards woulde make full faine,
Such an one would make thee younge againe.
  The.  Thou art a fon, of thy love to boste;
All that is lent to love wyll be lost.        70
  Cud.  Seest howe brag yond bullocke beares,
So smirke, so smoothe, his pricked eares?
His hornes bene as broade as rainebowe bent,
His dewelap as lythe as lasse of Kent.
See howe he venteth into the wynd.        75
Weenest of love is not his mynd?
Seemeth thy flocke thy counsell can,
So lustlesse bene they, so weake, so wan,
Clothed with cold, and hoary wyth frost.
Thy flocks father his corage hath lost:        80
Thy ewes, that wont to have blowen bags,
Like wailefull widdowes hangen their crags:
The rather lambes bene starved with cold,
All for their maister is lustlesse and old.
  The.  Cuddie, I wote thou kenst little good,        85
So vainely tadvaunce thy headlessehood.
For youngth is a bubble blown up with breath,
Whose witt is weakenesse, whose wage is death,
Whose way is wildernesse, whose ynne penaunce,
And stoopegallaunt age, the hoste of greevaunce.        90
But shall I tel thee a tale of truth,
Which I cond of Tityrus in my youth,
Keeping his sheepe on the hils of Kent?
  Cud.  To nought more, Thenot, my mind is bent,
Then to heare novells of his devise:        95
They bene so well thewed, and so wise,
What ever that good old man bespake.
  The.  Many meete tales of youth did he make,
And some of love, and some of chevalrie:
But none fitter then this to applie.        100
Now listen a while, and hearken the end.
  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:        105
The bodie bigge, and mightely pight,
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.        110
But now the gray mosse marred his rine,
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,        115
Which proudly thrust into thelement,
And seemed to threat the firmament.
Yt was embellisht with blossomes fayre,
And thereto aye wonned to repayre
The shepheards daughters, togather flowres,        120
To peinct their girlonds with his colowres:
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        125
And snebbe the good Oake, for he was old.
  ‘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,        130
With leaves engrained in lusty greene,
Colours meete to clothe a mayden queene?
Thy wast bignes but combers the grownd,
And dirks the beauty of my blossomes round.
The mouldie mosse, which thee accloieth,        135
My sinamon smell too much annoieth.
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 answered the Oake againe,        140
But yielded, with shame and greefe adawed,
That of a weede he was overawed.
  Yt chaunced after upon a day,
The husbandman selfe to come that way,
Of custome for to survewe his grownd,        145
And his trees of state in compasse rownd.
Him when the spitefull Brere had espyed,
Causlesse complained, and lowdly cryed
Unto his lord, stirring up sterne strife:
  ‘O my liege lord, the god of my life,        150
Pleaseth you ponder your suppliants plaint,
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,        155
Through felonous force of mine enemie.’
  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        160
(As most usen ambitious folke)
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,        165
To be the primrose of all thy land,
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,        170
Whose naked armes stretch unto the fyre,
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,        175
That oft the bloud springeth from wounds wyde:
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:        180
And oft his hoarie locks downe doth cast,
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,        185
Nought aske I, but onely to hold my right;
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        190
Had kindled such coles of displeasure,
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,        195
(Alas, that it so ready should stand!)
And to the field alone he speedeth,
(Ay little helpe to harme there needeth.)
Anger nould let him speake to the tree,
Enaunter his rage mought cooled bee;        200
But to the roote bent his sturdy stroke,
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,        205
Or to wrong holy eld did forbeare.
For it had bene an auncient tree,
Sacred with many a mysteree,
And often crost with the priestes crewe,
And often halowed with holy water dewe.        210
But sike fancies weren foolerie,
And broughten this Oake to this miserye.
For nought mought they quitten him from decay:
For fiercely the goodman at him did laye.
The blocke oft groned under the blow,        215
And sighed to see his neare overthrow.
In fine, the steele had pierced his pitth:
Tho downe to the earth he fell forthwith:
His wonderous weight made the grounde to quake,
Thearth shronke under him, and seemed to shake.        220
There lyeth the Oake, pitied of none.
  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 approache,        225
The blustring Boreas did encroche,
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,        230
The byting frost nipt his stalke dead,
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        235
Of cattell, and brouzed, and sorely hurt.
Such was thend of this ambitious Brere,
For scorning eld—
  Cud.  Now I pray thee, shepheard, tel it not forth:
Here is a long tale, and little worth.        240
So longe have I listened to thy speche,
That graffed to the ground is my breche:
My hartblood is welnigh frorne, I feele,
And my galage growne fast to my heele:
But little ease of thy lewd tale I tasted.        245
Hye thee home, shepheard, the day is nigh wasted.

        Iddio, perchè è vecchio,
Fa suoi al suo essempio.

        Niuno vecchio
Spaventa Iddio.


  Kene, sharpe.
  Gride, perced: an olde word much used of Lidgate, but not found (that I know of) in Chaucer.
  Ronts, young bullockes.
  Wracke, ruine or violence, whence commeth shipwracke: and not wreake, that is vengeaunce or wrath.
  Foeman, a foe.
  Thenot, the name of a shepheard in Marot his Æglogues.
  The soveraigne of seas is Neptune the god of the seas. The saying is borowed of Mimus Publianus, which used this proverb in a verse,
        ‘Improbè Neptunum accusat, qui iterum naufragium facit.’
  Heardgromes, Chaucers verse almost whole.
  Fond Flyes: He compareth carelesse slug-gardes, or ill husbandmen, to flyes, that so soone as the sunne shineth, or flyes, that so soone as the sunne shineth, or yt wexeth any thing warme, begin to flye abroade, when sodeinly they be overtaken with cold.
  But eft when, a verye excellent and lively description of winter, so as may bee indifferently taken, eyther for old age, or for winter season.
  Breme, chill, bitter.
  Chamfred, chapt, or wrinckled.
  Accoied, plucked downe and daunted.
  Surquedrie, pryde.
  Elde, olde age.
  Sicker, sure.
  Tottie, wavering.
  Corbe, crooked.
  Herie, worshippe.
  Phyllis, the name of some mayde unknowen, whom Cuddie, whose person is secrete, loved. The name is usuall in Theocritus, Virgile, and Mantuane.
  Belte, a girdle or wast band.
  A fon, a foole.
  Lythe, soft and gentile.
  Venteth, snuffeth in the wind.
  Thy flocks father, the ramme.
  Crags, neckes.
  Rather lambes, that be ewed early in the beginning of the yeare.
  Youth is, a verye moral and pitthy allegorie of youth, and the lustes thereof, compared to a wearie wayfaring man.
  Tityrus: I suppose he meanes Chaucer, whose prayse for pleasaunt tales cannot dye, so long as the memorie of hys name shal live, and the name of poetrie shal endure.
  Well thewed, that is, bene moratæ, full of morall wisenesse.
  There grew: This tale of the Oake and the Brere he telleth as learned of Chaucer, but it is cleane in another kind, and rather like to Æsopes fables. It is very excellente for pleasaunt descriptions, being altogether a certaine icon or hypotyposis of disdainfull younkers.
  Embellisht, beautified and adorned.
  To wonne, to haunt or frequent.
  Sneb, checke.
  Why standst: The speach is scorneful and very presumptuous.
  Engrained, dyed in grain.
  Accloieth, encombreth.
  Adawed, daunted and confounded.
  Trees of state, taller trees, fitte for timber wood.
  Sterne strife, said Chaucer, sc. fell and sturdy.
  O my liege, a maner of supplication, wherein is kindly coloured the affection and speache of ambitious men.
  Coronall, garlande.
  Flourets, young blossomes.
  The Primrose, the chiefe and worthiest.
  Naked armes, metaphorically ment of the bare boughes, spoyled of leaves. This colourably he speaketh, as adjudging hym to the fyre.
  The blood, spoken of a blocke, as it were of a living creature, figuratively, and (as they say) [Greek].
  Hoarie lockes, metaphorically for withered leaves.
  Hent, caught.
  Nould, for would not.
  Ay, evermore.
  Wounds, gashes.
  Enaunter, least that.
  The priestes crewe, holy water pott, where-with the popishe priest used to sprinckle and hallowe the trees from mischaunce. Such blindnesse was in those times, which the poete supposeth to have bene the finall decay of this auncient Oake.
  The blocke oft groned, a livelye figure, whiche geveth sence and feeling to unsensible creatures, as Virgile also sayeth: ‘Saxa gemunt gravido,’ &c.
  Boreas, the northerne wynd, that bringeth the moste stormie weather.
  Glee, chere and jollitie.
  For scorning eld: And minding (as shoulde seme) to have made ryme to the former verse, he is conningly cutte of by Cuddye, as disdayning to here any more.
  Galage, a startuppe or clownish shoe.

  This embleme is spoken of Thenot, as a moral of his former tale: namelye, that God, which is himselfe most aged, being before al ages, and without beginninge, maketh those whom he loveth like to himselfe, in heaping yeares unto theyre dayes, and blessing them wyth longe lyfe. For the blessing of age is not given to all, but unto those whome God will so blesse: and albeit that many evil men reache unto such fulnesse of yeares, and some also wexe olde in myserie and thraldome, yet therefore is not age ever the lesse blessing. For even to such evill men such number of yeares is added, that they may in their last dayes repent, and come to their first home. So the old man checketh the rashheaded boy for despysing his gray and frostye heares.  Whom cuddye doth counterbuff with a byting and bitter proverbe, spoken indeede at the first in contempt of old age generally. For it was an old opinion, and yet is continued in some mens conceipt, that men of yeares have no feare of god at al, or not so much as younger folke. For that being rypened with long experience, and having passed many bitter brunts and blastes of vengeaunce, they dread no stormes of Fortune, nor wrathe of gods, nor daunger of menne, as being eyther by longe and ripe wisedome armed against all mischaunces and adversitie, or with much trouble hardened against all troublesome tydes: lyke unto the Ape, of which is sayd in Æsops fables, that oftentimes meeting the Lyon, he was at first sore aghast and dismayed at the grimnes and austeritie of hys countenance, but at last being acquainted with his lookes, he was so furre from fearing him, that he would familiarly gybe and jest with him: suche longe experience breedeth in some men securitie. Although it please Erasmus, a great clerke and good old father, more fatherly and favourablye to construe it, in his Adages, for his own behoofe, that by the proverbe, ‘Nemo senex metuit Jovem,’ is not meant, that old men have no feare of God at al, but that they be furre from superstition and idolatrous regard of false gods, as is Jupiter. But his greate learning notwith standing, it is to plaine to be gainsayd, that olde men are muche more enclined to such fond fooleries, then younger heades.

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