Verse > Anthologies > Edward Farr, comp. > Elizabethan Poetry
Edward Farr, ed.  Select Poetry of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth.  1845.
The Ruines of Time
III. Edmund Spenser
I SAW an Image, all of massie gold,
Placed on high upon an altare faire,
That all which did the same from farre beholde
Might worship it, and fall on lowest staire.
Not that great Idoll might with this compaire,        5
To which th’ Assyrian Tyrant would have made
The holie brethren falslie to have praid.
But th’ altare, on the which this Image staid,
Was (O great pitie!) built of brickle clay,
That shortly the foundation decaid,        10
With showres of heaven and tempests worne away;
Then downe it fell, and low in ashes lay,
Scorned of everie one, which by it went;
That I, it seeing, dearelie did lament.
Next unto this a statelie Towre appeared,
Built of all richest stone that might bee found,
And nigh unto the heavens in height upreared,
But placed on a spot of sandie ground:
Not that great Towre, which is so much renownd
For tongues’ confusion in Holie Writ,        20
King Ninus’ worke, might be compar’d to it.
But O vaine labours of terrestriall wit,
That buildes so stronglie on so frayle a soyle,
As with each storme does fall away, and flit.
And gives the fruite of all your travailes’ toyle,        25
To be the pray of Tyme, and Fortune’s spoyle!
I saw this Towre fall sodainelie to dust,
That nigh with griefe thereof my heart was brust.
Then did I see a pleasant Paradize,
Full of sweete flowres and daintiest delights,        30
Such as on earth man could not more devize,
With pleasures choyce to feed his cheerefull sprights:
Not that which Merlin by his magicke slights
Made for the gentle Squire, to entertaine
His fayre Belphœbe, could this gardine staine.        35
But O short pleasure bought with lasting paine!
Why will hereafter anie flesh delight
In earthlie blis, and ioy in pleasures vaine,
Since that I sawe this gardine wasted quite,
That where it was scarce seemed anie sight?        40
That I, which once that beautie did beholde,
Could not from teares my melting eyes with-holde.
Soone after this a Giaunt came in place,
Of wondrous powre, and of exceeding stature,
That none durst vewe the horror of his face;        45
Yet was he milde of speach, and meeke of nature:
Not he, which in despight of his Creatour
With railing tearmes defied the Iewish hoast
Might with this mightie one in hugenes boast;
For from the one he could to th’ other coast        50
Stretch his strong thighes, and th’ ocean overstride,
And reach his hand into his enemies’ hoast.
But see the end of pompe and fleshlie pride!
One of his feete unwares from him did slide,
That downe hee fell into the deepe abisse,        55
Where drownd with him is all his earthlie blisse.
Then did I see a Bridge, made all of golde,
Over the sea from one to other side,
Withouten prop or pillour it t’ upholde,
But like the coulored rainbowe arched wide:        60
Not that great Arche, with Traian edifide,
To be a wonder to all age ensuing,
Was matchable to this in equall vewing.
But, ah! what bootes it to see earthlie thing
In glorie or in greatnes to excell,        65
Sith time doth greatest things to ruine bring?
This goodlie Bridge, one foote not fastned well,
Gan faile, and all the rest downe shortlie fell:
Ne of so brave a building ought remained,
That griefe thereof my spirite greatly pained.        70
I saw two Beares, as white as anie milke,
Lying together in a mightie cave,
Of milde aspect, and haire as soft as silke,
That salvage nature seemed not to have,
Nor after greedie spoyle of bloud to crave:        75
Two fairer beasts might not elswhere be found,
Although the compast world were sought around.
But what can long abide above this ground
In state of blis, or stedfast happinesse?
The cave, in which these Beares lay sleeping sound,        80
Was but of earth, and with her weightinesse
Upon them fell, and did unwares oppresse;
That for great sorrow of their sudden fate
Henceforth all world’s felicitie I hate.
Much was I troubled in my heavie spright        85
At sight of these sad spectacles forepast,
That all my senses were bereaved quight,
And I in minde remained sore agast,
Distraught twixt feare and pitie; when at last
I heard a voyce, which loudly to me called,        90
That with the suddein shrill I was appalled.
Behold (said it) and by ensample see,
That all is vanitie and griefe of minde,
Ne other comfort in this world can be,
But hope of heaven, and heart to God inclinde;        95
For all the rest must needs be left behinde.
With that it bad me to the other side
To cast mine eye, when other sights I spide.
Upon that famous River’s further shore
There stood a snowie Swan of heavenly hiew,        100
And gentle kinde, as ever fowle afore:
A fairer one in all the goodlie criew
Of white Strimonian brood might no man view:
There he most sweetly sung the prophecie
Of his owne death in dolefull elegie.        105
At last, when all his mourning melodie
He ended had, that both the shores resounded,
Feeling the fit that him forewarnd to die,
With loftie flight above the earth he bounded,
And out of sight to highest heaven mounted,        110
Where now he is become an heavenly signe;
There now the ioy is his, here sorrow mine.
Whilest thus I looked, loe! adowne the lee
I saw an Harpe stroong all with silver twyne,
And made of golde and costlie yvorie,        115
Swimming, that whilome seemed to have been
The Harpe, on which Dan Orpheus was seene
Wylde beasts and forrests after him to lead,
But was th’ harpe of Philisides now dead.
At length out of the river it was reard        120
And borne above the cloudes to be divin’d,
Whilst all the way most heavenly noyse was heard
Of the strings, stirred with the warbling wind,
That wrought both ioy and sorrow in my mind:
So now in heaven a signe it doth appeare,        125
The Harpe well knowne beside the Northern Beare.
Soone after this I saw on th’ other side
A curious Coffer made of Heben wood,
That in it did most precious treasure hide,
Exceeding all this baser worldës good:        130
Yet through the overflowing of the flood
It almost drowned was, and done to nought,
That sight thereof much griev’d my pensive thought.
At length, when most in perill it was brought,
Two Angels, downe descending with swift flight,        135
Out of the swelling streame it lightly caught,
And twixt their blessed armes it carried quight
Above the reach of anie living sight:
So now it is transform’d into that starre,
In which all heavenly treasures locked are.        140

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