Изображения страниц

best, swept within his scheme all lovely forms and fancies from the East and West, rifled, and with deliberation, the poets from Homer and Apollonius Rhodius, through Virgil and Ovid, to Ariosto, Tasso, Chaucer, and laid under contribution the whole book of medieval legend, matter of France, of Britain, and of Rome. His river is fed from a multitude of tributaries, the springs of Parnassus and Helicon, and all the wizard streams of romance. He borrows not from one or two or a hundred sources, but impresses the histories, the fables, the mythologies,

[ocr errors][merged small]

What a world it is, and what does one not meet there? From the first lines, a frontispiece, as it were, to all chivalric literature

"A gentle knight was pricking on the plaine,
Ycladd in mightie armes and silver shielde


The Faerie Queene is a wilderness of fancy, a tropic maze of exuberant and inexhaustible creation, the least describable poem in the world. Each canto-six or seven hundred lines-equals a book of Homer; each book-twelve cantos-is itself an epic; the whole-about thirty-five thousand lines-is hardly shorter than Homer and Virgil combined. Through this enchanted country, uncircumscribed, horizonless, the reader is borne away on the smooth-sliding current of the verse as it flows by two and twenty palaces and the gardens of old romance. By "lowly hermitage " and " ancient house," by woods" not perceable with power of any star," by the Gardens of Proserpina and Adonis flows the charmed stream, by the "wandering islands” and the Bower of Bliss, by the magic strand of Marinel, with its gravel of pearls and golden ore. By temples, palaces, and towers it flows-the Castle of Busirane, with its flaming porch and tapestries of gold and silk, upon which were wrought "all Cupid's wars," the loves of all the gods; the Castle Joyous, thronged with guests, a pleasance of flowers and Lydian harmonies; the Temples of Venus and Isis, the House of Pluto, and Neptune's palace "walled with waves." The poet's inclination is "to surprise by a fine excess," the incidents of his romance shall

[ocr errors]

be amazing and numberless, the personages unmatchable-the girdle of the snowy Florimel, the mirror of Merlin, the Shield of Love, the wondrous horse Brigadore, the sword Mordure, "wrought in Aetna's flames" and "seven times dipped in Styx,' Talus, the iron man, the herbs of magic power


"whether it divine tobacco were, Or panachoea, or polygony."


And with these a press of knights and "ladies debonair as of some great feudal court, Trevisan and Artegal, Satyrane and Scudamour, Pyrochles and Paridel, Britomart and Belphoebe, upon whom the heavens at her birth" were favourable and free"; Pastorella and Hellenore and Amoret, whose names are a summons to beauty; Argante, the Titaness, Braggadochio and Trompart his thrall; a brood of giants, Cormorant and Orgoglio, Corflambo and Ollyphant; shepherds and sorcerers, maids false and fair, hermits and satyrs, Muses and guardian angels, slavemerchants and river gods, sea-nymphs and Saracens, brigands and dwarfs and deadly sins-a company innumerable. Add to these a flora and fauna from torrid and from temperate zones, symbolic or legendary or real, centaurs and crocodiles, serpents and lions, bears and tigers, dragons and dolphins and dromedaries, the horrible sea-satyr, "huge ziffus, whom mariners eschew," ""sea-shouldering whales,'

[ocr errors]

Bright scolopendras, arm'd with silver scales,
Mighty monoceroses, with immeasured tails

[ocr errors]

66 every sort of flower

To which sad lovers were transformed of yore."

the Tree of Life, the flower-de-luce, "Dead creeping poppy and black hellebore," and

Add, too, the Masque of Cupid, the Pageant of the Seasons, the Procession of the rivers of the world-and Spenser's design is apparent, it is an ordered disorder, a calculated confusion, a dream composed of dreams, for admiration and bewilderment and delight.

For the style of Spenser the manifest original was Sackville's Induction to the Mirrour for Magistrates. If any doubt let him read in verses unsurpassed in the English tongue how in the

winter season the older poet met the lady Sorrow, a figure piteous as any in Dante's Inferno

[ocr errors]

'That, in my doom, was never man did see

A wight but half so woe-begone as she ".

whose dreary destiny it is to bemoan


Whom fortune, in this maze of misery,

Of wretched chance, most woeful mirrours chose;

That, when thou seest how lightly they did lose

Their pomp, their power, and that they thought most sure,
Thou mayst soon deem no earthly joy may dure "—

and how she guides him to the grisly lake, Avern, "within the porch and jaws of hell," where are Remorse and Dread, Revenge and Famine, with "body thin and bare as any bone," Old Age and Malady,

"her sickness past recure

Detesting physick, and all physick's cure."

As Sackville imagined and described, so Spenser. Take these stanzas, and there will be no further need of witnesses

"By him lay heavy Sleep, the cousin of Death,
Flat on the ground, and still as any stone,
A very corpse, save yielding forth a breath:
Small keep took he, whom Fortune frowned on,
Or whom she lifted up into the throne

Of high renown; but, as a living death,
So, dead alive, of life he drew the breath.

The body's rest, the quiet of the heart,

The travail's ease, the still night's fear was he,
And of our life in earth the better part;
Reaver of sight, and yet in whom we see
Things oft that tide, and oft that never be;
Without respect, esteeming equally
King Croesus' pomp, and Irus' poverty.


In midst of which, depainted there, we found
Deadly Debate, all full of snaky hair
That with a bloody fillet was ybound,
And breathing nought but discord everywhere;
And round about were portray'd here and there,
The hugy hosts, Darius and his power,

His kings, princes, his peers, and all his flower.

Yet saw I more the fight at Thrasimene
And Treby field, and eke where Hannibal
And worthy Scipio, last in arms were seen
Before Carthago gate, to try for all
The world's empire, to whom it should befall;
Then saw I Pompey and Caesar clad in arms,
Their hosts allied and all their civil harms.


Xerxes, the Persian king, yet saw I there,
With his huge host, that drank the rivers dry,
Dismounted hills, and made the vales uprear,
His host and all yet saw I slain, pardé:
Thebes I saw, all raz'd how it did lie

In heaps of stones, and Tyrus put to spoil,
With walls and towers flat even'd with the soil." 1

In his Laocoon Lessing discusses, but without hesitation rejects, the theory of Count Caylus, that the work of a poet may be tested by the number of subjects it offers to the painter.2 Painting, he argues, uses forms and colours in space, poetry articulate sounds in time, the painter can only express visible and stationary action, the poet progressive action. Because "the co-existent elements in a scene are inconsistent with the consecutive elements of language," the best poets, Homer, for example, paint in such a way that the painter finds nothing or but little with which to occupy himself in their descriptions. "The art of the pen," wrote Meredith, "is to rouse the inward vision, instead of labouring with a drop scene brush, as if it were to the eye; because our flying minds cannot contain a protracted description. That is why the poets, who spring imagination with a word or phrase, paint lasting pictures; the Shakesperian, the Dantesque, are in a line, two at most." 3 If Caylus be right Spenser is supreme, beyond all poets ancient or modern-" velut inter ignes luna minores," a moon among lesser fires. But if it be true that our flying minds cannot contain a protracted description, how of Spenser's method, prolonged, unflagging, unhurried? He who runs counter to nature can achieve no measure of success. Taking our own stand, let us suspend theory which interferes with artistic pleasure. Here is part of a description, "protracted" over ten stanzas

"-Eftsoon there stepped forth

A goodly lady clad in hunter's weed,

That seemed to be a woman of great worth,

And by her stately portance born of heavenly birth. . . .

And in her hand a sharp boar spear she held,

And at her back a bow and quiver gay,

Stuffed with steel-headed darts wherewith she quelled
The savage beasts in her victorious play,

1 Sackville's Induction to A Mirrour for Magistrates.
2 The Laocoon, chap. xiv.

3 Diana of the Crossways.

Knit with a golden baldric which forelay
Athwart her snowy breast, and did divide
Her dainty paps; which, like young fruit in May,
Now little gan to swell, and, being tied,
Through her thin weed their places only signified.

Her yellow locks, crisped like golden wire,
About her shoulders weren loosely shed,
And, when the wind among them did inspire,
They waved like a pennon wide dispread
And low behind her back were scattered:
And, whether art it were or heedless hap,

As through the flowering forest rash she fled,

In her rude hairs sweet flowers themselves did lap,
And flourishing fresh leaves and blossoms did enwrap.

Such as Diana by the sandy shore

Of swift Eurotas, or on Cynthus green,

Where all the nymphs have her unwares forlore,
Wandereth alone with bow and arrows keen,

To seek her game; or as that famous queen
Of Amazons whom Pyrrhus did destroy,
The day that first of Priam she was seen,
Did show herself in great triumphant joy,

To succour the weak state of sad afflicted Troy." 1

Whoever be right, Spenser is not wrong. One may properly hesitate to test the poet, as Caylus suggested, by the number of subjects he provides for the artist in colour-other and severer tests may be applied-but, if any argument prove persuasive, it will be The Faerie Queene itself. It is, as has often been said, a long gallery of pictures, easily to be transferred to canvas. Leigh Hunt amused his fancy by a selection from this " poet of the painters," naming the artist for each subject. Raphael for "The Marriage Procession of the Thames and Medway"; Correggio for "Cupid usurping the throne of Juppiter "; Michael Angelo for "Sir Guyon binding Furor "; Titian for "Venus, in search of Cupid, meeting Diana"; Guido for "Aurora and Tithonus"; Salvator Rosa for "The Cave of Despair"; Albano for "The Nymphs and Graces dancing to a shepherd's pipe"; Rembrandt for "A Knight in armour looking into a Cave."

A good reader will value Spenser for more than one quality, for his "visible poetry," his pageantry of colour, his copia verborum, his moonlight atmosphere. But his Circean charm is perhaps most fully felt in the half unconscious mood of the 1 The Faerie Queene, Bk. II. Canto 3.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »