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Its Exaggeration

Demand of the Age for Marvelous Tales

gallery is wearisome. To get the most from it one must come in the right mood, and wander at leisure. After the first book one may open at random,-few ever attempt to read consecutively the whole poem.

It is an easy task to criticise The Faerie Queene,-its vagueness of landscape, its unreality, and exaggeration. Fair Una rode a beast more white than snow, yet she much whiter." Arthur's shield shone so exceeding bright that it dimmed the sun as if a cloud had passed. In Shakespeare we meet with creations that are true at every point to human nature. We think of them and talk of them as if they had been a part of our own experience; but in Spenser we seldom touch the earth at all. His creations force their unreality upon us at every step. But we must remember constantly Spenser's environment. The audience for whom he wrote must be considered. Never has a poet been allowed more license. The English imagination in the early Elizabethan days, stimulated as it was by the dreams of the new world and by the deeds of the sea-kings, demanded marvelous tales. No exaggeration could be too wild; no landscape too unreal; no adventure too improbable. It must be remembered, too, that the poem was created in a land as chaotic and lawless as any in The Faerie Queene. In the words of his biographer

In Ireland he had before his eyes continually that dreary world which the poet of knight-errantry imagines. There men might in good truth travel long through wildernesses and great woods " given over to the outlaw and the ruffian. There the avenger of wrong need seldom want for perilous adventure and the occasion for quelling the oppressor. There the armed and unrelenting hand of right was but too truly the only substitute for law. There might be found in most certain and prosaic reality, the ambushes, the disguises, the treacheries, the deceits and temptations, even

The Epic of the Wars of Elizabeth

Beauties of the Poem

the supposed witchcrafts and enchantments, against which the fairy champions of the virtues have to be on their guard.

Ireland was still in the Middle Ages. Everything around the poet kindled his imagination. His home on the Mulla,“ under the foote of Mole, that mountain hoar," on the edge of a dark forest in which lurked unknown terrors, was a perfect spot for the creation of a poem like The Faerie Queene. It might almost be called the epic of the English wars in Ireland under Elizabeth."

The chief excellencies of Spenser are the richness and power of his conceptions, the sweet poetic atmosphere everywhere in his work, and the dreamy melody of his music. The story does not long hold us.

When once we know that the lance is charmed, or the shield invincible, the tales of combat cease to be absorbing. The plot does not work to a climax. At times we seem to be making progress, but we soon discover that there is no fixed destination. But the mere power of the poet's conceptions and the sweetness of his music hold us on and on.

What swing and force in a picture like this:

Which when that Champion heard, with percing point

Of pitty deare his hart was thrilled sore,
And trembling horrour ran through every joynt

For ruth of gentle knight so fowle forlore :

Which shaking off, he rent that yron dore,
With furious force, and indignation fell ;

Where entered in, his foot could find no flore,
But all a deepe descent, as darke as hell,
That breathed ever forth a filthie baneful smell.

What “ dreamy, melodious softness" in the song of the sirens:

Its Dreamy Melody

Spenser a Transition Figure

O thou fair son of gentle Faëry,

Thou art in mighty arms most magnified

Above all knights that ever battell tried :
O turn thy rudder hitherward awhile !

Here may thy storm-beat vessel safely ride ;
This is the port of rest from troublous toil,
The world's sweet inn from paine and wearisome turmoil.

Open at random. The sweet stanzas hold you and the vivid pictures thrill you.

Never before had it been dreamed that there was so much music in the English tongue. In Spenser's hands it became as liquid as the Italian.

This, then, is Spenser. Seen in the light of his whole work he stands as a transition figure, one that would have been impossible a few years earlier or later. His great poem belongs, in the words of Bascom, “in type and form to the tedious and dreary works of a retreating age.' The poet stands at the opening of the new era but he looks dreamily backward. Shakespeare belonged wholly to the present. To him the past and future were significant only so far as they could interpret the present moment. Milton's eyes were fixed steadfastly on the future. These were the three stages of the great creative

But Spenser was not lost in the past. He was peculiarly the product of his age. He had a message for his times and he looked often into the future. the first great English poet in the modern sense, and his work has colored all subsequent English poetry. REQUIRED READING. To get an adequate conception of Spenser one should read at least the first book of The Faerie Queene. For the general student Kitchin's edition (Clarendon Press) and Kate M. Warren's edition are extremely helpful.

era.

He was

CHAPTER XVIII

THE ELIZABETHAN AND JACOBEAN POETS

Authorities. Palgrave, Golden Treasury; Bullen, Lyrics from the Elizabethan Age, three series; Main, English Sonnets; Schelling, Elizabethan Lyrics (Athenæum Press Series); Garrett, Elizabethan Songs; Bullen, England's Helicon; Drake, Shakespeare and his Times, Gosse, Facobean Poets; Arber, English Garner, which contains most of the sonnet cycles; Crow, Elizabethan Sonnet Sequences ; Chappel, Popular Music in the Olden Time; Minto, English Poets ; Saintsbury, Elizabethan Literature.

The Sonneteers. The suddenness of the outburst of lyric poetry that followed in 1591 the publication of Astrophel and Stella, together with its volume and its excellence, may be counted as one of the most remarkable phenomena in English literary history. The first rush of this poetic flood brought almost nothing 1592. Daniel's Delia. but sonnets. In the five years following Constable's Diana. the publication of Sidney's work no less Watson's Tears of than sixteen sequences of sonnets, all of Fancy. Barnes' Par

thenophil and Parthem dedicated to some faultless maiden thenophe. with a classic name, and all of them

1594. Percy's Calia. showing more or less the influence of Drayton's idea's Sidney and of Italian models, were en

jority of Shakestered upon the Stationer's Register. peare's Their popularity was unbounded; they (anonymous).

Zepheria were republished, many of them, again 1595. Barnfield's Cyn

thia. Chapman's and again, and they soon began to take

A Coronet, etc.

Flet. cher's Licia.

Mirror.

The ma

Sonnets

written.

The Sonnet Era

Rise and Growth of the Lyric Spirit

1596. Griffin's Fides

sa. ris.

Amoretti.

Barnes' A Divine among English readers the place so long Century, etc.

held by the Italian and French translaSmith's Chlo- tions. The sonnet era was quickly fol

Lynche's Diella. Spenser's lowed by a burst of romantic, patriotic,

and miscellaneous song, until England was in very truth " a nest of singing birds. "

The leading causes of this outburst are not hard to discover. Lyric poetry is almost wholly subjective. The poet voices his own joy or pain, his aspirations and hopes, his fears, his complaints, his despair. Its basis is the individual; it emphasizes not the mass but the unit. The spontaneous outpouring of lyric song in the days of Elizabeth marks the rise of individual consciousness. During all the Middle Ages the unit had been forgotten, but now a new age was dawning which recognized the rights of the individual and listened to his complaint. But these lyrics are more than mere personal cries. They are voices of young men: on every line are stamped the passion, the exuberance, the extravagance of youth. They teem with vitality and health; seldom is there a morbid strain or a minor note. Nothing could be more natural, more inevitable. They are the strong voice of a young nation, just conscious of its power, turbulent often, reckless and headstrong, romantic and full of dreams, brimming over with hope and joy and mere sensuous delight. The

very suddenness of the outburst may in some degree be explained. The growth of the lyric spirit had been a gradual one. The period between 1557 and 1591 had been a time of growing poetic achievement. Since the days of Wyatt the young nobility had been educated in Italy and France. They knew by heart the fashionable amoretti of the romance world, and they translated

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