The complete title of Spenser's Ovidian beast fable is given as "Muiopotmos, or the Fate of the Butterflie. By Ed. Sp. Dedicated to the most faire and vertuous Ladie: the Ladie Carey."
William Oldys?: "In 1590 was publisht MUIPOTMOS, or the fate of the Butterfly. Whether it alludes to the death of any promising Youth, we know not: but Spenser has told his story in his own way, that is, beautifully" Faerie Queene, ed. Church (1758) 1:xxv.
Thomas James Mathias: "This is the Ottava Rima of the Italians, the Stanza of Ariosto and Tasso in their heroick poems, and that of an infinite number of authors. It was first introduced in Italy by Boccacio, who wrote in this measure his Teseide, Filostrato, &c. in the fourteenth century; though he in reality appears to have borrowed it from Thibaut, King of Navarre and Count of Champagne, who had written in the same stanza in the year 1235. (See Crescimbeni, V. I. L. 5. C. &. p. 339.)" Works of Gray, ed. Mathias (1814) 2:20n.
Leigh Hunt: "Spenser is describing a butterfly, bound upon his day's pleasure. A common observer sees one of these beautiful little creatures flutter across a garden, thinks how pretty and sprightly it is, and there his observation comes to an end. Now mark what sort of report a poet can give in, even of the luxuries of a fly.... Amen, thou most satisfying of poets!" "Bees, Butterflies, &c" in The Indicator (1819, 1845) 2:154, 56.
Retrospective Review: "Muiopotmus; or, the Fate of the Butterfly, is a very pleasant little poem, in which Spenser's descriptive powers are shewn to great advantage. The description of Clarion, the youthful butterfly, is very elegant and poetical" 12 (1825) 151.
John Wilson: "Immortal, of a surety, is he the bright Prince of Air — He seems 'one of those heavenly Flies that cannot die.' Fairer and happier a thousand times is he than any of us creatures called men. Shabby insects in comparison are we, striving to 'glitter in the noontide ray,' in rivalry with them tincted by heaven" Blackwood's Magazine 34 (1833) 814.
Edwin Guest: "The Italian stanza of eight (the celebrated ottava rima) had better fortune [than the three-lined staves of Dante]. From the days of Surrey to those of Byron it has flourished in our poetry. Spenser wrote in it two of his poems, the Muiopotmos and Virgil's Gnat" History of English Rhythms (1838) 2:374.
John Payne Collier: "It is the only piece in the volume that bears the date of 1590, and we are persuaded that it was only by a printer's error that it was not dated, like all the others, 1591. This is surely a much more natural and easy solution of the difficulty, than to suppose that it had been separately published in 1590, which supposition, nevertheless, induced Todd to place the poem out of its proper order" Poetical Works of Spenser (1862; 1875) lxxxvi-vii.
I sing of deadly dolorous Debate,
Stirr'd up through wrathful Nemesis Despight,
Betwixt two mighty Ones of great Estate,
Drawn into Arms, and proof of mortal Fight,
Through proud Ambition, and heart-swelling Hate;
Whilst neither could the other's greater Might
And 'sdainful Scorn endure that from small Jar
Their Wraths at length broke into open War.
The Root whereof and tragical Effect,
Vouchsafe, O thou the mournful'st Muse of Nine,
That wont'st the tragick Stage for to direct,
In funeral Complaints and wailful Tine,
Reveal to me, and all the Means detect,
Through which sad Clarion did at last decline
To lowest Wretchedness; and is there then
Such Rancour in the Hearts of mighty Men?
Of all the Race of silver-winged Flies
Which do possess the Empire of the Air,
Betwixt the centred Earth, and azure Skies,
Was none more favorable, nor more fair,
Whilst Heaven did favour his Felicities,
Than Clarion, the eldest Son and Heir
Of Muscarol, and in his Father's sight
Of all alive did seem the fairest Wight.
With fruitful Hope his aged Breast he fed
Of future Good, which his young toward Years,
Full of brave Courage and bold Hardy-hed,
Above th' ensample of his equal Peers,
Did largely promise, and to him fore-red,
(Whilst oft his Heart did melt in tender Tears)
That he in time would sure prove such an one,
As should be worthy of his Father's Throne.
The fresh young Fly, in whom the kindly Fire
Of lustful Youth began to kindle fast,
Did much disdain to subject his Desire
To loathsom Sloth, or Hours in ease to waste;
But joy'd to range abroad in fresh Attire,
Through the wide Compass of the airy Coast,
And with unwearied Wings each part t' inquire
Of the wide Rule of his renowned Sire.
For he so swift and nimble was of flight,
That from this lower Tract he dar'd to fly
Up to the Clouds, and thence with Pineons light
To mount aloft unto the crystal Sky,
To view the Workmanship of Heaven's Hight:
Whence down descending, he along would fly
Upon the streaming Rivers, Sport to find;
And oft would dare to tempt the troublous Wind.
So on a Summers-day, when Season mild
With gentle Calm the World hath quieted,
And high in Heaven Hyperion's fiery Child
Ascending, did his Beams abroad disspred;
Whiles all the Heavens on lower Creatures smil'd,
Young Clarion with vauntful Lustyhed,
After his Guise did cast abroad to fare;
And thereto 'gan his Furnitures prepare.
His Breast-plate first, that was of Substance pure,
Before his noble Heart he firmly bound,
That mought his Life from iron Death assure,
And ward his gentle Corps from cruel Wound:
For it by Art was framed, to endure
The Bit of baleful Steel and bitter Stound,
No less than that which Vulcane made to shield
Achilles' Life from Fate of Trojan Field.
And then about his Shoulders broad he threw
An hairy Hide of some wild Beast, whom he
In salvage Forest by Adventure flew,
And reft the Spoil his Ornament to be:
Which spreading all his Back with dreadful view,
Made all that him so horrible did see,
Think him Alcides with the Lyon's Skin,
When the Naemean Conquest he did win.
Upon his Head his glistrering Burganet,
The which was wrought by wonderous Device,
And curiously engraven, he did set:
The Metal was of rare and passing price;
Not Bilbo Steel, nor Brass from Corinth fet,
Nor costly Oricalch from strange Phoenice;
But such as could both Phoebus' Arrows ward,
And th' hailing Darts of Heaven beating hard.
Therein two deadly Weapons fixt he bore,
Strongly outlaunced towards either side,
Like two sharp Spears, his Enemies to gore.
Like as a warlike Brigandine applide
To fight, lays forth her threatful Pikes afore,
The Engines which in them sad Death do hide;
So did this Fly outstretch his fearful Horns,
Yet so as him their Terrour more adorns.
Lastly, his shiny Wings as Silver bright,
Painted with thousand Colours, passing far
All Painters Skill, he did about him dight:
Not half so many sundry Colours are
In Iris' Bow, ne Heaven doth shine so bright,
Distinguished with many a twinkling Star;
Nor Juno's Bird, in her Eye-spotted Train,
So many goodly Colours doth contain.
Ne (may it be withouten Peril spoken)
The Archer God, the Son of Cytheree,
That joys on wretched Lovers to be wroken,
And heaped Spoils of bleeding Hearts to see,
Bears in his Wings so many a changeful Token.
Ah my liege Lord, forgive it unto me,
If ought against thine Honour I have told;
Yet sure those Wings were fairer manifold.
Full many a Lady fair, in Court full oft
Beholding them, him secretly envide,
And wisht that two such Fans, so silken soft,
And golden fair, her Love would her provide;
Or that when them the gorgeous Fly had doft,
Some one that would with Grace be gratifide,
From him would steal them privily away,
And bring to her so precious a Prey.
Report is that Dame Venus on a day,
In Spring when Flowres do cloath the fruitful Ground,
Walking abroad with all her Nymphs to play,
Bade her fair Damsels flocking her around,
To gather Flowres, her Forehead to array:
Emongst the rest a gentle Nymph was found,
Hight Astery, excelling all the Crew,
In courteous Usage, and unstained Hue.
Who being nimbler-jointed than the rest,
And more industrious, gathered more Store
Of the Field's Honour, than the others best;
Which they in secret Hearts envying sore,
Told Venus, when her as the worthiest
She prais'd, that Cupid (as they heard before)
Did lend her secret Aid, in gathering
Into her Lap the Children of the Spring.
Whereof the Goddess gathering jealous Fear,
Not yet unmindful, how not long ago
Her Son to Psyche secret Love did bear,
And long it close conceal'd, till mickle Wo
Thereof arose, and many a rueful Tear;
Reason with sudden Rage did overgo,
And giving hasty Credit to th' Accuser,
Was led away of them that did abuse her.
Eftsoons that Damsel by her heavenly Might,
She turn'd into a winged Butterfly,
In the wide Air to make her wandring Flight;
And all those Flowres, with which so plenteously
Her lap she filled had, that bred her Spight,
She placed in her Wings, for memory
Of her pretended Crime, though Crime none were:
Since which that Fly them in her Wings doth bear.
Thus the fresh Clarion being ready dight,
Unto his Journey did himself address,
And with good speed began to take his Flight:
Over the Fields in his frank Lustiness,
And all the Champain o'er he soared light,
And all the Country wide he did possess;
Feeding upon their Pleasures bounteously,
That none gainsaid, nor none did him envy.
The Woods, the Rivers, and the Meadows green,
With his air-cutting Wings he measured wide;
Ne did he leave the Mountains bare unseen,
Nor the rank grassie Fens Delights untride.
But none of these, however sweet they been,
Mote please his Fancy, nor him cause t' abide:
His choiceful Sense with every Change doth flit;
No common things may please a wavering Wit.
To the gay Gardens his unstaid Desire
Him wholly carried, to refresh his Sprights;
There lavish Nature, in her best Attire,
Pours forth sweet Odors, and alluring Sights;
And Art with her contending, doth aspire
T' excel the natural, with made Delights:
And all that fair or pleasant may be found,
In riotous Excess doth there abound.
There he arriving, round about doth fly,
From Bed to Bed, from one to other Border,
And takes Survey with curious buisie Eye,
Of every Flower and Herb there set in order;
Now this, now that he tasteth tenderly,
Yet none of them he rudely doth disorder,
Ne with his Feet their silken Leaves deface;
But pastures on the Pleasures of each place.
And evermore with most Variety,
And Change of Sweetness (for all Change is sweet)
He casts his glutton Sense to satisfie,
Now sucking of the Sap of Herbs most meet,
Or of the Dew, which yet on them does lie,
Now in the same bathing his tender Feet:
And then he pearcheth on some Branch thereby,
To weather him, and his moist Wings to dry.
And then again he turneth to his play,
To spoil the Pleasures of that Paradise:
The wholsom Sage, and Lavender still gray,
Rank-smelling Rue, and Cummin good for Eyes,
The Roses reigning in the pride of May,
Sharp Isop, good for green Wounds Remedies,
Fair Marigolds, and Bees-alluring Thime,
Sweet Marjoram, and Daisies decking Prime:
Cool Violets, and Orpine growing still,
Embathed Balm, and cheerful Galingale,
Fresh Costmary, and breathful Camomil,
Dull Popy, and drink-quickning Setuale,
Vein-healing Verven, and Head-purging Dill,
Sound Savory, and Bazil harty-hale,
Fat Colworts, and comforting Perseline,
Cold Lettice, and refreshing Rosmarine:
And whatso else of Vertue good or ill
Grew in this Garden, fetch'd from far away,
Of every one he takes, and tastes at will,
And on their Pleasures greedily doth prey.
Then when he hath both plaid, and fed his fill,
In the warm Sun he doth himself embay,
And there him rests in riotous Suffisance
Of all his Gladfulness, and kingly Joyance.
What more Felicity can fall to Creature,
Than to enjoy Delight with Liberty,
And to be Lord of all the Works of Nature,
To reign in th' Air from Earth to highest Sky,
To feed on Flowres, and Weeds of glorious Feature,
To take what ever thing doth please the Eye?
Who rests not pleased with such Happiness,
Well worthy he to taste of Wretchedness.
But what on Earth can long abide in State?
Or who can him assure of happy Day?
Sith Morning fair may bring foul Evening late,
And least Mishap the most Bliss alter may?
For thousand Perils lie in close await
About us daily, to work our Decay;
That none, except a God, or God him guide,
May them avoid, or remedy provide.
And whatso Havens in their secret Doom
Ordained have, how can frail fleshly Wight
Fore-cast, but it must needs to issue come?
The Sea, the Air, the Fire, the Day, the Night;
And th' Armies of their Creatures all and some
Do serve to them, and with importune Might
War against us the Vassals of their Will:
Who then can save what they dispose to spill?
Not thou, O Clarion, though fairest thou
Of all thy Kind, unhappy happy Fly,
Whose cruel Fate is woven even now
Of Jove's own Hand, to work thy Misery:
Ne may thee help the many a hearty Vow,
Which thy old Sire with sacred Piety
Hath poured forth for thee, and th' Altars sprent;
Nought may thee save from Heavens avengement.
It fortuned (as Heavens had behight)
That in this Garden, where young Clarion
Was wont to solace him, a wicked Wight,
The Foe of fair Things, th' author of Confusion,
The Shame of Nature, the Bondslave of Spight,
Had lately built his hateful Mansion,
And lurking closely, in await now lay,
How he might any in his Trap betray.
But when he spide the joyous Butterfly
In this fair Plot dispacing to and fro,
Fearless of Foes and hidden Jeopardy,
Lord! how he 'gan for to bestir him tho,
And to his wicked Work each part apply
His Heart did yern against his hated Fo,
And Bowels so with rankling Poison swell'd,
That scarce the Skin the strong Contagion held.
The cause why he this Fly so maliced,
Was (as in Stories it is written found)
For that his Mother which him bore and bred,
The most fine-fingred Workwoman on Ground,
Arachne, by his means was vanquished
Of Pallas, and in her own Skill confound,
When she with her for Excellence contended;
That wrought her Shame, and Sorrow never ended.
For the Tritonian Goddess having heard
Her blazed Fame, which all the World had fill'd,
Came down to prove the Truth, and due Reward
For her praise-worthy Workmanship to yield:
But the presumptuous Damsel rashly dar'd
The Goddess' self to challenge to the Field,
And to compare with her in curious Skill,
Of Works with Loom, with Needle, and with Quill.
Minerva did the Challenge not refuse,
But deign'd with her the Paragon to make:
So to their work they sit, and each doth chuse
What Story she will for her Tapet take.
Arachne figur'd how Jove did abuse
Europa like a Bull, and on his Back
Her through the Sea did bear; so lively seen,
That it true Sea, and true Bull ye would ween.
She seem'd still back unto the Land to look,
And her Play-fellows Aid to call, and fear
The dashing of the Waves, that up she took
Her dainty Feet, and Garments gathered near:
But (Lord!) how she in every Member shook,
When as the Land she saw no more appear,
But a wild Wilderness of Waters deep;
Then 'gan she greatly to lament and weep.
Before the Bull she pictur'd winged Love,
With his young Brother Sport, light fluttering
Upon the Waves, as each had been a Dove;
The one his Bow and Shafts, the other Spring
A burning Tead about his Head did move,
As in their Sire's new Love both triumphing:
And many Nymphs about them flocking round,
And many Tritons, which their Horns did sound.
And round about, her Work she did empale
With a fair Border wrought of sundry Flow'rs,
Enwoven with an Ivy-winding Trayle:
A goodly Work, full fit for Kingly Bow'rs,
Such as Dame Pallas, such as Envy pale,
That all good things with venemous Tooth devours,
Could not accuse. Then 'gan the Goddess bright
Her self likewise unto her Work to dight.
She made the Story of the old Debate,
Which she with Neptune did for Athens try;
Twelve Gods do sit around in royal State,
And Jove in midst with awful Majesty,
To judge the Strife between them stirred late:
Each of the Gods by his like Visnomy
Eath to be known, but Jove above them all,
By his great Looks, and Power Imperial.
Before them stands the God of Seas in place,
Claiming that Sea-coast City as his Right,
And strikes the Rocks with his three-forked Mace;
Whenceforth issues a warlike Steed in sight,
The Sign by which he challengeth the place;
That all the Gods, which saw his wondrous Might,
Did surely deem the Victory his due:
But seldom seen, Forejudgment proveth true.
Then to her self she gives her Aegide Shield,
And steel-head Spear, and Morion on her Head,
Such as she oft is seen in warlike Field:
Then sets she forth, how with her Weapon dred
She smote the Ground, the which straightforth did yield
A fruitful Olive-Tree, with Berries spred,
That all the Gods admir'd; then all the Story
She compass'd with a Wreath of Olives hoary.
Emongst those Leaves she made a Butterfly
With excellent Device and wondrous Slight,
Fluttering among the Olives wantonly,
That seem'd to live, so like it was in sight:
The velvet Nap which on his Wings doth lie,
The silken Down with which his Back is dight,
His broad out-stretched Horns, his airy Thighs,
His glorious Colours, and his glistering Eyes.
Which when Arachne saw, as overlaid,
And mastered with Workmanship so rare,
She stood astonied long, ne ought gainsaid,
And with fast fixed Eyes on her did stare
And by her Silence, Sign of one dismaid,
The Victory did yield her as her Share:
Yet did she inly fret, and felly burn,
And all her Blood to poisonous Rancour turn.
That shortly from the Shape of Womanhed,
Such as she was when Pallas she attempted,
She grew to hideous Shape of Drerihed,
Pined with Grief of Folly late repented:
Eftsoons her white strait Legs were altered
To crooked crawling Shanks, of Marrow empted,
And her fair Face to foul and loathsom Hue,
And her fine Corps to a Bag of Venom grew.
This cursed Creature, mindful of that old
Enfestred Grudge, the which his Mother felt,
So soon as Clarion he did behold,
His Heart with vengeful Malice inly swelt;
And weaving straight a Net with many a Fold
About the Cave, in which he lurking dwelt,
With fine small Cords about it stretched wide,
So finely spun, that scarce they could be spide.
Not any Damsel, which her vaunteth most
In skilful knitting of soft silken Twine;
Nor any Weaver, which his Work doth boast,
In Diaper, in Damask, or in Lyne;
Nor any skill'd in Workmanship emboss'd;
Nor any skill'd in Loups of Fingring fine;
Might in their diverse Cunning ever dare
With this so curious Net-work to compare.
Ne do I think, that that same subtile Gin,
The which the Lemnian God fram'd craftily,
Mars sleeping with his Wife to compass in,
That all the Gods, with common Mockery,
Might laugh at them, and scorn their shameful Sin,
Was like to this. This same he did apply,
For to entrap the careless Clarion,
That rang'd each where without Suspicion.
Suspicion of Friend, nor Fear of Foe,
That hazarded his Health, had he at all;
But walk'd at will, and wandred to and fro,
In the Pride of his Freedom principal:
Little wist he his fatal future Woe,
But was secure; the liker he to fall!
He likest is to fall into Mischance,
That is regardless of his Governance.
Yet still Aragnol (so his Foe was hight)
Lay lurking covertly him to surprise,
And all his Gins that him entangle might,
Dress'd in good Order as he could devise.
At length, the foolish Fly, without Foresight,
As he that did all Danger quite despise,
Towards those Parts came flying carelesly,
Where hidden was his fatal Enemy.
Who seeing him, with secret Joy therefore
Did tickle inwardly in every Vein;
And his false Heart, fraught with all Treason's Store,
Was fill'd with Hope; his Purpose to obtain:
Himself he close upgathered more and more
Into his Den, that his deceitful Train
By his there being might not be bewraid,
Ne any Noise, ne any Motion made.
Like as a wily Fox, that having spide
Where on a sunny Bank the Lambs do play,
Full closely creeping by the hinder Side,
Lies in Ambushment of his hoped Prey;
Ne stirreth Limb, till seeing ready tide,
He rusheth forth, and snatcheth quite away
One of the little Younglings unawares:
So to his Work Aragnol him prepares.
Who now shall give unto my heavy Eyes
A Well of Tears, thee all may overflow?
Or where shall I find lamentable Cryes,
And mournful Tunes enough my Grief to show?
Help, O thou tragick Muse, me to devise
Notes sad enough, t' express this bitter Throw!
For loe! the drery Stownd is now arrived,
That of all Happiness hath us deprived.
The luckless Clarion, whether cruel Fate,
Or wicked Fortune faultless him misled,
Or some ungracious Blast out of the Gate
Of Aeole's Reign perforce him drove on hed,
Was (O sad hap and hour unfortunate!)
With violent swift Flight forth carried
Into the cursed Cobweb, which his Foe
Had framed for his final Overthrow.
There the fond Fly entangled, struggled long,
Himself to free thereout; but all in vain:
For striving more, the more in Laces strong
Himself he tide, and wrapt his Winges twain
In limy Snares the subtil Loops among;
That in the end he breathless did remain,
And all his youthly Forces idly spent,
Him to the Mercy of th' Avenger lent.
Which when the griesly Tyrant did espy,
Like a grim Lion rushing with fierce Might
Out of his Den, he seized greedily
On the resistless Prey, and with fell Spight
Under the left Wing strook his Weapon sly
Into his Heart, that his deep-groaning Spright
In bloody Streams forth fled into the Air,
His Body left the Spectacle of Care.
[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 5:1341-54]