1591
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Visions of Bellay.

Complaints. Containing sundrie small Poemes of the Worlds Vanitie. Whereof the next Page maketh mention. By Ed. Sp.

Edmund Spenser


Spenser's translations of Bellay and Petrarch had originally appeared in Van der Noot's Theatre (1569).

William Oldys?: "Probably little things, done when Spenser was young, put together to the taste of the times for Emblems; and apparently publisht while he was in Ireland" Faerie Queene, ed. Church (1758) 1:xxv.

William Preston: "Spenser, in the succeeding age, showed us a more correct and perfect model of the sonnet [than Surrey's]; which he adopted from Bellay, whom he seems to have admired and studied, for, his visions of Bellay he has translated literally from the songe of that writer, without even deviating from the sonnet stanza, in which the original is written. As Spenser caught his fondness for the sonnet from Bellay, whom a congenial spirit endeared to the incorrect imagination of our english bard, debauched by the love of allegory; so, he was infected by him with the love of quaint antithesis, and frigid concette" Poems (1793) 1:267-68.

F. G. Fleay: "These were originally written in blank verse, and published in the Theater for Worldlings, as 'devised by S. John van der Noodt,' 25th May 1569. They were afterwards rewritten in sonnet form, and published in the Complaints as Spenser's in 1591. The blank-verse series contains four from the Revelation (beast, woman, white horse, and New Jerusalem) that are not in the sonnet series, and conversely there are four in the sonnet series (wolf, river, vessel, and city) not in the blank-verse series. They have no dedication prefixed" Guide to Chaucer and Spenser (1877) 83.



It was the time, when Rest soft sliding down
From Heaven's Height into Mens heavy Eyes,
In the Forgetfulness of Sleep doth drown
The careful Thoughts of mortal Miseries;
Then did a Ghost before mine Eyes appear,
On that great River's Bank, that runs by Rome,
Which calling me by Name, bade me to rear
My Looks to Heaven, whence all good Gifts do come:
And crying loud, Lo now behold (quoth he)
What under this great Temple placed is!
Lo, all is nought but flying Vanity!
So I that know this World's Inconstancies,
Sith only God surmounts all Times Decay,
In God alone my Confidence do stay.

On high Hill's top I saw a stately Frame,
An hundred Cubits high by just assize,
With hundred Pillours fronting fair the same,
All wrought with Diamond after Dorick wize:
Nor Brick, nor Marble was the Wall in view,
But shining Crystal, which from Top to Base
Out of her Womb a thousand Rayons threw,
One hundred Steps of Africk Gold's enchase.
Gold was the Parget, and the Cieling bright
Did shine all scaly with great Plates of Gold;
The Floor of Jasp and Emerauld was dight.
O World's Vainness! Whiles thus I did behold,
An Earthquake shook the Hill from lowest Seat,
And overthrew this Frame with ruine great.

Then did a sharped Spire of Diamond bright,
Ten Feet each way in square, appear to me,
Justly proportion'd up unto his hight,
So far as Archer might his Level see:
The top thereof a Pot did seem to bear;
Made of the Metal which we all do honour;
And in this golden Vessel couched were
The Ashes of a mighty Emperour.
Upon four corners of the base were pight,
To bear the Frame, four Lyons great of Gold;
A worthy Tomb for such a worthy Wight:
Alas! this World doth nought but Grievance hold.
I saw a Tempest from the Heaven descend,
Which this brave Monument with Flash did rend.

I saw rais'd up on Ivory Pillors tall,
Whose Bases were of richest Metals wark,
The Chapters Alabaster, the Fryses Crystal,
The double Front of a triumphal Ark;
On each side pourtraid was a Victory,
Clad like a Nymph, that Wings of Silver wears,
And in triumphant Chair was set on hy
The antient Glory of the Roman Peers.
No Work it seem'd of earthly Craftsman's Wit,
But rather wrought by his own Industry,
That Thunder-Darts for Jove, his Sire, doth fit.
Let me no more see fair thing under Sky,
Sith that mine Eyes have seen so fair a Sight
With suddain Fall to Dust consumed quight.

Then was the fair Dodonian Tree far seen,
Upon seven Hills to spred his gladsom Gleam,
And Conquerors bedecked with his Green,
Along the Banks of the Ausonian Stream:
There many an ancient Trophy was addrest,
And many a Spoil, and many a goodly Show,
Which that brave Race's Greatness did attest,
That whilom from the Trojan Blood did flow.
Ravisht I was so rare a thing to view,
When lo! a barbarous Troup of clownish Fone
The Honour of these noble Bows down threw,
Under the Wedge I heard the Tronk to groan;
And since I saw the Root in great disdain
A Twin of forked Trees fend forth again.

I saw a Wolf under a rocky Cave
Nursing two Whelps; I saw her little ones
In wanton Dalliance the Teat to crave,
While she her Neck wreath'd from them for the nones:
I saw her range abroad to seek her Food,
And roming through the Field with greedy Rage
T' embrew her Teeth and Claws with lukewarm Blood
Of the small Heards, her Thirst for to asswage.
I saw a thousand Huntsmen, which descended
Down from the Mountains bord'ring Lombardy,
That with an hundred Spears her Flank wide rended.
I saw her on the Plain outstretched lie,
Throwing out thousand Throbs in her own Soil:
Soon on a Tree uphang'd I saw her Spoil.

I saw the Bird, that can the Sun endure,
With feeble Wings assay to mount on hight,
By more and more she 'gan her Wings t' assure,
Following th' ensample of her Mother's Sight:
I saw her rise, and with a larger Flight
To pierce the Clouds, and with wide Pinneons
To measure the most haughty Mountains hight,
Until she raught the Gods own Mansions:
There was she lost, when suddain I beheld,
Where tumbling through the Air in fiery Fold,
All flaming down she on the Plain was feld,
And soon her Body turn'd to Ashes cold.
I saw the Fowl that doth the Light despise,
Out of her Dust like to a Worm arise.

I saw a River swift, whose foamy Billows
Did wash the Ground-Work of an old great Wall;
I saw it cover'd all with grisly Shadows,
That with black Horror did the Air appall:
There-out a strange Beast with seven Heads arose,
That Towns and Castles under her Breast did cour,
And seem'd both milder Beasts and fiercer Foes
Alike with equal Ravin to devour.
Much was I maz'd, to see this Monster's Kind
In hundred Forms to change his fearful hue,
Whenas at length. I saw the wrathful Wind,
Which blows cold Storms, burst out of Scythian Mew,
That sperst these Clouds, and in so short as thought,
This dreadful Shape was vanished to nought.

Then all astonied with this mighty Ghoast,
An hideous Body big and strong I saw,
With side-long Beard, and Locks down hanging loast,
Stern Face, and Front full of Saturn-like Awe;
Who leaning on the Belly of a Pot,
Pour'd forth a Water, whose out-gushing Flood
Ran bathing all the creaky Shore aflot,
Whereon the Trojan Prince spilt Turnus' Blood;
And at his Feet a Birch-Wolf Suck did yield
To two young Babes: his left, the palm-tree stout,
His right Hand did the peaceful Olive wield,
And Head with Laurel garnisht was about.
Sudden both Palm and Olive fell away,
And fair green Laurel-Branch did quite decay.

Hard by a River's side a Virgin fair,
Folding her Arms to Heaven with thousand Throbs,
And outraging her Cheeks and golden Hair,
To falling Rivers Sound thus tun'd her Sobs.
Where is (quoth she) this whilom honored Face?
Where the great Glory and the ancient Praise,
In which all World's Felicity had place,
When Gods and Men my Honour up did raise?
Suffic'd it not that civil Wars me made
The whole World's Spoil, but that this Hydra new,
Of hundred Hercules to be assaid,
With seven Heads, budding monstrous Crimes anew,
So many Neroes and Caligulas
Out of these crooked Shores must daily raise?

Upon an Hill a bright Flame I did see,
Waving aloft with triple Point to Sky,
Which like Incense of precious Cedar Tree,
With balmy Odours fill'd th' Air far and nigh.
A Bird all white, well feather'd on each Wing,
Here-out up to the Throne of Gods did fly,
And all the way most pleasant Notes did sing,
Whilst in the Smoak she unto Heaven did sty.
Of this fair Fire the scattered Rays forth threw
On every side a thousand shining Beams:
When sudden dropping of a silver Dew
(O grievous chance!) 'gan quench those precious Flames;
That it which earst so pleasant Scent did yield,
Of nothing now but noyous Sulphur smeld.

I saw a Spring out of a Rock forth rall,
As clear as Crystal 'gainst the sunny Beams,
The bottom yellow, like the golden Grail
That bright Pactolus washeth with his Streams;
It seem'd that Art and Nature had assembled
All Pleasures there, for which Man's Heart could long;
And there a Noise alluring Sleep soft trembled,
Of many Accords, more sweet than Mermaids Song:
The Seats and Benches shone of Ivory,
And hundred Nymphs sat side by side about;
When from nigh Hills with hideous Outcry,
A Troup of Saryrs in the place did rout,
Which with their villain Feet the Stream did ray,
Threw down the Sears, and drove the Nymphs away.

Much richer than that Vessel seem'd to be,
Which did to that sad Florentine appear,
Casting mine Eyes far off, I chanc'd to see,
Upon the Latine Coast her self to rear:
But suddenly arose a Tempest great,
Bearing close envy to these Riches rare,
Which 'gan assail this Ship with dreadful Threat
This ship, to which none other might compare.
And finally the Storm impetuous
Sunk up these Riches, second unto none,
Within the Gulf of greedy Nereus,
I saw both ship and Mariners each one,
And all that Treasure drowned in the Main:
But I the Ship saw after rais'd again.

Long having deeply gron'd these Visions sad,
I saw a City like unto that same,
Which saw the Messenger of Tydings glad;
But that on Sand was built the goodly Frame:
It seem'd her Top the Firmament did raise,
And no less rich than fair, right worthy sure
(If ought here worthy) of immortal Days,
Or if ought under Heaven might firm endure.
Much wondered I to see so fair a Wall:
When from the Northern Coast a Storm arose,
Which breathing Fury from his inward Gall
On all, which did against his Course oppose,
Into a Cloud of Dust sperst in the Air
The weak Foundations of this City fair.

At length, even at the time when Morpheus
Most truly doth unto our Eyes appear,
Weary to see the Heavens still wavering thus,
I saw Typhaeus' Sister coming near;
Whose Head full bravely with a Morion hid,
Did seem to match the Gods in Majestie;
She by a River's Bank that swift down hid
O'er all the World did raise a Trophee hie;
An hundred vanquisht Kings under her lay,
With Arms bound at their backs in shameful wise.
Whilst I thus mazed was with great affray,
I saw the Heavens in war against her rise;
Then down she striken fell with Clap of Thonder,
That with great noise I wakt in sudden Wonder.

[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 5:1383-89]