An encounter with Cupid, after the Greek poet Bion. In this vein, compare Henry More's allegorical "Cupid's Conflict" published in 1646.
John Hughes: "Two Shepherds take occasion from the approach of the Spring to discourse of Love, describ'd here as a Person: One of them relates a Story of his having discover'd him lately hid in a Bush, and of his being wounded by him" Works of Spenser (1715) 4:1054.
William Melmoth: "when [allegories] are extended in any serious composition beyond the limits of metaphor, and exhibited under all the various actions of real persons; I cannot but consider them as so many absurdities which custom has unreasonably authorised. Thus Spenser, in one of his pastorals, represents the god of love as flying, like a bird, from bough to bough. A shepherd, who hears a rustling among the bushes, supposes it to be some game, and accordingly discharges his bow. Cupid returns the shot, and after several arrows had been mutually exchanged between them, the unfortunate swain discovers whom it is he is contending with: but as he is edeavouring to make his escape, receives a desperate wound in the heel. This fiction makes the subject of a very pretty idyllium in one of the Greek poets, yet is extremely flat and disgusting as it is adapted by our British bard. And the reason of the difference is plain: in the former it is supported by a popular superstition; whereas no strain of imagination can give it the least air of probability as it is worked up by the latter" Letters of Thomas Fitzosborne (1748) 2:228-29.
Selected notes from Todd's Works of Spenser (1805):
"Mought her neck bene joynted attones, | She shoulde have neede no more spell;] That is, I wish she had died in the fall. I then should never have had any further occasion for blessing her with a charm. "Spell," as E. K. remarks, is a kind of verse or charm that in elder times they used to say over every thing that they would have preserved; as the "night-spell" for thieves, and the "wood-spell." T. WARTON.
The following story of the Shepherd shooting at a winged boy in a tree, is imitated from the second Idyllium of Bion, and not from Theocritus as E. K. remarks.... But Spenser has improved the tale with some pretty strokes of pastoral character. T. WARTON.
Thomalin, why sitten we so,
As weren overwent with Woe.
Upon so fair a Morrow?
The joyous time now nigheth fast,
That shall alegg this bitter Blast,
And slake the Winter Sorrow.
Siker Willy, thou warnest well;
For Winter's Wrath begins to quell,
And pleasant Spring appeareth:
The Grass now 'gins to be refresht
The Swallow peeps out of her Nest,
And cloudy Welkin cleareth.
Seest not thilk same Hawthorn Stud,
How bragly it begins to bud,
And utter his tender Head?
Flora now calleth forth each Flower,
And bids make ready Maia's Bower,
That new is uprist from Bed.
Tho shall we sporten in delight,
And learn with Lettice to wex light,
That scornfully looks askaunce:
Tho will we little Love awake,
That now sleepeth in Lethe Lake,
And pray him leaden our daunce.
Willy, I ween thou be a Sot;
For lusty Love still sleepeth not,
But is abroad at his Game.
How kenst thou that he is awoke?
Or hast thy self his Slumber broke?
Or made privy to the same?
No, but happily I him spide,
Where in a Bush he did him hide,
With Wings of purple and blue:
And were not, that my Sheep would stray,
The privy Marks I would bewray,
Whereby by chaunce I him knew.
Thomalin, have no care for-thy,
My self will have a double Eye,
Ylike to my Flock and thine;
For alas at home I have a Sire,
A Stepdame eke as hot as Fire,
That duly adays counts mine.
Nay, but thy seeing will not serve,
My Sheep for that may chaunce to swerve,
And fall into some Mischief.
For sithens is but the third morrow,
That I chauncst to fall asleep with Sorrow,
And waked again with Grief:
The while thilk same unhappy Ewe,
Whose clouted Leg her hurt doth shew,
Fell headlong into a Dell,
And there unjointed both her Bones:
Mought her Neck been jointed attones,
She should have need no more Spell.
Th' Elf was so wanton and so wood,
(But now I trow can better good)
She mought ne gang on the Green.
Let be, as may be, that is past;
That is to come, let be forecast:
Now tell us what thou hast seen.
It was upon a Holy-day
When Shepherds Grooms han leave to play,
I cast to go a shooting:
Long wandring up and down the Land,
With Bow and Bolts in either Hand,
For Birds in Bushes tooting:
At length within the Ivy tod,
(There shrouded was the little God)
I heard a busie bustling.
I bent my Bolt against the Bush,
Listning if any thing did rush,
But then heard no more rustling.
Tho peeping close into the thick,
Might see the moving of some quick,
Whose Shape appeared not;
But were it Fairy, Fiend, or Snake,
My Courage earn'd it to awake,
And manfully thereat shot.
With that sprang forth a naked Swain,
With spotted Wings like Peacocks Train,
And laughing lope to a Tree;
His gilden Quiver at his Back,
And silver Bow which was but slack,
Which lightly he bent at me.
That seeing, I level'd again,
And shot at him with Might and Main,
As thick, as it had hailed.
So long I shot, that all was spent.
Tho pumy Stones I hastily hent,
And threw; but nought availed
He was so wimble and so wight,
From Bough to Bough he leaped light,
And oft the Pumies latched.
Therewith afraid, I ran away;
But he, that earst seem'd but to play,
A Shaft in earnest snatched,
And hit me running, in the Heel;
For then I little smart did feel,
But soon it sore increased.
And now it rankleth more and more,
And inwardly it festereth sore,
Ne wote I how to cease it.
Thomalin, I pity thy Plight,
Perdy with Love thou diddest fight:
I know him by a Token.
For once I heard my Father say,
How he him caught upon a day,
(Whereof he will be wroken)
Entangled in a Fowling-Net,
Which he for Carrion-Crows had set,
That in our Pear-tree haunted:
Tho said, he was a winged Lad,
But Bow and Shafts as then none had;
Else had he sore be daunted.
But see, the Welkin thicks apace,
And stooping Phoebus steeps his race:
It's time to haste us homeward.
To be Wise and eke to Love,
Is granted scarce to Gods above.
Of Honey and of Gall, in love there is store:
The Honey is much, but the Gall is more.
[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 4:1054-57]