The sestina in August was a standing challenge for other Elizabethan poets to emulate. Who but the creator of the Spenserian stanza could invent so many rhymes on so few words?
John Hughes: "Two Shepherds, Perigot and Willy, contend for a Prize in Verse. Perigot relates in a Song the manner of his falling in Love; Willy bears his Part in a kind of Repartee or Under-song: Cuddy, who was Judg between them, having prais'd them both, repeats a kind of Roundelay, of Despair, made by Colin on Rosalind; in which the Reader may observe, that instead of Rhyme, the Art of the Verse consists in the regular Changes on the six Words in which are at the close of the first six Lines" Works of Spenser (1715) 4:1086.
Michael Drayton: "Master EDMUND SPENSER had done enough for the immortalitie of his Name, had he only given us his Shepheards Kalender, a Master-piece if any" "To the Reader of his Pastorals" in Poems (1619) 432.
Thomas Gray: "Spenser has also given us an instance of the decasyllabick measure with an unusual liberty in its feet, in the beginning of his Pastoral called August, thus [Then lo, Perigot, the pledge which I plight....] where there are Trochees, &c. in every foot but the last. I do not doubt that he had some ancient examples of this rhythm in his memory, when he wrote it. Bishop Douglas, in his Prologue to the eighth Aeneid, written about eighty years before Spenser's Calendar, has something of the same kind" "Observations on English Metre" in Works, ed. Mathias (1814) 2:16-17.
Robert Southey: "The song of which Mr. Todd says every seventh verse is an echo to the preceding is a regular sextine, a foolish species of trifling, common in Italian and Spanish poetry. Mr. Todd has not understood it. The final words of each line must be the same in every stanza; but the last termination of the first stanza becomes the first of the second, the first second, the second third, and so on, till the six changes have been rung, and the whole is concluded by a tercet of the first stanza. Of the many foolish tricks which have been tried upon versification, there have been few more foolish than this, for it has nothing but its difficulty to recommend it" Annual Review 4 (1806) 551.
Edwin Guest: "There is a curious stave, which should be noticed, if it were only for the celebrity it once possessed throughout Europe — I mean the Sestino-stave, invented by Arnaud Daniel, the Troubadour eulogised by Dante and Petrarch. The stave consisted of six verses, which had no rhime, but the same final syllables were used in all the staves; and the order was so regulated, that each of the final syllables, in its turn, closed the stanza. Spenser has left us an example" History of English Rhythms (1838) 2:372.
Selected notes from Todd's Works of Spenser (1805):
Then listen &c.] The Song, which follows, is distinguished by a peculiar arrangement of words. Every seventh verse is an echo to the preceding. And Perigot, declares himself in raptures at "each turning" of the verses, v. 191. This Song of Colin is also considered by Webbe, in his Discourse of English Poetrie, 1586, as a rare device and pretty invention in composition, framed upon six words prettily turn'd and wound up together; not unlike John Graunges device of making the last words of certain number of verses fall into sense. The same critick relates, that there were several performance in this nature of Echoes privately passing among the finest poets of our authors time. TODD.
WILLY. PERIGOT. CUDDY.
Tell me, Perigot, what shall be the Game,
Wherefore with mine thou dare thy Musick match?
Or been thy Bagpipes ren far out of frame?
Or hath the Cramp thy Joints benumb'd with ach?
Ah Willy, when the Heart is ill assay'd,
How can Bagpipe or Joints be well apay'd?
What the foul Evil hath thee so bestad?
Whylom thou west peregal to the best,
And wont to make the jolly Shepherds glad,
With piping and dancing did past the rest.
Ah, Willy, now I have learn'd a new Dance;
My old Musick marr'd by a new Mischance.
Mischief mought to that Mischance befall,
That so hath raft us of our Meriment:
But read me, What pain doth thee so appall?
Or lovest thou, or been thy Yonglings miswent?
Love hath misled both my Yonglings and me:
I pine for pain, and they my plaint to see.
Perdy and weal away! ill may they thrive;
Never knew I Lovers Sheep in good plight:
But and if Rimes with me thou dare strive,
Such fond Fantasies shall soon be put to flight.
That shall I do, though mouchel worse I far'd:
Never shall be said that Perigot was dar'd.
Then lo, Perigot, the pledge which I plight,
A Mazer ywrought of the Maple Ware;
Wherein is enchased many a fair sight,
Of Bears and Tygers, that maken fierce War:
And over them spred a goodly wild Vine,
Entrail'd with a wanton Ivy Twine.
Thereby is a Lamb in the Wolve's Jaws:
But see, how fast renneth the Shepherd's Swain,
To save the Innocent from the Beast's Paws;
And here with his Sheep-hook hath him slain.
Tell me, such a Cup hast thou ever seen?
Well mought it beseem any harvest Queen.
Thereto will I pawn yonder spotted Lamb,
Of all my Flock there nis sike another;
For I brought him up without the Damb:
But Colin Clout raft me of his Brother,
That he purchast of me in the plain Field:
Sore against my Will was I forst to yield.
Siker make like account of his Brother:
But who shall judg the Wager won or lost?
That shall yonder Herd-groom, and none other,
Which over the Pousse hitherward doth post.
But for the Sun-beam so fore doth us beat,
Were not better, to shun the scorching Heat?
Well agreed Willy: then sit thee down Swain;
Sike a Song never heardest thou, but Colin sing.
'Gin, when ye list, ye jolly Shepherds twain:
Sike a Judg, as Cuddy, were for a King.
PER. It fell upon a holy Eve,
WILL. Hey ho Holiday!
PER. When holy Fathers wont to shrive:
WILL. Now 'ginneth this Roundelay.
PER. Sitting upon a Hill so high,
WILL. Hey ho the high Hill!
PER. The while my Flock did feed thereby,
WILL. The while the Shepherd self did spill:
PER. I saw the bouncing Bellibone;
WILL. Hey ho Bonnibel!
PER. Tripping over the Dale alone,
WILL. She can trip it very well.
PER. Well decked in a Frock of grey,
WILL. Hey ho grey is greet!
PER. And in a Kirtle of green Say,
WILL. The green is for Maidens meet.
PER. A Chaplet on her Mead she wore,
WILL. Hey ho Chapelet!
PER. Of sweet Violets therein was store,
WILL. She sweeter than the Violet.
PER. My Sheep did leave their wonted Food,
WILL. Hey ho seely Sheep!
PER. And gaz'd on her, as thy were wood;
WILL. Wood as he, that did them keep.
PER. As the bony Lass passed by,
WILL. Hey ho bony Lass!
PER. She rov'd at me with glauncing Eye,
WILL. As clear as the crystal Glass:
PER. All as the sunny Beam so bright,
WILL. Hey ho the Sun-beam!
PER. Glanceth from Phoebus' Face forthright,
WILL. So Love into thy Heart did stream;
PER. Or as the Thunder cleaves the Clouds,
WILL. Hey ho the Thunder!
PER. Wherein the lightsom Levin shrouds,
WILL. So cleaves thy Soul asunder:
PER. Or as Dame Cynthia's silver Ray,
WILL. Hey ho the Moon-light!
PER. Upon the glittering Wave doth play;
WILL. Such play is a piteous Plight.
PER. The Glance into my Heart did glide,
WILL. Hey ho the Glider!
PER. Therewith my Soul was sharply gride,
WILL. Such Wounds soon wexen wider.
PER. Hasting to raunch the Arrow out,
WILL. Hey ho Perigot!
PER. I left the Head in my Heart-root:
WILL. It was a desperate shot.
PER. There it rancleth aye more and more,
WILL. Hey ho the Arrow!
PER. Ne can I find Salve for my Sore:
WILL. Love is a careless Sorrow.
PER. And though my Bale with Death I bought,
WILL. Hey ho heavy Chear!
PER. Yet should thilk Lass not from my thought:
WILL. So you may buy Gold too dear.
PER. But whether in painful Love I pine,
WILL. Hey ho pinching Pain!
PER. Or thrive in Wealth, she shall be mine,
WILL. But if thou can her obtain.
PER. And if for graceless Grief I die,
WILL. Hey ho graceless Grief!
PER. Witness, she slew me with her Eye,
WILL. Let thy folly be the prief.
PER. And you that saw it, simple Sheep,
WILL. Hey ho the fair Flock!
PER. For prief thereof, my Death shall weep,
WILL. And mone with many a Mock.
PER. So learn'd I love on a holy Eve,
WILL. Hey ho Holy-day!
PER. That ever since my Heart did grieve,
WILL. Now endeth our Roundelay.
Siker, sike a Roundle never heard I none,
Little lacketh Perigot of the best,
And Willy is not greatly over-gone,
So weren his under-songs well addrest.
Herd-groom, I fear me, thou have a squint Eye;
Areed uprightly who has the Victory.
Faith of my Soul, I deem each have gained;
For-thy, let the Lamb be Willy his own:
And for Perigot so well hath him pained,
To him be the wroughten Mazer alone.
Perigot is well pleased with the Doom:
Ne can Willy wite the witless Herd-groom.
Never dempt more right of Beauty, I ween,
The Shepherd of Ida, that judg'd Beauty's Queen.
But tell me, Shepherds, should it not yshend
Your Roundels fresh, to hear a doleful Verse
Of Rosalind (who knows not Rosalind?)
That Colin made? ylke can I you rehearse.
Now say it, Cuddy, as thou art a Lad;
With merry thing it's good to meddle sad.
Faith of my Soul, thou shalt ycrowned be
In Colin's steed, if thou this Song areed:
For never thing on Earth so pleaseth me,
As him to hear, or matter of his Deed.
Then listen each unto my heavy Lay,
And tune your Pipes as ruthful as ye may.
Ye wastful Woods bear witness of my Woe,
Wherein my Plaints did oftentimes resound;
Ye careless Birds are privy to my Cryes,
Which in your Songs were wont to make a part:
Thou pleasant Spring hast lull'd me oft asleep,
Whose streams my trickling rears did oft augment.
Resort of People doth my Grief augment,
The walled Towns do work my greater Woe:
The Forest wide is fitter to resound
The hollow Eccho of my careful Cryes;
I hate the House, since thence my Love did part,
Whose wailful Want debars mine Eyes of sleep.
Let Streams of Tears supply the place of Sleep:
Let all that sweet is, void; and all that may augment
My Dole, draw near. More meet to wail my Woe,
Been the wild Woods, my Sorrows to resound,
Than Bed, nor Bower, both which I fill with Cryes,
When I them see so waste, and find no part
Of pleasure past. Here will I dwell apart
In gastful Grove therefore, till my last Sleep
Do close mine Eyes: so shall I not augment
With sight of such as change my restless Woe.
Help me, ye baneful Birds, whose shrieking sound
Is sign of dreery Death, my deadly Cryes
Most ruthfully to tune. And as my Cryes
(Which of my Woe cannot bewray least part)
You hear all Night, when Nature craveth Sleep,
Increase, so let your yrksome Yelles augment.
Thus all the Night in Plaints, the Day in Woe,
I vowed have to waste, till safe and sound
She home return, whose Voice's silver Sound
To chearful Songs can change my chearless Cryes.
Hence, with the Nightingale will I take part,
That blessed Bird, that spends her time of sleep
In Songs and plaintive Pleas, the more t' augment
The memory of his Misdeed, that bred her Woe.
And you that feel no Woe, when as the Sound
Of these my nightly Cryes ye hear apart,
Let break your sounder Sleep, and Pity augment.
O Colin, Colin, the Shepherd's Joy,
How I admire each turning of the Verse:
And Cuddy, fresh Cuddy, the liefest Boy,
How dolefully his Dole thou didst rehearse!
Then blow Your Pipes, Shepherds, till yon be at home:
The Night hieth fast, it's time to be gone.
Vicenti gloria victi.
Vinto non vitto.
Felice chi puo.
[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 4:1086-92]