1595
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Epithalamion.

Amoretti and Epithalamion. Written not long since by Edmunde Spenser.

Edmund Spenser


The complexities of Spenser's compositional practices were lost on later readers; Robert Aikin is typical: "The Epithalamion composed for his own marriage, possesses feeling as well as fancy, and wants only judicious curtailment to make it a very pleasing piece" Works of Spenser (1802) 1:xlv-vi.

Robert Southey: "The epithalamium on his own marriage is one of the very finest poems which was ever written; were but a few parts omitted, it might be pronounced perfect" Annual Review 4 (1806) 549.

Anna Jameson: "The Amoretti, as Spenser has fancifully entitled his Sonnets, are certainly tinctured with a good deal of the verbiage and pedantry of the times; but I think I have shown that they contain passages of earnest feeling, as well as high poetic beauty. Spenser married his Elizabeth, about the year 1593, and he has crowned his amatory effusions with a most impassioned and triumphant epithalamion on his own nuptials, which he concludes with a prophecy, that it shall stand a perpetual monument of his happiness, and thus it has been. The passage in which he describes his youthful bride, is perhaps one of the most beautiful and vivid pictures in the whole compass of English poetry" Loves of the Poets (1829) 1:231.

Henry Hallam: "The English language seems to expand itself with a copiousness unknown before, while he pours forth the varied imagery of this splendid little poem. I do not know any other nuptial song, ancient or modern, of equal beauty. It is an intoxication of ecstasy, ardent, noble, and pure. But it pleased not Heaven that these day-dreams of genius and virtue should be undisturbed" Literature of Europe (1837-39; 1882) 2:223.

Edwin Guest: "The broken stave was closed with an alexandrine at a very early period. The following intricate specimen ["Open the Temple-gates. . ."] was used by Spenser in his Epithalamion, written on the marriage of the two Ladies Somerset, daughters of Lord Worcester. It may be considered as compounded of a ballet-stave of 6, a peculiar ballet-stave of 5 with three terminations, another ballet-stanza of 6, and a final couplet — the first and second staves receiving band from the rhime. Each of the three staves breaks its last verse" History of English Rhythms (1838) 2:394-95.

Aubrey de Vere: "I have heard Wordsworth remark, more than once, that in its long and exquisitely balanced stanzas there was a swanlike movement and a subtle metrical sweetness, the secret of which he could never wholly discover; and the like of which he found nowhere else except in Milton's Lycidas" Essays chiefly on Poetry (1887) 1:46.



Ye learned Sisters, which have oftentimes
Been to me aiding, others to adorn,
Whom ye thought worthy of your graceful Rimes,
That ev'n the greatest did not greatly scorn
To hear their Names sing in your simple Layes,
But joyed in their Praise;
And when ye list your own Mishap so mourn,
Which Death, or Love, or Fortune's Wreck did raise,
Your String could soon to sadder Tenour turn,
And teach the Woods and Waters to lament
Your doleful Dreriment:
Now lay those sorrowful Complaints aside,
And having all your Heads with Girlands crown'd,
Help me mine own Love's Praises to resound,
Ne let the same of any be envide.
So Orpheus did for his own Bride:
So I unto my self alone will sing;
The Woods shall to me answer, and my Eccho ring.

Early before the World's Light-giving Lamp
His golden Beam upon the Hills doth spred,
Having disperst the Night's uncheerful Damp;
Do ye awake, and with fresh Lustihed,
Go to the Bowre of my beloved Love,
My truest Turtle-Dove,
Bid her awake; for Hymen is awake,
And long since ready forth his Mask to move,
With his bright Tead that flames with many a Flake,
And many a Batchelor to wait on him,
In their fresh Garments trim.
Bid her awake therefore, and soon her dight,
For loe the wished Day is come at last,
That shall for all the Pains and Sorrows past,
Pay to her Usury of long Delight:
And whilst she doth her dight,
Do ye to her of Joy and Solace sing,
That all the Woods may answer, and your Eccho ring.

Bring with you all the Nymphs that you can hear,
Both of the Rivers and the Forests green:
And of the Sea that neighbours to her near,
All with gay Girlands goodly well beseen.
And let them also with them bring in hand
Another gay Girland,
For my fair Love, of Lillies and of Roses,
Bound true-love wise, with a blue silk Riband.
And-let them make great Store of bridal Poses,
And let them eke bring store of other Flowers
To deck the bridal Bowers.
And let the Ground whereas her Foot shall tread,
For fear the Stones her tender Foot should wrong,
Be strew'd with fragrant Flowers all along,
And diapred like the discoloured Mead.
Which done, do at her Chamber-door await,
For she will waken strait,
The whiles do ye this Song unto her sing;
The Woods shall to you answer, and your Eccho ring.

Ye Nymphs of Mulla, which with careful Heed
The silver scaly Trouts do tend full well,
And greedy Pikes which use therein to feed,
(Those Trouts and Pikes all others do excel)
And ye likewise which keep the rushie Lake,
Where none do Fishes take,
Bind up the Locks the which hang scattred light;
And in his Waters which your Mirror make,
Behold your Faces as the Crystal bright;
That when you come whereas my Love doth lie,
No Blemish she may spie.
And eke ye lightfoot Maids which keep the Deer,
That on the hoary Mountain use to towre,
And the wild Wolves which seek them to devour,
With your steel Darts do chace from coming near,
Be also present here,
To help to deck her, and to help to sing;
That all the Woods may answer, and your Eccho ring.

Wake now my Love, awake; for it is time,
The rosie Morn long since left Tithon's Bed,
All ready to her silver Coach to clime,
And Phoebus 'gins to shew his glorious Head.
Hark how the chearful Birds do chaunt their Layes,
And carrol of Love's Praise.
The merry Lark her Mattins sings aloft,
The Thrush replies, the Mavis descant plays,
The Ouzel shrills, the Ruddock warbles soft;
So goodly all agree, with sweet consent,
To this Day's Merriment.
Ah! my dear Love, why do ye sleep thus long,
When meeter were that ye should now awake,
T' await the coming of your joyous Make,
And hearken to the Birds love-learned Song,
The dewie Leaves among?
For they of Joy and Pleasance to you sing,
That all the Woods them answer, and their Eccho ring.

My Love is now awake out of her Dreams,
And her fair Eyes, like Stars that dimmed were
With darksome Cloud, now shew their goodly Beams,
More bright than Hesperus his Head doth rere.
Come now, ye Damsels, Daughters of Delight,
Help quickly her to dight:
But first come ye fair Houres, which were begot,
In Jove's sweet Paradise, of Day and Night;
Which do the Seasons of the Year allot,
And all that ever in this World is fair,
Do make and still repair.
And ye three Handmaids of the Cyprian Queen,
The which do still adorn her Beauty's Pride,
Help to adorn my beautifullest Bride;
And as ye her array, still throw between
Some Graces to be seen:
And as ye use to Venus, to her sing,
The whiles the Woods shall answer, and your Eccho ring.

Now is my Love all ready forth to come,
Let all the Virgins therefore well await;
And ye fresh Boys that tend upon her Groom,
Prepare your selves, for he is coming strait.
Set all your things in seemly good array,
Fit for so joyful Day:
The joyfulst Day that ever Sun did see.
Fair Sun, shew forth thy favourable Ray,
And let thy life-ful Heat not fervent be,
For fear of burning her sun-shiny Face,
Her Beauty to disgrace.
O fairest Phoebus, Father of the Muse,
If ever I did honour thee aright,
Or sing the thing that mote thy Mind delight,
Do not thy Servant's simple Boon refuse,
But let this Day, let this one Day be mine,
Let all the rest be thine.
Then I thy soveraign Praises loud will sing,
That all the Woods shall answer, and their Eccho ring.

Hark how the Minstrils gin to shrill aloud
Their merry Musick that resounds from far,
The Pipe, the Taber, and the trembling Croud,
That well agree withouten Breach or Jar.
But most of all, the Damzels do delite,
When they their Timbrels smite,
And thereunto do daunce and carrol sweet,
That all the Senses they do ravish quite;
The whiles the Boys run up and down the Street,
Crying aloud with strong confused Noise,
As if it were one Voice;
Hymen, Io Hymen, Hymen they do shout,
That even to the Heavens their shouting shrill
Doth reach, and all the Firmament doth fill;
To which the People standing all about,
As in approvance do thereto applaud,
And loud advance her Laud,
And evermore they Hymen, Hymen sing,
That all the Woods them answer, and their Eccho ring.

Loe where she comes along with portly Pace,
Like Phoebe, from her Chamber of the East,
Arising forth to run her mighty Race,
Clad all in white, that seems a Virgin best.
So well it her beseems, that ye would ween
Some Angel she had been:
Her long loose yellow Locks like golden Wire,
Sprinkled with Pearl, and perling Flowres atween,
Do like a golden Mantle her attire:
And being crowned with a Girland green,
Seem like some maiden Queen.
Her modest Eyes abashed to behold
So many Gazers, as on her do stare,
Upon the lowly Ground affixed are;
Ne dare lift up her Countenance too bold,
But blush to hear her Praises sung so loud,
So far from being proud.
Nathless do ye still loud her Praises sing,
That all the Woods may answer, and your Eccho ring.

Tell me ye Merchants Daughters, did ye see
So fair a Creature in your Town before?
So sweet, so lovely, and so mild as she,
Adorn'd with Beauty's Grace and Vertue's Store:
Her goodly Eyes like Saphires shining bright,
Her Forehead Ivory white,
Her Cheeks like Apples which the Sun hath rudded,
Her Lips like Cherries charming Men to bite,
Her Brest like to a Bowl of Cream uncrudded,
Her Paps like Lillies budded,
Her snowy Neck like to a marble Towre,
And all her Body like a Palace fair,
Ascending up with many a stately Stair,
To Honour's Seat, and Chastity's sweet Bowre.
Why stand ye still, ye Virgins in amaze,
Upon her so to gaze,
Whiles ye forget your former Lay to sing,
To which the Woods did answer, and your Eccho ring?

But if ye saw that which no Eyes can see,
The inward Beauty of her lively Spright,
Garnish'd with heavenly Gifts of high Degree,
Much more then would ye wonder at that sight,
And stand astonish'd like to those which red
Medusa's mazeful Head.
There dwells sweet Love and constant Chastity,
Unspotted Faith, and comely Womanhood,
Regard of Honour, and mild Modesty;
There Vertue reigns as Queen in Royal Throne,
And giveth Laws alone,
The which the base Affections do obey,
And yield their Services unto her will;
Ne Thought of things uncomely ever may
Thereto approach to tempt her Mind to ill.
Had ye once seen these her celestial Treasures,
And unrevealed Pleasures,
Then would ye wonder, and her Praises sing,
That all the Woods should answer, and your Eccho ring.

Open the Temple-Gates unto my Love,
Open them wide that she may enter in,
And all the Posts adorn as doth behove,
And all the Pillors deck with Girlonds trim,
For to receive this Saint with Honour due,
That cometh in to you.
With trembling Steps and humble Reverence
She cometh in, before th' Almighty's view:
Of her, ye Virgins, learn Obedience.
Whenso ye come into those holy Places,
To humble your proud Faces;
Bring her up to th' High Altar, that she may
The sacred Ceremonies there partake,
The which do endless Matrimony make:
And let the roaring Organs loudly play
The Praises of the Lord in lively Notes;
The whiles with hollow Throats
The Choristers the joyous Anthem sing,
That all the Woods may answer, and their Eccho ring.

Behold, whiles she before the Altar stands,
Hearing the holy Priest that to her speaks,
And blesses her with his two happy Hands,
How the red Roses flush up in her Cheeks,
And the pure Snow, with goodly vermil Stain,
Like Crimsin dy'd in Grain:
That even the Angels, which continually
About the sacred Altar do remain,
Forget their Service and about her fly;
Oft peeping in her Face, that seems more fair,
The more they on it stare.
But her sad Eyes still fastned on the Ground,
Are governed with goodly Modesty,
That suffers not one Look to glaunce awry,
Which may let in a little Thought unsound.
Why blush ye, Love, to give to me your hand,
The Pledge of all our Band?
Sing ye sweet Angels, Alleluya sing,
That all the Woods may answer, and your Eccho ring.

Now all is done; bring home the Bride again,
Bring home the Triumph of our Victory,
Bring home with you the Glory of her Gain,
Wish Joyance bring her and with Jollity.
Never had Man more joyful Day than this,
Whom Heaven would heap with Bliss.
Make Feast therefore now all this live-long Day,
This Day for ever to me holy is
Pour out the Wine without Restraint or Stay,
Pour not by Cups, but by the Belly-full,
Pour out to all that wull,
And sprinkle all the Posts and Walls with Wine,
That they may sweat, and drunken be withal.
Crown ye God Bacchus with a Coronal,
And Hymen also crown with Wreaths of Vine;
And let the Graces daunce unto the rest,
For they an do it best:
The whiles the Maidens do their Carol sing,
To which the Woods shall answer, and their Eccho ring.

Ring ye the Bells, ye young Men of the Town,
And leave your wonted Labours for this Day:
This Day is holy; do you write it down,
That ye for ever it remember may.
This Day the Sun is in his chiefest Height,
With Barnaby the bright
From whence declining daily by degrees,
He somewhat loseth of his Heat and Light,
When once the Crab behind his back he sees.
But for this time it ill ordained was,
To chuse the longest Day in all the Year,
And shortest Night, when longest fitter were;
Yet never Day to long, but late would pass.
Ring ye the Bells, to make it wear away,
And Bonefires make all day,
And daunce about them, and about them sing;
That all the Woods may answer, and your Eccho ring.

Ah! when will this long weary Day have end,
And lend me leave to come unto my Love?
How slowly do the Hours their Numbers spend,
How slowly doth sad Time his Feathers move?
Haste thee, O fairest Planet, to thy Home,
Within the Western Foame;
Thy tyred Steeds long since have need of Rest.
Long tho it be, at last I see it gloom,
And the bright Evening-Star, with golden Crest,
Appear out of the East.
Fair Child of Beauty, glorious Lamp of Love,
That all the Host of Heaven in Ranks doost lead,
And guidest Lovers through the Night's sad Dread;
How chearfully thou lookest from above,
And seem'st to laugh atween thy twinkling Light,
As joying in the Sight
Of these glad many, which for Joy do sing,
That all the Woods them answer, and their Eccho ring.

Now cease, ye Damsels, your Delights forepast,
Enough it is that all the Day was yours:
Now Day is done, and Night is nighing fast,
Now bring the Bride into the bridale Bowres;
Now Night is come, now soon her disarray,
And in her Bed her lay;
Lay her in Lillies and in Violets,
And silken Curtains over her display,
And odour'd Sheets, and Arras Coverlets.
Behold how goodly my fair Love does lie,
In proud Humility;
Like unto Maia, whenas Jove her took
In Tempe, lying on the flowrie Grass,
'Twixt sleep and wake, after she weary was,
With bathing in the Acidalian Brook.
Now it is Night, ye Damsels may be gone,
And leave my Love alone,
And leave likewise your former Lay to sing:
The Woods no more shall answer, nor your Eccho ring.

Now welcome Night, thou Night so long expected,
That long Day's Labour doth at last defray,
And all my Cares, which cruel Love collected,
Hast summ'd in one, and cancelled for aye:
Spread thy broad Wing over my Love and me,
That no Man may us see;
And in thy sable Mantle us enwrap,
From Fear of Peril, and foul Horror free.
Let no false Treason seek us to entrap,
Nor any drad Disquiet once annoy
The Safety of our Joy:
But let the Night be calm and quietsome,
Without tempestuous Storms, or sad Affray;
Like as when Jove with fair Alcmena lay,
When he begot the great Tirynthian Groom;
Or like as when he with thy self did lie,
And begot Majesty.
And let the Maids and young Men cease to sing:
Ne let the Woods them answer, nor their Eccho ring.

Let no lamenting Cries, nor doleful Tears,
Be heard all night within, nor yet without;
Me let false Whispers, breeding hidden Fears,
Break gentle Sleep with misconceived Doubt.
Let no deluding Dreams, nor dreadful Sights,
Make sudden sad Affrights;
Ne let House-Fires, nor Lightnings, helpless Harms,
Ne let the Ponk, nor other evil Sprights,
Ne let mischievious Witches with their Charms,
Ne let Hob-goblins, Names whose Sense we see not,
Fray us with things that be not;
Let not the Skriech-Owl, nor the Stork be heard,
Nor the Night-Raven that still deadly yells,
Nor damned Ghosts, call'd up with mighty Spells,
Nor griesly Vultures make us once affeard:
Ne let th' unpleasant Quire of Frogs still croking
Make us to wish their choking.
Let none of these their drery Accents sing,
Ne let the Woods them answer, nor their Eccho ring.

But let still Silence true Night-Watches keep,
That sacred Peace may in Assurance reign,
And timely Sleep, when it is time to sleep,
May pour his Limbs forth on your pleasant Plain;
The whiles an hundred little winged Loves,
Like divers-fethered Doves,
Shall fly and flutter round about your Bed;
And in the secret Dark, that none reproves,
Their pretty Stealths shall work, and Snares shall spread,
To filch away sweet Snatches of Delight,
Conceal'd through covert Night.
Ye Sons of Venus, play your Sports at will;
For greedy Pleasure, careless of your Toyes,
Thinks more upon her Paradise of Joyes,
Than what ye do, all be it Good or Ill.
All Night therefore attend your merry Play,
For it will soon be Day:
Now none doth hinder you, that say or sing,
Ne will the Woods now answer, nor your Eccho ring.

Who is the same, which at my Window peeps?
Or whose is that fair Face which shines so bright?
Is it not Cynthia, she that never sleeps,
But walks about high Heaven all the Night?
O! fairest Goddess, do thou not envy
My Love with me to spy:
For thou likewise didst love, though now unthought,
And for a Fleece of Wool, which privily,
The Latmian Shepherd once unto thee brought,
His Pleasures with thee wrought.
Therefore to us be favourable now;
And sith of Womens Labours thou hast Charge,
And Generation goodly doost enlarge,
Encline thy Will t' effect our wishful Vow,
And the chaste Womb inform with timely Seed,
That may our Comfort breed:
Till which we cease our hopeful Hap to sing,
Ne let the Woods us answer, nor our Eccho ring.

And thou, great Juno, which with aweful Might
The Laws of Wedlock still doost patronize,
And the Religion of the Faith first plight,
With sacred Rite, hast taught to solemnize;
And eke for Comfort often called art
Of Women in their Smart;
Eternally bind thou this lovely Band,
And all thy Blessings unto us impart.
And thou, glad Genius, in whose gentle Hand
The bridale Bowre and genial Bed remain,
Without Blemish or Stain,
And the sweet Pleasures of their Love's Delight
With secret Aid doost succour and supply,
Till they bring forth the fruitful Progeny,
Send us the timely Fruit of this same Night.
And thou, fair Hebe, and thou Hymen free,
Grant that it so may be.
Till which we cease your further Praise to sing,
Ne any Woods shall answer, nor your Eccho ring.

And ye high Heavens, the Temple of the Gods,
In which a thousand Torches, flaming bright,
Do burn, that to us wretched earthly Clods
In dreadful Darkness lend desired Light;
And all ye Powers which in the same remain,
More than we Men can feign,
Pour out your Blessing on us plenteously,
And happy Influence upon us rain,
That we may raise a large Posterity,
Which from the Earth, which they may long possess,
With lasting Happiness,
Up to your haughty Palaces may mount,
And for the Guerdon of their glorious Merit,
May heavenly Tabernacles there inherit,
Of blessed Saints for to increase the Count.
So let us rest, sweet Love, in hope of this,
And cease till then our timely Joys to sing,
The Woods no more us answer, nor our Eccho ring.

Song made in lieu of many Ornaments,
With which my Love should duly have been deckt,
Which cutting off through hasty Accidents,
Ye would not stay your due time to expect,
But promis'd both to recompence;
Be unto her a goodly Ornament,
And for short time an endless Monument.

[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 5:1259-71]