William Oldys?: "The four Hymns on Love and Beauty are dedicated from Greenwich, Sept. 1, 1596, to Margaret Countess of Cumberland, and Mary Countess of Warwick. The name of this latter is mistaken; for it certainly was Anne, the eldest Daughter of Francis Earl of Bedford: whose character as a good man, in the Ruines of Time, is described at l. 612; as well as her Husband's just before. The Countess of Cumberland her Sister was the 3d daughter; and Mother of that only Child Anne Clifford Countess of Dorset, who erected our Author's monument. In the two last Stanzaes of each of the two first Hymns, he speaks of the distress he meets with in love: but he must mean, his first love of Rosalinde. For he tells us that these two were composed in the greener times of his youth" Faerie Queene, ed. Church (1758) 1:xxxvii.
John Keble: "The claim of Spenser to be considered as a sacred poet does by no means rest upon his hymns alone: although even these would be enough alone to embalm and consecrate the whole volume which contains them; as a splinter of the true cross is supposed by catholic sailors to ensure the safety of the vessel. But whoever will attentively consider the Fairy Queen itself, will find that it is, almost throughout, such as might have been expected from the author of those truly sacred hymns. It is a continual, deliberate endeavour to enlist the restless intellect and chivalrous feeling, of an inquiring and romantic age, on the side of goodness and faith, of purity and justice" Quarterly Review 32 (June 1825) 225.
George Saintsbury: "For splendour of imagery, for harmony of verse, for delicate taste and real passion, the Epithalamion excels all other poems of its class, and the Four Hymns express a rapture of Platonic enthusiasm, which may indeed be answerable for the unreadable 'Psyches' and 'Psychozoias' of the next age, but which is itself married to immortal verse in the happiest manner" History of Elizabethan Poetry (1909) 87.
Love, that long since hast to thy mighty Powre
Perforce subdu'd my poor captived Heart,
And raging now therein with restless Stowre,
Dost tyrannize in every weaker Part;
Fain would I seek to ease my bitter Smart,
By any Service I might do to thee,
Or ought that else might to thee pleasing be.
And now t' assuage the Force of this new Flame,
And make thee more propitious in my Need,
I mean to sing the Praises of thy Name,
And thy victorious Conquests to areed;
By which thou madest many Hearts to bleed
Of mighty Victors, with wide Wounds embru'd,
And by thy cruel Darts to thee subdu'd.
Only I fear my Wits enfeebled late,
Thro the sharp Sorrows which thou hast me bred,
Should faint, and Words should fail me to relate
The wondrous Triumphs of thy great God-head.
But if thou wouldst vouchsafe to over-spread
Me with the Shadow of thy gentle Wing,
I should enabled be thy Acts to sing.
Come then, O come, thou mighty God of Love,
Out of thy silver Bowres and secret Bliss,
Where thou dost sit in Venus' Lap above,
Bathing thy Wings in her Ambrosial Kiss,
That sweeter far than any Nectar is;
Come softly, and my feeble Breast inspire
With gentle Fury, kindled of thy Fire.
And ye, sweet Muses, which have often proved
The piercing Points of his avengeful Darts;
And ye, fair Nymphs, which oftentimes have loved
The cruel Worker of your kindly Smarts,
Prepare your selves, and open wide your Hearts,
For to receive the Triumph of your Glory,
That made you merry oft, when ye were sorry.
And ye, fair Blossoms of Youth's wanton Breed,
Which in the Conquests of your Beauty boast,
Wherewith your Lovers feeble Eyes you feed,
But starve their Hearts, that needeth Nurture most,
Prepare your selves to march amongst his Host,
And all the way this sacred Hymn to sing,
Made in the honour of your Sovereign King.
GREAT God of Might, that reigneth in the Mind,
And all the Body to thy Hest dost frame,
Victor of Gods, Subduer of Mankind,
That dost the Lions and fell Tygers tame,
Making their cruel Rage thy scornful Game,
And in their Roaring taking great Delight;
Who can express the Glory of thy Might?
Or who alive can perfectly declare
The wondrous Cradle of thine Infancy?
When thy great Mother Venus first thee bare,
Begot of Plenty and of Penury,
Though elder than thine own Nativity:
And yet a Child, renewing still thy Years;
And yet the eldest of the heavenly Peers.
For e'er this World's still moving mighty Mass
Out of great Chaos' ugly Prison crept,
In which his goodly race long hidden was
From Heaven's View, and in deep Darkness kept;
Love that had now long time securely slept
In Venus' Lap, unarmed then and naked,
Gan rear his Head, by Clotho being waked.
And taking to him Wings of his own Heat,
Kindled at first from Heaven's life-giving Fire,
He gan to move out of his idle Seat;
Weakly at first, but after with Desire
Lifted aloft, he 'gan to mount up higher,
And like fresh Eagle, made his hardy Flight
Thro all that great wide Waste, yet wanting Light.
Yet wanting Light to guide his wandring Way,
His own fair Mother, for all Creatures sake,
Did lend him Light from her own goodly Ray:
Then thro the World his way he gan to take,
The World that was not, till he did it make;
Whose sundry Parts he from themselves did sever,
The which before had lyen confused ever.
The Earth, the Air, the Water, and the Fire,
Then 'gan to range themselves in huge Array,
And with contrary Forces to conspire
Each against other, by all means they may,
Threatning their own Confusion and Decay:
Air hated Earth, and Water hated Fire,
Till Love relented their rebellious Ire.
He then them took, and tempering goodly well
Their contrary Dislikes with loved Means,
Did place them all in order, and compell
To keep themselves within their sundry Reigns,
Together link'd with Adamantine Chains;
Yet so, as that in every living Wight
They mix themselves, and shew their kindly Might.
So ever since they firmly have remained,
And duly well observed his Beheast;
Thro which, now all these things that are contained
Within this goodly Cope, both most and least,
Their Being have, and daily are increast,
Thro secret Sparks of his infused Fire,
Which in the barren Cold he doth inspire.
Thereby they all do live, and moved are
To multiply the Likeness of their Kind,
Whilst they seek only, without further Care,
To quench the Flame which they in burning find:
But Man, that breathes a more immortal Mind,
Not for Lust's sake, but for Eternity,
Seeks to enlarge his lasting Progeny.
For having yet in his deducted Spright,
Some Sparks remaining of that heavenly Fire,
He is enlumin'd with that goodly Light,
Unto like goodly Semblant to aspire:
Therefore in Choice of Love, he doth desire
That seems on Earth most heavenly to embrace,
That same is Beauty, born of heavenly Race.
For sure, of all that in this mortal Frame
Contained is, nought more Divine doth seem,
Or that resembleth more th' immortal Flame
Of heavenly Light, than Beauty's glorious Beam.
What wonder then, if with such Rage extreme,
Frail Men, whose Eyes seek heavenly things to see,
At sight thereof so much enravish'd be?
Which well perceiving, that imperious Boy,
Doth therewith tip his sharp empoisoned Darts;
Which glancing thro the Eyes with Count'nance coy,
Rest not, till they have pierc'd the trembling Hearts,
And kindled Flame in all their inner Parts,
Which sucks the Blood, and drinketh up the Life
Of careful Wretches with consuming Grief.
Thenceforth they 'plain, and make full piteous Moan,
Unto the Author of their baleful Bane;
The Days they waste, the Nights they grieve and groan,
Their Lives they loath, and Heaven's Light disdain:
No Light but that, whose Lamp doth yet remain
Fresh burning in the Image of their Eye,
They 'sdeign to see, and seeing it, still die.
The whilst, thou Tyrant Love dost laugh and scorn
At their Complaints, making their Pain thy Play;
Whilst they lie languishing like Thralls forlorn,
The whiles thou dost triumph in their Decay;
And otherwhiles, their Dying to delay,
Thou dost enmarble the proud Heart of her,
Whose Love before their Life they do prefer.
So hast thou often done (ay me the more!)
To me thy Vassal, whose yet bleeding Heart
With thousand Wounds thou mangled hast so sore,
That whole remains scarce any little part:
Yet to augment the Anguish of my Smart,
Thou hast enfrozen her disdainful Brest,
That no one Drop of Pity there doth rest.
Why then do I this Honour unto thee,
Thus to ennoble thy victorious Name,
Sith thou dost shew no Favour unto me,
Ne once move Ruth in that rebellious Dame,
Somewhat to slake the Rigour of my Flame?
Certes, small Glory dost thou win hereby,
To let her live thus free, and me to die.
But if thou be indeed, as Men thee call,
The World's great Parent, the most kind Preserver
Of living Wights, the Soveraign Lord of all;
How falls it then, that with thy furious Fervour,
Thou dost afflict as well the Not-deserver,
As him that doth thy lovely Heasts despise,
And on thy Subjects most dost tyrannize?
Yet herein eke thy Glory seemeth more,
By so hard handling those which best thee serve,
That ere thou dost them unto Grace restore,
Thou maist well try if thou wilt ever swerve,
And maist them make it better to deserve;
And having got it, may it more esteem:
For things hard gotten, Men more dearly deem.
So hard those heavenly Beauties be enfir'd,
As things divine, least Passions do impress,
The more of steadfast Minds to be admir'd,
The more they stayed be on Stedfastness:
But baseborn Minds such Lamps regard the less,
Which at first blowing take not hasty fire;
Such Fancies feel no Love, but loose Desire.
For Love is Lord of Truth and Loyalty,
Lifting himself out of the lowly Dust,
On golden Plumes up to the purest Sky,
Above the reach of loathly sinful Lust;
Whose base effect through cowardly distrust
Of his weak Wings, dare not to Heaven flie,
But like a Moldwarp in the Earth doth lie.
His dunghil Thoughts, which do themselves enure
To dirty Dross, no higher dare aspire;
Ne can his feeble earthly Eyes endure
The flaming Light of that celestial Fire,
Which kindleth Love in generous Desire,
And makes him mount above the native Might
Of heavy Earth, up to the Heavens hight.
Such is the Powre of that sweet Passion,
That it all sordid Baseness doth expel,
And the refined Mind doth newly fashion
Unto a fairer Form, which now doth dwell
In his high Thought, that would it self excel;
Which he beholding still with constant sight,
Admires the Mirrour of so heavenly Light.
Whose Image printing in his deepest Wit,
He thereon feeds his hungry Fantasie;
Still full, yet never satisfide with it,
Like Tantale, that in store doth starved lie,
So doth he pine in most Satiety:
For nought may quench his infinite Desire,
Once kindled through that first conceived Fire.
Thereon his Mind affixed wholly is,
Ne thinks on ought, but how it to attain;
His Care, his Joy, his Hope is all on this,
That seems in it all Blisses to contain,
In sight whereof, all other Bliss seems vain:
Thrice happy Man, might he the same possess,
He fains himself, and doth his Fortune bless.
And though he do not win his Wish to end,
Yet thus far happy he himself doth ween,
That Heavens such happy Grace did to him lend,
As thing on earth so heavenly, to have seen
His Heart's enshrined Saint, his Heaven's Queen,
Fairer than fairest, in his faining Eye,
Whose sole Aspect he counts Felicity.
Then forth he casts in his unquiet Thought,
What he may do, her Favour to obtain;
What brave Exploit, what Peril hardly wrought,
What puissant Conquest, what adventrous Pain;
May please her best, and Grace unto him gain:
He dreads no Danger, nor Misfortune tears,
His Faith, his Fortune in his Breast he bears.
Thou art his God, thou art his mighty Guide,
Thou being blind, letst him not see his Fears,
But carriest him to that which he hath ey'd,
Through Seas, through Flames, through thousand Swords and Spears;
Ne ought so strong that may his Force withstand,
With which thou armest his resistless Hand.
Witness Leander in the Euxine Waves,
And stout Aeneas in the Trojan Fire,
Achilles pressing through the Phrygian Glaves,
And Orpheus, daring to provoke the Ire
Of damned Fiends, to get his Love retire:
For both through Heaven and Hell thou makest way,
To win them Worship which do thee obey.
And if by all these Perils and these Pains
He may but purchase liking in her eye,
What Heavens of Joy then to himself he feigns?
Eftsoones he wipes quite out of memory
Whatever ill before he did aby:
Had it been Death, yet would he die again,
To live thus happy as her Grace to gain.
Yet when he hath found favour to his will,
He nathemore can so contented rest,
But forceth further on, and striveth still
T' approach more near, till in her inmost Brest
He may embosom'd be, and loved best:
And yet not best, but to be lov'd alone;
For Love cannot endure a Paragone.
The fear whereof, O how doth it torment
His troubled Mind with more than hellish Pain!
And to his feigning Fansie represent
Sights never seen, and thousand Shadows vain,
To break his Sleep, and waste his idle Brain:
Thou that hast never lov'd canst not believe
Least part of th' Evils which poor Lovers grieve.
The gnawing Envy, the heart-fretting Fear,
The vain Surmises, the distrustful Shows,
The false Reports that flying Tales do bear,
The Doubts, the Dangers, the Delays, the Woes,
The feigned Friends, the unassured Foes,
With thousands more than any Tongue can tell,
Do make a Lover's Life a Wretch's Hell.
Yet is there one more cursed than they all,
That Canker-Worm, that Monster Jealousie,
Which eats the Heart and feeds upon the Gall,
Turning all Love's Delight to Misery,
Through fear of losing his Felicity.
Ah Gods, that ever ye that Monster placed
In gentle Love, that all his Joys defaced!
By these, O Love, thou dost thy entrance make
Unto thy Heaven, and dost the more endear
Thy Pleasures unto those which them partake;
As after Storms, when Clouds begin to clear,
The Sun more bright and glorious doth appear:
So thou thy Folk, through pains of Purgatory,
Dost bear unto thy Bliss, and Heaven's Glory.
There thou them placest in a Paradise
Of all Delight and joyous happy Rest,
Where they do feed on Nectar heavenly wise,
With Hercules and Hebe, and the rest
Of Venus' Dearlings, through her Bounty blest;
And lie like Gods in Ivory Beds arayd,
With Rose and Lillies over them displayd.
There, with thy Daughter Pleasure they do play
Their hurtless Sports, without Rebuke or Blame,
And in her snowy Bosom boldly lay
Their quiet Heads, devoid of guilty Shame,
After full Joyance of their gentle Game;
Then her they crown their Goddess and their Queen,
And deck with Flowers thy Altars well beseen.
Ay me, dear Lord, that ever I might hope,
For all the Pains and Woes that I endure,
To come at length unto the wished scope
Of my Desire; or might my self assure,
That happy Port for ever to recure!
Then would I think these Pains no Pains at all,
And all my Woes to be but Penance small.
Then would I sing of thine immortal Praise,
An heavenly Hymn, such as the Angels Sing,
And thy triumphant Name then would I raise
'Bove all the Gods, thee only honouring;
My Guide, my God, my Victor, and my King:
Till then, drad Lord, vouchsafe to take of me
This simple Song, thus fram'd in praise of thee.
[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 5:1287-86]