1596
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Hymne in Honour of Beautie.

Fowre Hymnes, made by Edm. Spenser.

Edmund Spenser


Henry John Todd: "The Four Hymns on Love and Beauty, which prove the author's zealous attachment to the Platonick school, are dated at Greenwich, Sep. 1. 1596, and are dedicated to the Countess of Cumberland and Warwick; the name of the latter, however, being mistaken by the printer or the poet; as the Countess of Warwick was certainly Anne, the daughter of Francis Earl of Bedford. These sisters were also addressed by Henry Constable in a Sonnet, descriptive of their uncommon accomplishments. The Hymns, as the poet informs us, "were written in the greener times of his youth;" and are intended as a warning to thoughtless lovers, in the repeated reference which he makes in them to his own distress and disappointment in respect to Rosalind" Works of Spenser (1805) 1:cxiii-iv.

Anna Jameson: "what a fine spirit of poetry, as well as feeling, is that description of the power of true beauty, which forms part of his second Hymn! It is indeed imitated from the refined Platonics of the Italian school, which then prevailed in the court, the camp, the grove, and is a little diffuse in style, a little redundant; but how rich in poetry, and in the most luxuriant and graceful imagery!" Loves of the Poets (1829) 1:223.



Ah! whither, Love, wilt thou now carry me?
What wontless Fury dost thou now inspire
Into my feeble Breast, too full of thee?
Whilst seeking to aslake thy raging Fire,
Thou in me kindlest much more great Desire,
And up aloft above my Strength dost raise,
The wondrous Matter of my Fire to praise.

That as I earst, in praise of thine own Name,
So, now in Honour of thy Mother dear,
An honourable Hymn I eke should frame;
And with the Brightness of her Beauty clear,
The ravisht Hearts of gazeful Men might rear
To admiration of that heavenly Light,
From whence proceeds such Soul-enchanting Might.

Thereto do thou, great Goddess, Queen of Beauty,
Mother of Love, and of all World's Delight,
Without whose sovereign Grace and kindly Duty,
Nothing on Earth seems fair to fleshly Sight,
Do thou vouchsafe with thy Love-kindling Light,
T' illuminate my dim and dulled Eyn,
And beautify this sacred Hymn of thine.

That both to thee, to whom I mean it most,
And eke to her, whose fair immortal Beam
Hath darted Fire into my feeble Ghost,
That now it wasted is with Woes extream,
It may so please, that she at length will stream
Some Dew of Grace into my wither'd Heart,
After long Sorrow and consuming Smart.

WHAT time this World's great Workmaster did cast
To make all things, such as we now behold,
It seems that he before his Eyes had plac'd
A goodly Pattern, to whose perfect Mould
He fashion'd them as comely as he could;
That now so fair and seemly they appear,
As nought may be amended any where.

That wondrous Pattern wheresoere it be,
Whether in Earth laid up in secret Store,
Or else in Heaven, that no Man may it see
With sinful Eyes, for fear it to deflore,
Is perfect Beauty, which all Men adore:
Whose Face and Feature doth so much excel
All mortal Sense, that none the same may tell.

Thereof as every earthly Thing partakes
Or more or less, by Influence Divine,
So it more fair accordingly it makes,
And the gross Matter of this earthly Mine
Which closeth it, thereafter doth refine,
Doing away the Dross which dimms the Light
Of that fair Beam, which therein is empight.

For through Infusion of celestial Powre,
The duller Earth it quickneth with Delight,
And life-full Spirits privily doth poure
Through all the Parts, that to the Lookers sight
They seem to please: That is thy sovereign Might,
O Cyprian Queen, which flowing from the Beam
Of thy bright Star, thou into them dost stream.

That is the thing which giveth pleasant Grace
To all things fair, that kindleth lively Fire,
Light of thy Lamp, which shining in the Face,
Thence to the soul darts amorous Desire,
And robs the Hearts of those which it admire;
Therewith thou pointest thy Son's pois'ned Arrow,
That wounds the Life, and wastes the inmost Marrow.

How vainly then do idle Wits invent,
That Beauty is nought else but mixture made
Of Colours fair, and goodly Temp'rament
Of pure Complexions, that shall quickly fade
And pass away, like to a Summer's shade;
Or that it is but comely Composition
Of Parts well measur'd, with meet Disposition?

Hath white and red in it such wondrous Powre,
That it can pierce through th' Eyes unto the Heart,
And therein stir such Rage and restless Stowre,
As nought but Death can stint his dolorous Smart?
Or can Proportion of the outward Part
Move such Affection in the inward Mind,
That it can rob both Sense and Reason blind?

Why do not then the Blossoms of the Field,
Which are arrayd with much more orient Hue,
And to the Sense most dainty Odours yield,
Work like Impression in the Looker's View?
Or why do not fair Pictures like Powre shew,
In which oft-times we Nature see of Art
Excell'd, in perfect limming every part?

But ah! believe me, there is more than so,
That works such Wonders in the Minds of Men.
I that have often prov'd, too well it know;
And whoso list the like Assays to ken,
Shall find my Trial, and confess it then,
That Beauty is not, as fond Men misdeem,
An outward Shew of things, that only seem.

For that same goodly Hue of white and red,
With which the Cheeks are sprinkled, shall decay;
And those sweet rose Leaves so fairly spred
Upon the Lips, shall fade and fall away
To that they were, even to corrupted Clay.
That golden Wire, those sparkling Stars so bright,
Shall turn to Dust, and lose their goodly Light.

But that fair Lamp, from whose celestial Ray
That Light proceeds, which kindleth Lovers Fire,
Shall never be extinguisht nor decay;
But when the vital Spirits do expire,
Unto her native Planet shall retire:
For it is heavenly born, and cannot die,
Being a parcel of the purest Sky.

For when the Soul, the which derived was
At first, out of that great immortal Spright,
By whom all live to Love, whylom did pass
Down from the top of purest Heaven's hight,
To be embodied here, it then took Light
And lively Spirits from that fairest Star,
Which lights the World forth from his fiery Car.

Which Powre retaining still or more or less,
When she in fleshly Seed is eft enraced,
Through every part she doth the same impress,
According as the Heavens have her graced;
And frames her House, in which she will be placed,
Fit for her self, adorning it with spoil
Of th' heavenly Riches, which she robb'd erewhile.

Thereof it comes, that these fair Souls, which have
The most resemblance of that heavenly Light,
Frame to themselves most beautiful and brave
Their fleshly Bowre, most fit for their Delight;
And the gross Matter by a sovereign Might
Temper so trim, that it may well be seen
A Palace fit for such a Virgin Queen.

So every Spirit, as it is most pure,
And hath in it the more of heavenly Light,
So it the fairer Body doth procure
To habit in, and it more fairly dight
With chearful Grace and amiable Sight:
For of the Soul the Body Form doth take;
For Soul is Form, and doth the Body make.

Therefore where-ever that thou dost behold
A comely Corpse, with Beauty fair endewed,
Know this for certain, that the same doth hold
A beauteous Soul, with fair Conditions thewed,
Fit to receive the Seed of Vertue strewed;
For all that fair is, is by Nature good;
That is a sign to know the gentle Blood.

Yet oft it falls that many a gentle Mind
Dwells in deformed Tabernacle around,
Either by Chance, against the Course of Kind,
Or through Unaptness in the Substance found,
Which it assumed of some stubborn Ground,
That will not yield unto her Form's Direction,
But is perform'd with some foul Imperfection.

And oft it falls, (ay me the more to rue!)
That goodly Beauty albe heavenly born,
Is foul abus'd; and that celestial Hue
Which doth the World with her Delight adorn,
Made but the Bait of Sin, and Sinners Scorn;
Whilst every one doth seek and sue to have it,
But every one doth seek but to deprave it.

Yet nathemore is that fair Beauty's Blame,
But theirs that do abuse it unto ill:
Nothing so good, but that through guilty Shame
May be corrupt, and wrested unto Will.
Natheless, the Soul is fair and beauteous still,
However Fleshes fault it filthy make:
For things immortal no Corruption take.

But ye, fair Dames, the World's dear Ornaments,
And lively Images of Heaven's Light,
Let not your Beams with such Disparagements
Be dimm'd, and your bright Glory darkned quite:
But mindful still of your first Country's sight,
Do still preserve your first informed Grace,
Whose Shadow yet shines in your beauteous face.

Loath that foul Blot, that hellish Firebrand,
Disloyal Lust, fair Beauty's foulest Blame,
That base Affection, which your Ears would bland,
Commend to you by Love's abused Name;
But is indeed the Bond-slave of Defame,
Which will the Girland of your Glory mar,
And quench the sight of your bright-shining Star.

But gentle Love, that Loyal is and True,
Will more illumine your resplendent Ray,
And add mote Brightness to your goodly Hue,
From Light of his pure Fire, which by like way
Kindled of yours, your Likeness doth display;
Like as two Mirrours by oppos'd Reflection,
Do both express the Face's first Impression.

Therefore to make your Beauty more appear,
It you behoves to love, and forth to lay
That heavenly Riches, which in you ye bear,
That Men the more admire their fountain may;
For else what booteth that celestial Ray,
If it in Darkness be enshrined ever,
That it of loving Eyes be viewed never?

Put in your choice of Loves, this well advise,
That likest to your selves ye them select,
The which your Forms first Source may sympathize,
And with like Beauty's parts be inly deckt:
For of you loosely love, without respect,
It is not Love, but a discordant War,
Whose unlike Parts amongst themselves do jar.

For Love is a celestial Harmony
Of likely Hearts compos'd of Stars concent,
Which join together in sweet Sympathy,
To work each other's Joy and true Content,
Which they have harbour'd since their first descent
Out of their heavenly Bowres, where they did see
And know each other here belov'd to be.

Then wrong it were that any other twain
Should in Love's gentle Band combined be,
But those whom Heaven did at first ordain,
And made out of one Mould the more t' agree:
For all that like the Beauty which they see,
Straight do not love; for Love is not so light,
As straight to burn at first Beholder's sight.

But they which love indeed, look otherwise,
With pure Regard and spotless true Intent,
Drawing out of the Object of their Eyes;
A more refined Form, which they present
Unto their Mind, void of all Blemishment;
Which it reducing to her first Perfection,
Beholdeth free from flesh's frail Infection.

And then conforming it unto the Light,
Which in it self it hath remaining still,
Of that first Sun, yet sparkling in his sight,
Thereof he fashions in his higher Skill
An heavenly Beauty to his Fancy's will,
And it embracing in his Mind entire,
The Mirrour of his own Thought doth admire.

Which seeing now so inly fair to be,
As outward it appeareth to the Eye,
And with his Spirit's proportion to agree,
He thereon fixeth all his Fantasie,
And fully setteth his Felicity,
Counting it fairer than it is indeed,
And yet indeed her Fairness doth exceed.

For Lovers Eyes more sharply lighted be
Than other Mens, and in dear Love's Delight
See more than any other Eyes can see,
Through mutual receipt of Beames bright,
Which carry privy Message to the Spright,
And to their Eyes that inmost fair display,
As plain as Light discovers dawning Day.

Therein they see, through amorous Eye-glaunces,
Armies of Loves still flying to and fro,
Which dart at them their little fiery Launces:
Whom having wounded, back again they go,
Carrying compassion to their lovely Foe;
Who seeing her fair Eyes so sharp Effect,
Cures all their Sorrows with one sweet Aspect.

In which, how many Wonders do they reed
To their Conceit, that others never see;
Now of her Smiles, with which their Souls they feed,
Like Gods with Nectar in their Banquets free;
Now of her Looks, which like to Cordials be;
But when her Words embassade forth she sends,
Lord, how sweet Musick that unto them lends!

Sometimes upon her Forehead they behold
A thousand Graces masking in delight,
Sometimes within her Eye-lids they unfold
Ten thousand sweet Belgards, which to their sight
Do seem like twinkling Stars in frosty Night:
But on her Lips, like rosie Buds in May,
So many Millions of chaste Pleasures play.

All those, O Cytherea, and thousands more
Thy Handmaids be, which do on thee attend,
To deck thy Beauty with their Dainties store.
That may it more to mortal Eves commend,
And make it more admir'd of Foe and Friend;
That in Mens Hearts thou maist thy Throne install,
And spread thy lovely Kingdom over all.

Then Io Triumph! O great Beauty's Queen,
Advance the Banner of thy Conquest high,
That all this World, the which thy Vassals been,
May draw to thee, and with due Fealty
Adore the Powre of thy great Majesty;
Singing this Hymn in honour of thy Name,
Compil'd by me, which thy poor Liegeman am.

In lieu whereof, grant, O great Sovereign,
That she whose conquering Beauty doth captive
My trembling Heart in her eternal Chain,
One drop of Grace at length will to me give,
That I her bounden Thrall by her may live;
And this same Life, which first from me she reaved,
May owe to her, of whom I it received.

And you, fair Venus' Dearling, my dear Dread,
Fresh Flowre of Grace, great Goddess of my Life,
When your fair Eyes these fearful Lines shall read,
Deign to let fall one drop of due Relief,
That may recure my Heart's long pining Grief,
And shew what wondrous powre your Beauty hath,
That can restore a damned Wight from Death.

[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 5:1287-97]