1596
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Hymne in Honour of Heavenly Love.

Fowre Hymnes, made by Edm. Spenser.

Edmund Spenser


Edmund Bolton on the language of poetry appropriate for imitation: "In verse there are Ed. Spencer's Hymns. I cannot advise the allowance of his other Poems, as for practick English, no more than I can do Jeff. Chaucer, Lydgate, Peirce Ploughman, or Laureat Skelton" Hypercritica (1618 ca., 1720) 235.

John Aikin: "It is to be feared that the leading impression they [Spenser's minor poems] will make upon a modern reader will be that of tediousness; a fault from which few productions of the early age of English poetry are free. Yet some of these pieces are written in an elevated strain of thought, and exhibit a polish of language and versification which would scarcely be expected from that period. The 'Hymns to Love and Beauty' contain many lines that may gratify the nicest ear; and their philosophical and doctrinal learning probably excited great admiration at the time when they were published" Works of Spenser (1802) 1:xlv.

Retrospective Review: "The two hymns of Heavenly Love and Beauty are by no means of an inspired kind" 12 (1825) 161.



Love, lift me up upon thy golden Wings,
From this base World unto thy Heavens hight,
Where I may see those admirable things,
Which there thou workest by thy Sovereign Might,
Far above feeble reach of earthly Sight;
That I thereof an heavenly hymn may sing
Unto the God of Love, high Heaven's King.

Many lewd Layes (ah woe is me the more!)
In praise of that mad Fit, which Fools call Love,
I have in th' Heat of Youth made heretofore
That in light Wits did loose Affection move.
But all those Follies now I do reprove,
And turned have the Tenor of my String,
The heavenly Praises of true Love to sing.

And ye that wont with greedy vain Desire
To read my Fault, and wondring at my Flame,
To warm your selves at my wide sparkling Fire,
Sith now that Heat is quenched, quench my Blame,
And in her Ashes shrowd my dying Shame:
For who my passed Follies now pursues,
Begins his own, and my old Fault renews.

BEFORE this World's great Frame, in which all things
Are now contain'd, found any Being-place;
Ere flitting Time could wag his eyas Wings
About that mighty Bound, which doth embrace
The rolling Sphere, and parts their Howers by space;
That high Eternal Powre, which now doth move
In all these things, mov'd in it self by Love.

It lov'd it self, because it self was fair;
(For fair is lov'd) and of it self begot.
Like to it self his eldest Son and Heir,
Eternal, pure, and void of sinful Blot,
The Firstling of his Joy, in whom no jot
Of Love's dislike, or Pride was to be found,
Whom he therefore with equal Honour crown'd.

With him he reign'd, before all Time prescribed,
In endless Glory and immortal Might,
Together with that third from them derived,
Most wise, most holy, most almighty Spright,
Whose Kingdom's Throne, no Thoughts of earthly Wight
Can comprehend, much less my trembling Verse
With equal Words can hope it to reherse.

Yet O most blessed Spirit, pure Lamp of Light,
Eternal Spring of Grace and Wisdom true,
Vouchsafe to shed into my barren Spright,
Some little Drop of thy celestial Dew,
That may my Rimes with sweet Infuse embrew;
And give me Words equal unto my Thought,
To tell the Marveils by thy Mercy wrought.

Yet being pregnant still with powreful Grace,
And full of fruitful Love, that loves to get
Things like himself, and to enlarge his Race,
His second Brood, though not of Powre so great,
Yet full of Beauty, next he did beget
An infinite Increase of Angels bright,
All glistring glorious in their Maker's Light.

To them the Heavens illimitable Height
(Not this round Heaven, which we from hence behold,
Adorn'd with thousand Lamps of burning Light,
And with ten thousand Gemms of shining Gold)
He gave, as their Inheritance to hold,
That they might serve him in eternal Bliss,
And be partakers of those Joys of his.

There they in their trinal Triplicities
About him wait, and on his Will depend,
Either with nimble Wings to cut the Skies,
When he them on his Messages doth send,
Or on his own drad Presence to attend,
Where they behold the Glory of his Light,
And caroll Hymns of Love both Day and Night.

Both Day and Night is unto them all one,
For he his Beams doth unto them extend,
That Darkness there appeareth never none;
Ne hath their Day, ne hath their Bliss an end,
But there their termless Time in pleasure spend,
Ne ever should their Happiness decay,
Had not they dar'd their Lord to disobey.

But Pride, impatient of long resting Peace,
Did puff them up with greedy bold Ambition,
That they 'gan cast their State how to increase
Above the Fortune of their first Condition,
And sit in God's own Seat without Commission:
The brightest Angel, even the Child of Light,
Drew Millions more against their God to fight.

Th' Almighty, seeing their so bold Assay,
Kindled the flame of his consuming Ire,
And with his only Breath them blew away
From Heaven's Hight, to which they did aspire,
To deepest Hell, and Lake of damned Fire;
Where they in Darkness and drad Horror dwell,
Hating the happy Light from which they fell.

So that next Off-spring of the Maker's Love,
Next to himself in glorious Degree,
Degenering to Hate, fell from above
Through Pride; (for Pride and Love may ill agree)
And now of Sin to all ensample be:
How then can sinful Flesh it self assure,
Sith purest Angels fell to be impure?

But that eternal Fount of Love and Grace,
Still flowing forth his Goodness unto all,
Now seeing left a waste and empty place
In his wide Palace, through those Angels Fall,
Cast to supply the same, and to enstall
A new unknowen Colonie therein,
Whose Root from Earth's base Ground-work should begin.

Therefore of Clay, base, vile, and next to nought,
Yet form'd by wondrous Skill, and by his Might;
According to an heavenly Pattern wrought,
Which he had fashion'd in his wise Foresight,
He Man did make, and breath'd a living Spright
Into his Face, most Beautiful and Fair,
Endew'd with Wisdom, Riches heavenly rare.

Such he him made, that he resemble might
Himself, as mortal Thing immortal could;
Him to be Lord of every living Wight,
He made by Love out of his own like Mould,
In whom he might his mighty Self behold.
For Love doth love the thing belov'd to see,
That like itself in lovely Shape may be.

But Man, forgetful of his Maker's Grace
No less than Angels, whom he did ensue,
Fell from the Hope of promis'd heavenly Place,
Into the Mouth of Death, to Sinners due,
And all his Off-spring into Thraldom threw:
Where they for ever should in Bands remain
Of never-dead, yet ever-living Pain.

Till that great Lord of Love, which him at first
Made of meer Love, and after liked well,
Seeing him lie like Creature long accurst,
In that deep Horror of despaired Hell;
Him Wretch in Dool would let no longer dwell,
But cast out of that Bondage to redeem,
And pay the Price, all were his Debt extreem.

Out of the Bosom of eternal Bliss,
In which he reigned with his glorious Sire,
He down descended, like a most demiss
And abject Thrall, in flesh's frail Attire,
That he for him might pay Sin's deadly Hire,
And him restore unto that happy State,
In which he stood before his hapless Fate.

In Flesh at first the Guilt committed was,
Therefore in Flesh it must be satisfide:
Nor Spirit, nor Angel, though they Man surpass,
Could make amends to God for Man's Misguide,
But only Man himself, whose self did slide.
So taking Flesh of sacred Virgin's Womb,
For Man's dear sake he did a Man become.

And that most blessed Body, which was born
Without all Blemish or reproachful Blame,
He freely gave to be both rent and torn
Of cruel Hands; who with despightful Shame
Reviling him, that them most vile became,
At length him nayled on a Gallow-Tree,
And slew the Just, by most unjust Decree.

O huge and most unspeakable Impression
Of Love's deep Wound, that pierst the piteous Heart
Of that dear Lord with so entire Affection;
And sharply launcing every inner part,
Dolours of Death into his Soul did dart;
Doing him die, that never it deserved,
To free his Foes, that from his Heast had swerved!

What Heart can feel least Touch of so sore Launch,
Or Thought can think the Depth of so dear Wound?
Whose bleeding Source their Streams yet never staunch,
But still do flow, and freshly still redownd,
To heal the Sores of first Souls unsound,
And cleanse the Guilt of that infected Crime,
Which was enrooted in all fleshly Slime.

O blessed Well of Love! O Flowre of Grace!
O glorious Morning-Star! O Lamp of Light!
Most lively Image of thy Father's Face,
Eternal King of Glory, Lord of Might,
Meek Lamb of God before all World's behight,
How can we thee requite for all this Good?
Or what can prize that thy most precious Blood?

Yet nought thou ask'st in lieu of all this Love,
But Love of us, for Guerdon of thy Pain:
Aye me! what can us less then that behove?
Had he required Life for us again,
Had it been wrong to ask his own with gain?
He gave us Life, he it restored lost;
Then Life were least, that us so little cost.

But he our Life hath left unto us free,
Free that was thrall, and blessed that was band;
Ne ought demands, but that we loving be,
As he himself hath lov'd us afore-hand,
And bound thereto with an eternal Band;
Him first to love, that was so dearly bought,
And next, our Brethren to his Image wrought.

Him first to love, great Right and Reason is,
Who first to us our Life and Being gave;
And after, when we fared had amiss,
Us Wretches from the second Death did save:
And last, the Food of Life, which now we have,
Even he himself in his dear Sacrament,
To feed our hungry Souls unto us lent.

Then next, to love our Brethren, that were made
Of that self Mould and that self Maker's Hand,
That we; and to the same again shall fade,
Where they shall have like Heritage of Land,
However here on higher Steps we stand;
Which also were with self-same Price redeemed
That we, however of us light esteemed.

And were they not, yet sith that loving Lord
Commanded us to love them for his sake,
Even for his sake, and for his sacred Word,
Which in his last Bequest he to us spake;
We should them love, and with their Needs partake;
Knowing, that whatsoe'er to them we give,
We give to him, by whom we all do live.

Such Mercy he by his most holy Reed
Unto us taught, and to approve it true,
Ensampled it by his most righteous Deed,
Shewing us mercy (miserable Crew!)
That we the like should to the Wretches shew,
And love our Brethren: thereby to approve,
How much himself that loved us, we love.

Then rouze thy self, O Earth, out of thy Soil,
In which thou wallow'st like to filthy Swine,
And doost thy Mind in durty Pleasures moyl,
Unmindful of that dearest Lord of thine;
Lift up to him thy heavy-clouded Eyne,
That thou this sovereign Bounty maist behold,
And read through Love his Mercies manifold.

Begin from first, where he encradled was
In simple Cratch, wrapt in a Wad of Hay,
Between the toylful Oxe and humble Ass;
And in what Rags and in how base Array,
The Glory of our heavenly Riches lay,
When him the silly Shepherds came to see,
Whom greatest Princes sought on lowest Knee.

From thence read on the Story of his Life,
His humble Carriage, his unfaulty Ways,
His cancred Foes, his Fights, his Toyl, his Strife,
His Pains, his Poverty, his sharp Assays,
Through which he past his miserable days;
Offending none, and doing good to all,
Yet being malic'd both of great and small.

And look at last, how of most wretched Wights
He taken was, betray'd, and false accused;
How with most scornful Taunts, and fell Despights
He was revil'd, disgrac'd, and foul abused,
How scourg'd, how crown'd, how buffeted, how brused;
And lastly, how 'twixt Robbers crucifide,
With bitter Wound, through Hands, through Feet, and Side.

Then let thy flinty Heart that feels no pain,
Empierced be with pitiful Remorse,
And let thy Bowels bleed in every Vein
At sight of his most sacred heavenly Corse;
So torn and mangled with malicious Force;
And let thy Soul, whose Sins his Sorrows wrought,
Melt into Tears, and grone in grieved Thought.

With Sense whereof, whilst so thy softned Spirit
Is inly toucht, and humbled with meek Zeal,
Through Meditation of his endless Merit,
Lift up thy Mind to th' Author of thy Weal,
And to his sovereign Mercy do appeal;
Learn him to love, that loved thee so dear,
And in thy Breast his blessed Image bear.

With all thy Heart, with all thy Soul and Mind,
Thou must him love, and his Beheasts embrace:
All other Loves, with which the World doth blind
Weak Fancies, and stir up Affections base,
Thou must renownce, and utterly displace;
And give thy self unto him full and free,
That full and freely gave himself for thee.

Then shalt thou feel thy Spirit so possest,
And ravisht with devouring great Desire
Of his dear self, that shall thy feeble Breast
Inflame with Love and set thee all on fire
With burning Zeal, through every part entire;
That in no earthly things thou shalt delight,
But in his sweet and amiable Sight.

Thenceforth, all World's Desire will in thee die:
And all Earth's Glory, on which Men do gaze,
Seem Durt and Dross in thy pure-sighted eye;
Compar'd to that celestial Beauty's blaze,
Whose glorious Beams all fleshly Sense doth daze
With admiration of their palling Light,
Blinding the Eyes, and lumining the Spright.

Then shall thy ravisht Soul inspired be
With heavenly Thoughts, far above humane Skill;
And thy bright radiant Eyes shall plainly see
Th' Idee of his pure Glory, present still
Before thy Face, that all thy Spirits shall fill
With sweet enragement of celestial Love,
Kindled through sight of those fair things Above.

[Hughes (1715) 5:1296-1304]