1596
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

An Hymne in Honour of Heavenly Beautie.

Fowre Hymnes, made by Edm. Spenser.

Edmund Spenser


John Payne Collier: "They [the first two hymns] may not have been originally printed, because at that time poems were often multiplied in manuscript; but the author tells us that so 'many copies of his two hymns were scattered abroad,' that he was unable to 'call them in' at the instance of one of the ladies, who seems to have been more scandalized by them than the other. In order, therefore, to counteract the real or supposed mischief that might have been occasioned by such warm and zealous effusions, he resolved to write two other hymns, of an entirely different character and complexion, devoted to the praise of heavenly love and celestial beauty. Such is the history the author gives of these contrasted productions of two distant periods of his life, meant to bear the stamp of each period. Inasmuch, however, as the two hymns on earthly love and natural beauty are placed first in the tract, and as Spenser was not then forty-four years old, and had recently married a wife with whom he was enraptured, we may be permitted to doubt whether, after all, the less spiritual pieces were not his favourites; and whether their antidotes, which are postponed to the others, however choicely and piously worded, did, even in his own mind, neutralise the glowing descriptions he had already given of less refined and mundane perfections" Poetical Works of Spenser (1862; 1875) 1:cxxv.

F. G. Fleay: "These heavenly hymns are as inferior to the earthly as continuations usually are" Guide to Chaucer and Spenser (1877) 97.



Rapt with the Rage of mine own ravisht Thought,
Through Contemplation of those goodly Sights,
And glorious Images in Heaven wrought,
Whose wondrous Beauty breathing sweet Delight,
Do kindle Love in high conceited Sprights:
I fain to tell the things that I behold,
But feel my Wits to fail, and Tongue to fold.

Vouchsafe then, O thou most Almighty Spright,
From whom all Gifts of Wit and Knowledg flow,
To shed into my Breast some sparkling Light
Of thine eternal Truth; that I may show
Some little Beams to mortal Eyes below
Of that immortal Beauty, there with Thee,
Which in my weak distraughted Mind I see.

That with the Glory of so goodly Sight,
The Hearts of Men, which fondly here admire
Fair-seeming Shews, and feed on vain Delight,
Transported with celestial Desire
Of those fair Forms, may lift themselves up higher,
And learn to love with zealous humble Duty,
Th' eternal Fountain of that heavenly Beauty.

Beginning then below, with th' easie View
Of this base World, subject to fleshly Eye,
From thence to mount aloft by order due,
To Contemplation of th' immortal Skye:
Of the soar Faulcon so I learn to flye,
That flags a while her fluttering Wings beneath,
Till she herself for stronger Flight can breathe.

Then look who list, thy gazeful Eyes to feed
With sight of that is fair, look on the Frame
Of this wide Universe, and therein reed
The endless kinds of Creatures, which by name
Thou canst not count, much less their Natures aim:
All which are made with wondrous wise respect,
And all with admirable Beauty deckt.

First th' earth, on Adamantine Pillers founded,
Amid the Sea, engirt with brasen Bands;
Then th' Air still flitting, but yet firmly bounded
On every side, with Piles of flaming Brands,
Never consum'd, nor quencht with mortal hands;
And last, that mighty shining crystal Wall,
Wherewith he hath encompassed this All.

By view whereof, it plainly may appear,
That still as every thing doth upward tend,
And further is from Earth, so still more clear
And fair it grows, till to his perfect end
Of purest Beauty, it at last ascend:
Ayr more than Water, Fire much more than Ayr,
And Heaven than Fire appears more pure and fair.

Look thou no further, but affix thine Eye
On that bright shiny round still-moving Mass,
The House of blessed Gods, which Men call Skye,
All sow'd with glistring Stars more thick than Grass,
Whereof each other doth in Brightness pass;
But those two most, which ruling Night and Day,
As King and Queen, the Heaven's Empire sway.

And tell me then, what hast thou ever seen,
That to their Beauty may compared be,
Or can the sight that is most sharp and keen
Endure their Captain's flaming Head to see?
How much less those, much higher in Degree,
And so much fairer, and much more than these,
As these are fairer than the Land and Seas?

For, far above these Heavens which here we see,
Be others, far exceeding these in Light,
Not bounded, not corrupt, as these same be,
But infinite in Largeness and in Height,
Unmoving, uncorrupt, and spotless bright;
That need no Sun t' illuminate their spheres,
But their own native Light, far passing theirs.

And as these Heavens still by degrees arise,
Until they come to their first Mover's Bound,
That in his mighty Compass doth comprise,
And carry all the rest with him around;
So those likewise do by degrees redound,
And rise more fair, till they at last arrive
To the most fair, whereto they all do strive.

Fair is the Heaven, where happy Souls have place,
In full enjoyment of Felicity,
Whence they do still behold the glorious Face
Of the divine eternal Majesty:
More fair is that, where those Idees on hie
Enranged be, which Plato so admired,
And pure Intelligences from God inspired.

Yet fairer is that Heaven, in which do reign
The sovereign Powers and mighty Potentates,
Which in their high Protections do contain
All mortal Princes, and imperial States;
And fairer yet, whereas the royal Seats
And heavenly Dominations are set,
From whom all earthly Governance is set.

Yet far more fair be those bright Cherumbins,
Which all with golden Wings are over-dight,
And those eternal burning Seraphims,
Which from their Faces dart out fiery Light;
Yet fairer than they both, and much more bright
Be th' Angels and Archangels, which attend
On God's own Person, without rest or end.

These thus in fair each other far excelling,
As to the highest they approach more near,
Yet is that highest far beyond all telling,
Fairer than all the rest which there appear,
Though all their Beauties joyn'd together were:
How then can mortal Tongue hope to express
The Image of such endless Perfectness?

Cease then my Tongue, and lend unto my Mind
Leave to bethink how great that Beauty is,
Whose utmost Parts so beautiful I find:
How much more those essential Parts of his,
His Truth, his Love, his Wisdom, and his Bliss,
His Grace, his Doom, his Mercy and his Might,
By which he lends us of himself a sight!

Those unto all he daily doth display,
And shew himself in th' Image of his Grace,
As in a Looking-glass, through which he may
Be seen of all his Creatures vile and base,
That are unable else to see his Face,
His glorious Face which glistereth else so bright,
That th' Angels selves cannot endure his sight.

But we frail Wights, whose Sight cannot sustain
The Sun-bright Beams, when he on us doth shine,
But that their Points rebutted back again
Are dull'd, how can we see with feeble Eyne
The Glory of that Majesty Divine;
In sight of whom both Sun and Moon are dark,
Compared to his least resplendent Spark?

The means therefore which unto us is lent
Him to behold, is on his Work to look,
Which he hath made in Beauty excellent,
And in the same, as in a brasen Book,
To read enregistred in every nook
His Goodness, which his Beauty doth declare:
For all that's good, is beautiful and fair.

Thence gathering Plumes of perfect Speculation,
To imp the Wings of thy high-flying Mind,
Mount up aloft through heavenly Contemplation,
From this dark World, whose Damps the Soul do blind;
And like the native Brood of Eagles kind,
On that bright Sun of Glory fix thine Eyes,
Clear'd from gross Mists of frail Infirmities.

Humbled with Fear and awful Reverence,
Before the Footstool of his Majesty
Throw thy self down with trembling Innocence,
Ne dare look up with corruptible Eye,
On the drad Face of that great Deity,
For fear, lest if he chance to look on thee,
Thou turn to nought, and quite confounded be.

But lowly fall before his Mercy-Seat,
Close cover'd with the Lamb's Integrity,
From the just Wrath of his avengeful Threat,
That sits upon the righteous Throne on high:
His Throne is built upon Eternity,
More firm and durable than Steel or Brass,
Or the hard Diamond, which them both doth pass.

His Scepter is the Rod of Righteousness,
With which he bruseth all his Foes to dust,
And the great Dragon strongly doth repress,
Under the rigour of his Judgment just:
His Seat is Truth, to which the Faithful trust;
From whence proceed her Beams so pure and bright,
That all about him sheddeth glorious Light.

Light far exceeding that bright blazing Spark,
Which darted is from Titan's flaming Head,
That with his Beams enlumineth the dark
And dampish Air, whereby all things are red:
Whose Nature yet so much is marvelled
Of mortal Wits, that it doth much amaze
The greatest Wisards, which thereon do gaze.

But that immortal Light which there doth shine,
Is many thousand times more bright, more clear,
More excellent, more glorious, more divine,
Through which to God all mortal Actions here,
And even the Thoughts of Men, do plain appear:
For from th' eternal Truth it doth proceed,
Through heavenly Vertue, which her Beams do breed.

With the great Glory of that wondrous Light,
His Throne is all encompassed around,
And hid in his own Brightness from the sight
Of all that look thereon with Eyes unsound;
And underneath his Feet are to be found
Thunder and Lightning, and tempestuous fire,
The Instruments of his avenging Ire.

There in his Bosom Sapience doth sit,
The sovereign Dearling of the Deity,
Clad like a Queen in royal Robes, most fit
For so great Powre and peerless Majesty;
And all with Gems and Jewels gorgeously
Adorn'd, that brighter than the Stars appear,
And make her native Brightness seem more clear.

And on her Head a Crown of purest Gold
Is set, in sign of highest Sovereignty;
And in her Hand a Scepter she doth hold,
With which she rules the House of God on high,
And menageth the ever-moving Sky;
And in the same these lower Creatures all,
Subjected to her Powre imperial.

Both Heaven and Earth obey unto her Will,
And all the Creatures which they both contain:
For of her Fulness which the World doth fill,
They all partake, and do in State remain,
As their great Maker did at first ordain;
Through observation of her high Beheast,
By which they first were made, and still increast.

The Fairness of her Face no Tongue can tell;
For she, the Daughters of all Womens Race
And Angels eke in Beauty doth excell,
Sparkled on her from God's own glorious Face,
And more increast by her own goodly Grace,
That it doth far exceed all humane Thought
Ne can on Earth compared be to ought.

Ne could that Painter (had he lived yet)
Which pictur'd Venus with so curious Quill,
That all Posterity admired it,
Have pourtray'd this, for all his maistring Skill;
Ne she her self, had she remained still,
And were as fair as fabling Wits do feign,
Could once come near this Beauty sovereign.

But had those Wits, the Wonders of their Days,
Or that sweet Teian Poet, which did spend
His plenteous Vein in setting forth her Praise,
Seen but a glimpse of this, which I pretend;
How wondrously would he her Face commend,
Above that Idole of his faining Thought,
That all the World should With his Rimes be fraught?

How then dare I, the Novice of his Art,
Presume to picture so divine a Wight,
Or hope t' express her least Perfections part,
Whose Beauty fills the Heavens with her Light,
And darks the Earth with shadow of her sight?
Ah gentle Muse, thou art too weak and faint,
The Pourtrait of so heavenly Hue to paint.

Let Angels, which her goodly Face behold,
And see at will, her sovereign Praises sing,
And those most sacred Mysteries unfold,
Of that fair Love of mighty Heaven's King;
Enough is me t' admire so heavenly Thing:
And being thus with her huge Love possest,
In th' only Wonder of her self to rest.

But whoso may, thrice happy Man, him hold,
Of all on Earth, whom God so much doth grace,
And lets his own Beloved to behold:
For in the view of her celestial Face,
All Joy, all Bliss, all Happiness have place;
Ne ought on Earth can want unto the Wight,
Who of her self can win the wishful Sight.

For she, out of her secret Treasury,
Plenty of Riches forth on him will pour,
Even heavenly Riches, which there hidden lie
Within the Closet of her chastest Bowre,
Th' eternal Portion of her precious Dowre;
Which mighty God hath given to her free,
And to all those which thereof worthy be.

None thereof worthy be, but those whom she
Vouchsafeth to her presence to receive,
And letteth them her lovely Face to see,
Whereof such wondrous Pleasures they conceive,
And sweet Contentment, that it doth bereave
Their Soul of Sense, through infinite Delight,
And them transport from Flesh into the Spright.

In which they see such admirable Things,
As carries them into an Extasy,
And hear such heavenly Notes, and Carolings
Of God's high Praise, that fills the brasen Sky;
And feel such Joy and Pleasure inwardly,
That maketh them all worldly Cares forget,
And only think on that before them set.

Ne from thenceforth doth any fleshly Sense,
Or idle Thought of earthly things remain;
But all that earst seem'd sweet, seems now offence,
And all that pleased earst, now seems to pain.
Their Joy, their comfort, their Desire, their Gain,
Is fixed all on that which now they see,
All other Sights but fained Shadows be.

And that fair Lamp, which useth to enflame
The Hearts of Men with self-consuming fire,
Thenceforth seems foul, and full of sinful Blame;
And all th' Pomp to which proud Minds aspire
By Name of Honour, and so much desire,
Seems to them Baseness, and all Riches Dross,
And all Mirth Sadness, and all Lucre Loss.

So full their Eyes are of that glorious Sight,
And Senses fraught with such Satietie,
That in nought else on Earth they can delight,
But in th' aspect of that Felicitie,
Which they have written in their inward Eye;
On which they feed, and in their fast'ned Mind
All happy Joy and full Contentment make.

Ah then my hungry Soul, which long hast fed
On idle Fancies of my foolish Thought,
And with false Beauty's flattering Bait misled,
Hast after vain deceitful Shadows sought,
Which all are fled, and now have left thee nought,
But late Repentance through thy Folly's prief;
Ah! cease to gaze on matter of thy Grief.

And look at last up to that sovereign Light,
From whose pure Beams all perfect Beauty springs,
That kindleth Love in every godly Spright,
Even the Love of God, which Loathing brings
Of this vile World, and these gay-seeming Things;
With whose sweet Pleasures being so possest,
Thy straying Thoughts henceforth for ever rest.

[Hughes (1715) 5:1305-13]