1596
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Prothalamion.

Prothalamion or a Spousall Verse made by Edm. Spenser. In honour of the double Mariage of the two Honorable and Vertuous Ladies, the Ladie Elizabeth and the Ladie Katherine Somerset, Daughters to the Right Honourable the Earle of Worcester and espoused to the two worthie Gentlemen M. Henry Gilford, and M. William Peter Esquyers.

Edmund Spenser


Thomas Birch: "He complains of the Disappointments of his Applications at Court.... He likewise mentions the Favours, which he had formerly receiv'd from his old Patron the Earl of Leicester, and the Want of his Patronage in his present Situation. 'Next whereunto there stands a stately Place, | Where oft I gained Gifts and goodly Grace | Of that great Lord, which therein wont to dwell, | Whose Want too well now feels my friendless Case.' But that House, which was built by the Earl of Leicester, being now transferr'd to his Son-in-law the Earl of Essex, he takes Occasion to pay a beautiful Compliment to his Lordship, upon the Success of his late Expedition against Cadiz, in the latter End of June 1596" Life of Spenser in Faerie Queene (1751) 1:xxvii-viii.

Henry John Todd: "A poem, or spousal verse, in honour of the double marriage of the Ladies Elizabeth and Catherine Somerset to H. Gilford and W. Peter, Esquires. And here he again notices, with commendable pride, his honourable descent: 'At length they all to mery London came, | To mery London, my most kindly nurse, | That to me gave this lifes first native sourse, | Though from another place I take my name, | All house of auncient fame.' The exertions of the Earl of Essex in the expedition to Cadiz, are also ingeniously introduced into this elegant little Poem" Works of Spenser (1805) 1:cxiv-v.

"The same year (1596) he produced his Prothalamion, in honour of the double marriage of Lady Elizabeth and Lady Catherine Somerset. This piece, though defective as a poem, contains a good deal of poetical imagery, but it is chiefly distinguished for the peculiar melody of its stanzas" Retrospective Review 12 (1825) 163.

Robert Southey: "I think the versification of the Prothalamion an Epith. was formed upon some of Bernardo Tasso's Canzoni. See vol. i. p. 95, 118" Common-Place Book (1849-51) 4:311.

John Payne Collier: "This seems to have been the last extant poetical production by Spenser, and the last published by William Posonby: after 1596 the copyrights of all Posonby's various publications were assigned to Matthew Lownes, who, as we have mentioned, subsequently issued impressions of Spenser's works in folio" Poetical Works of Spenser (1862; 1875) 1:cxxvii.



Calm was the Day, and through the trembling Air
Sweet-breathing Zephyrus did softly play
A gentle Spirit, that lightly did allay
Hot Titan's Beams, which then did glister fair:
When I, whom sullen Care,
Through discontent of my long fruitless stay
In Princes Courts, and Expectations vain
Of idle Hopes, which still do fly away,
Like empty Shadows, did afflict my Brain,
Walk'd forth to ease my pain
Along the Shoar of silver streaming Thames,
Whose rushy Bank, the which his River hems,
Was painted all with variable Flowers,
And all the Meads adorn'd with dainty Gems,
Fit to deck Maidens Bowres,
And crown their Paramours,
Against the Bridal-day, which is not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my Song.

There in a Meadow by the River's side,
A flock of Nymphs I chanced to espy,
All lovely Daughters of the Flood thereby,
With goodly greenish Locks all loose untide,
As each had been a Bride;
And each one had a little wicker Basket,
Made of fine Twigs, entrailed curiously,
In which they gather'd Flowers to fill their Flasket:
And with fine Fingers, cropt full feateously
The tender Stalks on hie.
Of every sort, which in that Meadow grew,
They gather'd some; the Violet pallid blue,
The little Dazie, that at Evening closes,
The Virgin Lillie, and the primrose true,
With store of vermeil Roses,
To deck their Bridegroom's Posies,
Against the Bridal-day, which was not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my Song.

With that, I saw two Swans of goodly Hue
Come softly swimming down alone the Lee;
Two fairer Birds I yet did never see:
The Snow which does the top of Pindus strew,
Did never whiter shew,
Nor Jove himself when he a Swan would be,
For love of Leda, whiter did appear:
For Leda was (they say) as white as he,
Yet not so white as these, nor nothing near;
So purely white they were,
That even the gentle Stream, the which them bare,
Seem'd foul to them, and bad his Billows spare
To wet their silken Feathers, lest they might
Soyl their fair Plumes, with Water not so fair,
And mar their Beauties bright,
That shone as Heaven's Light,
Against their Bridal day which was not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my Song.

Eftsoons the Nymphs, which now had Flowers their fill,
Ran all in haste, to see that silver Brood,
As they came floting on the crystal Flood.
Whom when they saw, they stood amazed still,
Their wondring Eyes to fill;
Them seem'd they never saw a sight so fair,
Of Fowls so lovely, that they sure did deem
Them heavenly born, or to be that same Pair
Which through the Sky draw Venus' silver Teem:
For sure they did not seem
To be begot of any earthly Seed,
But rather Angels, or of Angels breed:
Yet were they bred, of Summers-heat, they say,
In sweetest Season, when each Flower and Weed
The Earth did fresh array;
So fresh they seem'd as Day,
Even as their Bridal-day, which was not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my Song.

Then forth they all out of their Baskets drew
Great store of Flowers, the Honour of the Field,
That to the Sense did fragrant Odours yield;
All which, upon those goodly Birds they threw,
And all the Waves did strew,
That like old Peneus' Waters they did seem,
When down along by pleasant Tempe's Shore
Scatter'd With Flowers, through Thessaly they streem,
That they appear, through Lillies plenteous store,
Like a Bride's Chamber-store.
Two of those Nymphs, mean-while, two Garlands bound,
Of freshest Flowers, which in that Mead they found,
The which presenting all in trim Array,
Their snowy Foreheads therewithal they crown'd,
Whilst one did sing this Lay,
Prepar'd against that Day,
Against that Bridal-day, which was not long:
Sweet Thames run softly till I end my Song.

Ye gentle Birds, the World's fair Ornament,
And Heaven's Glory, whom this happy Hour
Doth lead unto your Lovers blissful Bower,
Joy may you have, and gentle Hearts Content
Of your Love's Complement:
And let fair Venus, that is Queen of Love,
With her Heart-quelling Son upon you smile;
Whose Smile they say, hath Vertue to remove
All Love's Dislike, and Friendship's faulty Guile
For ever to assoil.
Let endless Peace your stedfast Hearts accord,
And blessed Plenty wait upon your Bord;
And let your Bed with Pleasures chaste abound,
That fruitful Issue may to you afford,
Which may your foes confound,
And make your Joys redound
Upon your Bridal-day, which is not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my Song.

So ended she; and all the rest around
To her redoubled that her Undersong,
Which said, their Bridal-day should nor be long.
And gentle Eccho from the neighbour Ground,
Their Accents did resound.
So forth those joyous Birds did pass along,
Adown the Lee, that to them murmur'd low,
As he would speak, but that he lacks a Tong,
Yet did by Signs his glad Affection show,
Making his Stream run slow.
And all the Fowl which in his Flood did dwell,
'Gan flock about these twain, that did excell
The rest so far, as Cynthia doth shend
The lesser Stars. So they enranged well,
Did on those two attend,
And their best Service lend,
Against their Wedding-day, which was not long;
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my Song.

At length, they all to merry London came,
To merry London, my most kindly Nurse,
That to me gave this Life's first native Sourse:
Though from another place I take my Name,
An House of ancient Fame.
There when they came, whereas those bricky Towres,
The which on Thames' brode aged Back do ride,
Where now the studious Lawyers have their Bowers,
There whylom wont the Templer Knights to bide,
Till they decay'd through pride:
Next whereunto there stands a stately Place,
Where oft I gained Gifts and goodly Grace
Of that great Lord, which therein wont to dwell,
Whose want too well now feels my friendless Case:
But ah! here sits not well
Old Woes, but Joys to tell
Against the Bridal-day, which is not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my Song.

Yet therein now doth lodge a noble Peer,
Great England's Glory, and the World's wide Wonder,
Whose dreadful Name, late through all Spain did thunder,
And Hercules' two Pillars standing near,
Did make to quake and fear:
Fair Branch of Honour, Flower of Chevalry,
That fillest England with thy Triumph's Fame,
Joy have thou of thy noble Victory,
And endless Happiness of thine own Name
That promiseth the same:
That through thy Prowess and victorious Arms,
Thy Countrey may be freed from foreign Harms;
And great Elisa's glorious Name may ring
Through all the World, fill'd with thy wide Alarms,
Which some brave Muse may sing
To Ages following,
Upon the Bridal-day, which is not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my Song.

From those high Towers this noble Lord issuing,
Like radiant Hesper, when his golden Hair
In th' Ocean Billows he hath bathed fair,
Descended to the Rivers open viewing,
With a great Train ensuing.
Above the rest were goodly to be seen
Two gentle Knights of lovely Face and Feature,
Beseeming well the Bowre of any Queen,
With Gifts of Wit, and Ornaments of Nature,
Fit for so goodly Stature:
That like the Twins of Jove they seem'd in sight,
Which deck the Bauldrick of the Heavens bright.
They two forth passing to the Rivers-side,
Receiv'd those two fair Brides, their Love's delight,
Which at th' appointed Tide,
Each one did make his Bride,
Against their Bridal-day, which is not long:
Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my Song.

[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 5:1253-58]