1615 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Purple Island, or the Isle of Man.

The Purple Island, or the Isle of Man: Together with Piscatorie Eclogs and other Poeticall Miscellanies. By P. F.

Rev. Phineas Fletcher


Phineas Fletcher's sprawling allegory of body and mind was written circa 1609-15 and printed in 1633. The allegory is framed by attractive pastoral interludes that stand in marked contrast to the didactic portions of the poem. The Purple Island was reprinted in 1783 and then in the anthologies by Anderson and Chalmers; it was well known to the romantic generation, which found the anatomical allegory repulsive.

Edward Phillips: "His Purple Island is yet memory, and mentioned by many with sufficient commendation: besides which he wrote a Poem in Latin against the Jesuites, but more enlarged in English" Theatrum Poetarum (1675) 2:153.

Thomas Warton: "The principal fault of this poem is, that the author has discover'd too much of the anatomist. The Purple Island is the Isle of Man, whose parts and construction the poet has describ'd in an allegorical manner, viz. the bones are the foundation of it, the veins it's brooks, &c. Afterwards the intellectual faculties are represented as persons: but he principally shines where he personifies the passions or evil concupiscencies of the heart, who attack the good qualities of the heart personified, which under the conduct of their leader INTELLECT, rout the former. In this poem there is too somewhat of a metaphysical turn. As the whole is supposed to be sung by two shepherds, the poet has found an opportunity of adorning the beginnings and endings of his cantos with some very pleasing pastoral touches" Observations on the Faerie Queene (1754) 236n.

Robert Anderson: "The first five cantos are almost entirely taken up with an explanation of the title; in the course of which the reader forgets the poet, and is sickened with the anatomist. Such minute attention to this part of his subject, was a material error in judgment; for which, however, ample amends is made in what follows. Nor is he wholly undeserving of praise, for the intelligibility with which he has struggled through his difficulties, for his uncommon command of words, and facility of versification" British Poets (1795) 378-79.

George Gilfillan: "His Purple Island (with which we first became acquainted in the writings of James Hervey, author of the Meditations, who was its fervent admirer) is a curious, complex, and highly ingenious allegory, forming an elaborate picture of Man, in his body and soul; and for subtlety and infinite flexibility, both of fancy and verse, deserves great praise, although it cannot, for a moment, be compared with his brother's Christ's Victory and Triumph, either in interest of subject or in splendour of genius" Specimens with Memoirs of the less-known British Poets (1860) 1:315-16.

Edmund Gosse: "Successive generations of poetic readers have been disappointed to find that The Purple Island is not some purpureal province of fairyland washed by 'perilous seas forlorn,' but the ruddy body of man, laced with veins of purple blood. The poem, in fact, is an allegory descriptive of the corporeal and moral qualities of a human being, carried out with extreme persistence, even where the imagery is most grotesque and inconvenient. From internal indications, we may gather than The Purple Island was written early in Fletcher's Cambridge career, perhaps about 1605, while his brother was still at his side, and other ardent young spirits were stirring Phineas to literary emulation. When we recover from the first shock of the plan, we have to confess The Purple Island to be extremely ingenious, cleverly sustained, and adorned as tastefully as such an unseemly theme can be by the embroideries of imaginative writing. In mere cleverness, few English poems of the same length have excelled it, and its vivacity is sustained to the last stanza of the first canto" The Jacobean Poets (1894) 146-47.

A. A. Jack: The Purple Island is "in twelve cantos, of which the first five are anatomically descriptive of the physical body, and second five personificatory of the senses and the qualities. In the last two cantos there is a battle between the good and bad qualities, in which the bad, supported by the Dragon or Satan, are finally overthrown by the good, assisted by the Redeemer" Chaucer and Spenser (1920) 304.

Abram Barnett Langdale: "The 'isle of man,' therefore, was conceived prior to 1610; and what is more, its climax was in final form in 1609 or before. On the other hand, at least one part of the first canto was inspired by the author's ordination in 1611.... Izaak Walton, later a friend of the poet, quoted seventeen lines form The Purple Island in his Compleat Angler, but almost one-half of the lines of the Angler's rendition contain important variations from the text that we know. The author appears to have written at least two versions of the work, although only one is now extant" Phineas Fletcher (1937) 52.

There is table of borrowings from Spenser in Langdale, Phineas Fletcher (1937) 216-20.



The warmer Sun the golden Bull outran,
And with the Twins made haste to inne and play:
Scatt'ring ten thousand flowres, he new began
To paint the world, and piece the length'ning day:
(The world more aged by new youths accrewing)
Ah wretched man this wretched world pursuing,
Which still grows worse by age, and older by renewing!

The shepherd-boyes, who with the Muses dwell,
Met in the plain their May-lords new to chuse,
(For two they yearely chuse) to order well
Their rurall sports, and yeare that next ensues:
Now were they sat, where by the orchyard walls
The learned Chame with stealing water crawls,
And lowly down before that royall temple falls.

Among the rout they take two gentle swains,
Whose sprouting youth did now but greenly bud:
Well could they pipe and sing; but yet their strains
Were onely known unto the silent wood:
Their nearest bloud from self-same fountains flow,
Their souls self-same in nearer love did grow:
So seem'd two joyn'd in one, or one disjoyn'd in two.

Now when the shepherd-lads with common voice
Their first consent had firmly ratifi'd,
A gentle boy thus 'gan to wave their choice;
Thirsil, (said he) though yet thy Muse untri'd
Hath onely learn'd in private shades to feigne
Soft sighs of love unto a looser strain,
Or thy poore Thelgons wrong in mournfull verse to plain;

Yet since the shepherd-swains do all consent
To make thee lord of them, and of their art;
And that choice lad (to give a full content)
Hath joyn'd with thee in office, as in heart;
Wake, wake thy long- (thy too long) sleeping Muse,
And thank them with a song, as is the use:
Such honour thus conferr'd thou mayst not well refuse.

Sing what thou list, be it of Cupids spite,
(Ah lovely spite, and spitefull lovelinesse!)
Or Gemma's grief, if sadder be thy sprite:
Begin, thou loved swain, with good successe.
Ah, (said the bashfull boy) such wanton toyes
A better minde and sacred vow destroyes,
Since in a higher love I setled all my joyes.

New light new love, new love new life hath bred;
A life that lives by love, and loves by light:
A love to him, to whom all loves are wed;
A light, to whom the Sunne is darkest night:
Eyes light, hearts love, souls onely life he is:
Life, soul, love, heart, light, eye, and all are his:
He eye, light, heart, love, soul; he all my joy, and blisse.

But if you deigne my ruder pipe to heare,
(Rude pipe, unus'd, untun'd, unworthy hearing)
These infantine beginnings gently bear,
Whose best desert and hope must be your bearing.
But you, O Muses, by soft Chamus sitting,
(Your daintie songs unto his murmures fitting,
Which bears the under-song unto your chearfull dittying;)

Tell me, ye Muses, what our father-ages
Have left succeeding times to play upon:
What now remains unthought on by those Sages,
Where a new Muse may trie her pineon?
What lightning Heroes, like great Peleus heir,
(Darting his beams through our hard-frozen aire)
May stirre up gentle heat, and vertues wane repair?

Who knows not Jason? or bold Tiphys hand,
That durst unite what Natures self would part?
He makes Isles continent, and all one land;
O're seas, as earth, he march'd with dangerous art:
He rides the white-mouth'd waves, and scorneth all
Those thousand deaths wide gaping for his fall:
He death defies, fenc't with a thin, low, wooden wall.

Who ha's not often read Troyes twice-sung fires,
And at the second time twice better sung?
Who ha's not heard th' Arcadian shepherds quires,
Which now have gladly chang'd their native tongue;
And sitting by slow Mincius, sport their fill,
With sweeter voice and never-equall'd skill,
Chaunting their amorous layes unto a Romane quill?

And thou, choice wit, Loves scholar, and Loves master,
Art known to all, where Love himself is known:
Whether thou bidd'st Ulysses hie him faster,
Or dost thy fault and distant exile moan.
Who ha's not seen upon the mourning stage
Dire Atreus feast, and wrong'd Medea's rage,
Marching in tragick state, and buskin'd equipage?

And now of late th' Italian fisher-swain
Sits on the shore to watch his trembling line;
There teaches rocks and prouder seas to plain
By Nesis fair, and fairer Mergiline:
While his thinne net, upon his oars twin'd,
With wanton strife catches the Sunne, and winde,
Which still do slip away, and still remain behinde.

And that French Muses eagle eye and wing
Hath soar'd to heav'n, and there hath learn'd the art
To frame Angelick strains, and canzons sing
Too high and deep for every shallow heart.
Ah blessed soul! in those celestiall rayes,
Which gave thee light these lower works to blaze,
Thou sitt'st emparadis'd, and chaunt'st eternall layes.

Thrice happy wits, which in your springing May
(Warm'd with the Sunne of well deserved favours)
Disclose your buds, and your fair blooms display,
Perfume the aire with your rich fragrant savours!
Nor may, nor ever shall those honour'd flowers
Be spoil'd by summers heat, or winters showers;
But last when eating time shal gnaw the proudest towers.

Happy, thrice happy times in silver age!
When generous plants advanc't their lofty crest;
When honour stoopt to be learn'd wisdomes page;
When baser weeds starv'd in their frozen nest;
When th' highest flying Muse still highest climbes;
And vertues rise keeps down all rising crimes.
Happy, thrice happy age! happy, thrice happy times!

But wretched we, to whom these iron daies
(Hard daies) afford nor matter, nor reward!
Sings Maro? men deride high Maro's layes;
Their hearts with lead, with steel their sense is barr'd:
Sing Linus, or his father, as he uses,
Our Midas eares their well tun'd verse refuses.
What cares an asse for arts? he brayes at sacred Muses.

But if fond Bavius vent his clowted song,
Or Maevius chaunt his thoughts in brothell charm;
The witlesse vulgar, in a numerous throng,
Like summer flies about their dunghills swarm:
They sneer, they grinne. Like to his like will move.
Yet never let them greater mischief prove
Then this, Who hates not one, may he the other love.

Witnesse our Colin; whom though all the Graces,
And all the Muses nurst; whose well taught song
Parnassus self, and Glorian embraces,
And all the learn'd, and all the shepherds throng;
Yet all his hopes were crost, all suits deni'd;
Discourag'd, scorn'd, his writings vilifi'd:
Poorly (poore man) he liv'd; poorly (poore man) he di'd.

And had not that great Hart, (whose honour'd head
Ah lies full low) piti'd thy wofull plight;
There hadst thou lien unwept, unburied,
Unblest, nor grac't with any common rite:
Yet shalt thou live, when thy great foe shall sink
Beneath his mountain tombe, whose fame shall stink;
And time his blacker name shall blurre with blackest ink.

O let th' Iambick Muse revenge that wrong,
Which cannot slumber in thy sheets of lead:
Let thy abused honour crie as long
As there be quills to write, or eyes to reade:
On his rank name let thine own votes be turn'd,
Oh may that man that hath the Muses scorn'd,
Alive, nor dead, be ever of a Muse adorn'd!

Oft therefore have I chid my tender Muse;
Oft my chill breast beats off her fluttering wing:
Yet when new spring her gentle rayes infuse,
All storms are laid, I 'gin to chirp and sing:
At length soft fires disperst in every vein,
Yeeld open passage to the thronging train,
And swelling numbers tide rolls like the surging main.

So where fair Thames, and crooked Isis sonne
Payes tribute to his King, the mantling stream
Encounter'd by the tides (now rushing on
With equall force) of's way doth doubtfull seem;
At length the full-grown sea, and waters King
Chide the bold waves with hollow murmuring:
Back flie the streams to shroud them in their mother spring.

Yet thou sweet numerous Muse, why should'st thou droop
That every vulgar eare thy musick scorns?
Nor can they rise, nor thou so low canst stoop;
No seed of heav'n takes root in mud or thorns.
When owls or crows, imping their flaggy wing
With thy stoln plumes, their notes through th' ayer fling;
Oh shame! They howl and croke, while fond they strain to sing.

Enough for thee in heav'n to build thy nest;
(Farre be dull thoughts of winning dunghill praise)
Enough, if Kings enthrone thee in their breast,
And crown their golden crowns with higher baies:
Enough that those who weare the crown of Kings
(Great Israels Princes) strike thy sweetest strings:
Heav'ns Dove when high'st he flies, flies with thy heav'nly wings.

Let others trust the seas, dare death and hell,
Search either Inde, vaunt of their scarres and wounds;
Let others their deare breath (nay silence) sell
To fools, and (swoln, not rich) stretch out their bounds
By spoiling those that live, and wronging dead;
That they may drink in pearl, and couch their head
In soft, but sleeplesse down; in rich, but restlesse bed.

Oh let them in their gold quaffe dropsies down;
Oh let them surfets feast in silver bright:
While sugar hires the taste the brain to drown,
And bribes of sauce corrupt false appetite,
His masters rest, health, heart, life, soul to sell.
Thus plentie, fulnesse, sicknesse, ring their knell:
Death weds and beds them; first in grave, and then in hell.

But (ah!) let me under some Kentish hill
Neare rowling Medway 'mong my shepherd peers,
With fearlesse merrie-make, and piping still,
Securely passe my few and slow-pac'd yeares:
While yet the great Augustus of our nation
Shuts up old Janus in this long cessation,
Strength'ning our pleasing ease, and gives us sure vacation.

There may I, master of a little flock,
Feed my poore lambes, and often change their fare:
My lovely mate shall tend my sparing stock,
And nurse my little ones with pleasing care;
Whose love and look shall speak their father plain.
Health be my feast, heav'n hope, content my gain:
So in my little house my lesser heart shall reigne.

The beech shall yeeld a cool safe canopie,
While down I sit, and chaunt to th' echoing wood:
Ah singing might I live, and singing die!
So by fair Thames, or silver Medwayes floud,
The dying swan, when yeares her temples pierce,
In musick strains breathes out her life and verse;
And chaunting her own dirge tides on her watry herse.

What shall I then need seek a patron out,
Or begge a favour from a mistris eyes,
To fence my song against the vulgar rout,
Or shine upon me with her Geminies?
What care I, if they praise my slender song?
Or reck I, if they do me right, or wrong?
A shepherds blisse nor stands nor falls to ev'ry tongue.

Great prince of shepherds, then thy heav'ns more high,
Low as our earth, here serving, ruling there;
Who taught'st our death to live, thy life to die;
Who when we broke thy bonds, our bonds would'st bear;
Who reignedst in thy heav'n, yet felt'st our hell;
Who (God) bought'st man, whom man (though God) did sell;
Who in our flesh, our graves, (and worse) our hearts would'st dwell:

Great Prince of shepherds, thou who late didst deigne
To lodge thy self within this wretched breast,
(Most wretched breast such guest to entertain,
Yet oh most happy lodge in such a guest!)
Thou first and last, inspire thy sacred skill;
Guide thou my hand, grace thou my artlesse quill:
So shall I first begin, so last shall end thy will.

Heark then, ah heark, you gentle shepheard-crue;
An Isle I fain would sing, an Island fair;
A place too seldome view'd, yet still in view;
Neare as our selves, yet farthest from our care;
Which we by leaving finde, by seeking lost;
A forrain home, a strange, though native coast;
Most obvious to all, yet most unknown to most:

Coevall with the world in her nativitie:
Which though it now hath pass'd through many ages,
And still retain'd a naturall proclivitie
To ruine, compast with a thousand rages
Of foe-mens spite, which still this Island tosses;
Yet ever grows more prosp'rous by her crosses;
By with'ring springing fresh, and rich by often losses.

Vain men, too fondly wise, who plough the seas,
With dangerous pains another earth to finde;
Adding new worlds to th' old, and scorning ease,
The earths vast limits dayly more unbinde!
The aged world, though now it falling shows,
And hastes to set, yet still in dying grows.
Whole lives are spent to win, what one deaths houre must lose.

How like's the world unto a tragick stage!
Where every changing scene the actours change;
Some subject crouch and fawn; some reigne and rage:
And new strange plots brings scenes as new and strange,
Till most are slain; the rest their parts have done:
So here; some laugh and play; some weep and grone;
Till all put of their robes, and stage and actours gone.

Yet this fair Isle, sited so nearely neare,
That from our sides nor place nor time may sever;
Though to your selves your selves are not more deare,
Yet with strange carelesnesse you travell never:
Thus while your selves and native home forgetting,
You search farre distant worlds with needlesse sweating,
You never finde your selves; so lose ye more by getting.

When that great Power, that All, farre more then all,
(When now his fore-set time was fully come)
Brought into act this undigested Ball,
Which in himself till then had onely room;
He labour'd not, nor suffer'd pain, or ill;
But bid each kinde their severall places fill:
He bid, and they obey'd; their action was his will.

First stepp'd the Light, and spread his chearfull rayes
Through all the Chaos; darknesse headlong fell,
Frighted with suddain beams, and new-born dayes;
And plung'd her ougly head in deepest hell:
Not that he meant to help his feeble sight
To frame the rest, he made the day of night:
All els but darknesse; he the true, the onely Light.

Fire, Water, Earth, and Aire (that fiercely strove)
His soveraigne hand in strong alliance ti'd,
Binding their deadly hate in constant love:
So that great Wisdome temper'd all their pride,
(Commanding strife and love should never cease)
That by their peacefull fight, and fighting peace,
The world might die to live, and lessen to increase.

Thus Earths cold arm cold Water friendly holds,
But with his drie the others wet defies:
Warm Aire with mutuall love hot Fire infolds;
As moist, his dryth abhorres: drie Earth allies
With Fire, but heats with cold new warres prepare:
Yet Earth drencht Water proves, which boil'd turns Aire;
Hot Aire makes Fire: condenst all change, and home repair.

Now when the first weeks life was almost spent,
And this world built, and richly furnished;
To store heav'ns courts, and steer earths regiment,
He cast to frame an Isle, the heart and head
Of all his works, compos'd with curious art;
Which like an Index briefly should impart
The summe of all; the whole, yet of the whole a part

That Trine-one with himself in councell sits,
And purple dust takes from the new-born earth;
Part circular, and part triang'lar fits,
Endows it largely at the unborn birth,
Deputes his Favorite Vice-roy; doth invest
With aptnesse thereunto, as seem'd him best;
And lov'd it more then all, and more then all it blest.

Then plac't it in the calm pacifick seas,
And bid nor waves, nor troublous windes offend it;
Then peopled it with subjects apt to please
So wise a Prince, made able to defend it
Against all outward force, or inward spite;
Him framing like himself, all shining bright;
A little living Sunne, Sonne of the living Light.

Nor made he this like other Isles; but gave it
Vigour, sence, reason, and a perfect motion,
To move it self whither it self would have it,
And know what falls within the verge of notion:
No time might change it, but as ages went,
So still return'd; still spending, never spent;
More rising in their fall, more rich in detriment.

So once the Cradle of that double light,
Whereof one rules the night, the other day,
(Till sad Latona flying Juno's spite,
Her double burthen there did safely lay)
Not rooted yet, in every sea was roving,
With every wave, and every winde removing;
But since to those fair Twins hath left her ever moving.

Look as a scholar, who doth closely gather
Many large volumes in a narrow place;
So that great Wisdome all this All together
Confin'd into this Islands little space;
And being one, soon into two he fram'd it;
And now made two, to one again reclaim'd it;
The little Isle of Man, or Purple Island nam'd it.

Thrice happy was the worlds first infancie,
Nor knowing yet, nor curious ill to know:
Joy without grief, love without jealousie:
None felt hard labour, or the sweating plough:
The willing earth brought tribute to her King;
Bacchus unborn lay hidden in the cling
Of big-swoln grapes; their drink was every silver spring.

Of all the windes there was no difference:
None knew mild Zephyres from cold Eurus mouth;
Nor Orithyia's lovers violence
Distinguisht from the ever-dropping South:
But either gentle West-winds reign'd alone,
Or else no winde, or harmfull winde was none:
But one winde was in all, and all the windes in one.

None knew the sea; (oh blessed ignorance!)
None nam'd the stars, the North carres constant race,
Taurus bright horns, or Fishes happy chance:
Astraea yet chang'd not her name or place;
Her ev'n-pois'd ballance heav'n yet never tri'd:
None sought new coasts, nor forrain lands descri'd;
But in their own they liv'd, and in their own they di'd.

But (ah!) what liveth long in happinesse?
Grief, of an heavy nature, steddy lies,
And cannot be remov'd for weightinesse;
But joy, of lighter presence, eas'ly flies,
And seldome comes, and soon away will goe:
Some secret power here all things orders so,
That for a sun-shine day follows an age of woe.

Witnesse this glorious Isle, which not content
To be confin'd in bounds of happinesse,
Would trie what e're is in the continent;
And seek out ill, and search for wretchednesse.
Ah fond, to seek what then was in thy will!
That needs no curious search; 'tis next us still.
'Tis grief to know of grief, and ill to know of ill.

That old slie Serpent, (slie, but spitefull more)
Vext with the glory of this happy Isle,
Allures it subt'ly from the peacefull shore,
And with fair painted lies, and colour'd guile
Drench'd in dead seas; whose dark streams, full of fright,
Emptie their sulphur waves in endlesse night;
Where thousand deaths and hells torment the damned sprite.

So when a fisher-swain by chance hath spi'd
A big-grown Pike pursue the lesser frie,
He sets a withy Labyrinth beside,
And with fair baits allures his nimble eye;
Which he invading with out-stretched finne,
All suddainly is compast with the ginne,
Where there is no way out, but easie passage in.

That deathfull lake hath these three properties;
No turning path, or issue thence is found:
The captive never dead, yet ever dies;
It endlesse sinks, yet never comes to ground:
Hells self is pictur'd in that brimstone wave;
For what retiring from that hellish grave?
Or who can end in death, where deaths no ending have?

For ever had this Isle in that foul ditch
With curelesse grief and endlesse errour strai'd,
Boyling in sulphur, and hot-bubbling pitch;
Had not the King, whose laws he (fool) betrai'd,
Unsnarl'd that chain, then from that lake secur'd;
For which ten thousand tortures he endur'd:
So hard was this lost Isle, so hard to be recur'd.

O thou deep well of life, wide stream of love,
(More deep, more wide then widest deepest seas)
Who dying Death to endlesse death didst prove,
To work this wilfull-rebell Islands ease;
Thy love no time began, no time decaies;
But still increaseth with decreasing daies:
Where then may we begin, where may we end thy praise?

My callow wing, that newly left the nest,
How can it make so high a towring flight?
O depth without a depth! in humble breast
With praises I admire so wondrous height.
But thou, my sister Muse, mayst well go higher,
And end thy flight; ne're may thy pineons tire:
Thereto may he his grace and gentle heat aspire.

Then let me end my easier taken storie,
And sing this Islands new recover'd seat.
But see, the eye of noon, in brightest glorie,
(Teaching great men) is ne're so little great:
Our panting flocks retire into the glade;
They crouch, and close to th' earth their horns have laid:
Vail we our scorched heads in that thick beeches shade.

[Boas (1909) 2:12-25]

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