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

The Purple Island. Canto III.

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

Rev. Phineas Fletcher


Canto III continues the anatomy of the Belly, describing the liver ("Hepar"), spleen, kidneys, ureter, and sexual organs, concluding with an encomium on Elizabeth and Essex.

Edmund Gosse: "The third canto, after so exquisite an opening ... takes an immediate plunge into the liver and that 'porphory house' in which 'the Isle's great Steward,' the heart, dwells. With all the humours and exudations of the body Phineas laboriously sports, with a plentiful show of such physiology as was then attainable" The Jacobean Poets (1894) 147-48.

Abram Barnett Langdale: "The 'Hart' is the Earl of Essex, while the 'great foe,' denounced in Fletcher's most astounding thunder, is Burghley. The passage is a revelation of the author's principal reasons for imitating and celebrating Spenser, both to be achieved at one and the same time" Phineas Fletcher (1937) 132.

George Saintsbury: "Phineas used the shears still further [on the Spenserian stanza than had his brother in Christ's Victorie], and cut off the last line of the quintet, leaving quatrain and triplet to make up a new seven-line stanza. Whether this is better than the octave of Giles, I am not quite sure. I used to think it more of an improvement than I do now. But I have never varied in considering both as possessing the same faults, when compared with the original. It says something for the power which both these poets have of merging defects of form, and even of subject, in floods of poetic fancy and phrase, that they get over the defects of their form itself. But things so beautiful as those cited would look well in any garment" History of English Prosody (1906-10) 2:116-17.



The Morning fresh, dappling her horse with roses,
(Vext at the lingring shades, that long had left her
In Tithons freezing arms) the light discloses;
And chasing Night, of rule and heav'n bereft her:
The Sunne with gentle beams his rage disguises,
And like aspiring tyrants, temporises;
Never to be endur'd, but when he falls, or rises.

Thirsil from withy prison, as he uses,
Lets out his flock, and on an hill stood heeding
Which bites the grasse, and which his meat refuses;
So his glad eyes fed with their greedy feeding:
Straight flock a shoal of Nymphs and shepherd-swains
While all their lambes rang'd on the flowry plains;
Then thus the boy began, crown'd with their circling trains.

You gentle shepherds, and you snowie fires,
That sit around, my rugged rimes attending;
How may I hope to quit your strong desires,
In verse uncomb'd such wonders comprehending?
Too well I know my rudenesse all unfit
To frame this curious Isle, whose framing yet
Was never throughly known to any humane wit.

Thou Shepherd-God, who onely know'st it right,
And hid'st that art from all the world beside;
Shed in my mistie breast thy sparkling light,
And in this fogge my erring footsteps guide;
Thou who first mad'st, and never wilt forsake it:
Else how shall my weak hand dare undertake it,
When thou thy self ask'st counsel of thy self to make it?

Next to Koilia, on the right side stands,
Fairly dispread in large dominion,
Th' Arch-citie Hepar, stretching her commands
To all within this lower region;
Fenc't with sure barres, and strongest situation;
So never fearing foreiners invasion:
Hence are the walls slight, thinne; built but for sight and fashion.

To th' Heart and to th' Head-citie surely ti'd
With firmest league, and mutuall reference:
His liegers there, theirs ever here abide,
To take up strife, and casuall difference:
Built all alike, seeming like rubies sheen,
Of some peculiar matter; such I ween,
As over all the world may no where else be seen.

Much like a mount it easily ascendeth;
The upper part's all smooth as slipperie glasse:
But on the lower many a cragge dependeth;
Like to the hangings of some rockie masse:
Here first the purple fountain making vent,
By thousand rivers through the Isle dispent,
Gives every part fit growth and daily nourishment.

In this fair town the Isles great Steward dwells;
His porphyre house glitters in purple die;
In purple clad himself: from hence he deals
His store to all the Isles necessitie:
And though the rent he daily duly pay,
Yet doth his flowing substance ne're decay;
All day he rent receives, returns it all the day.

And like that golden starre, which cuts his way
Through Saturns ice, and Mars his firy ball;
Temp'ring their strife with his more kindely ray:
So 'tween the Splenions frost and th' angry Gall
The joviall Hepar sits; with great expence
Cheering the Isle by his sweet influence;
So slakes their envious rage and endlesse difference.

Within, some say, Love hath his habitation;
Not Cupids self, but Cupids better brother:
For Cupids self dwells with a lower nation,
But this more sure, much chaster then the other;
By whose command we either love our kinde,
Or with most perfect love affect the minde;
With such a diamond knot he often souls can binde.

Two purple streams here raise their boiling heads;
The first and least in th' hollow cavern breeding,
His waves on divers neighbour grounds dispreads:
The next fair river all the rest exceeding,
Topping the hill, breaks forth in fierce evasion,
And sheds abroad his Nile-like inundation;
So gives to all the Isle their food and vegetation.

Yet these from other streams much different;
For others, as they longer, broader grow;
These as they runne in narrow banks impent,
Are then at least, when in the main they flow:
Much like a tree, which all his roots so guides,
That all the trunk in his full body hides;
Which straight his stemme to thousand branches subdivides.

Yet lest these streams might hap to be infected
With other liquours in the well abounding;
Before their flowing chanels are detected,
Some lesser delfs, the fountains bottome sounding,
Suck out the baser streams, the springs annoying,
An hundred pipes unto that end employing;
Thence run to fitter place their noisome load convoying.

Such is fair Hepar; which with great dissension
Of all the rest pleads most antiquitie;
But yet th' Heart-citie with no lesse contention,
And justest challenge, claims prioritie:
But sure the Hepar was the elder bore;
For that small river, call'd the Nurse, of yore
Laid boths foundation, yet Hepar built afore.

Three pois'nous liquours from this purple well
Rise with the native streams; the first like fire,
All flaming hot, red, furious, and fell,
The spring of dire debate, and civile ire;
Which wer't not surely held with strong retention,
Would stirre domestick strife, and fierce contention,
And waste the weary Isle with never ceas'd dissension.

Therefore close by a little conduit stands,
Choledochus, that drags this poison hence,
And safely locks it up in prison bands;
Thence gently drains it through a narrow fence;
A needfull fence, attended with a guard,
That watches in the straits all closely barr'd,
Lest some might back escape, and break the prison ward.

The next ill stream the wholesome fount offending,
All dreery black and frightfull, hence convay'd
By divers drains unto the Splenion tending,
The Splenion o're against the Hepar laid,
Built long, and square: some say that laughter here
Keeps residence; but laughter fits not there,
Where darknesse ever dwells, and melancholy fear.

And should these waies, stopt by ill accident,
To th' Hepar streams turn back their muddie humours;
The cloudie Isle with hellish dreeriment
Would soon be fill'd, and thousand fearfull rumours:
Fear hides him here, lockt deep in earthy cell;
Dark, dolefull, deadly-dull, a little hell;
Where with him fright, despair, and thousand horrours dwell.

If this black town in over-growth increases,
With too much strength his neighbours over-bearing;
The Hepar daily, and whole Isle decreases,
Like ghastly shade, or ashie ghost appearing:
But when it pines, th' Isle thrives; its curse, his blessing:
So when a tyrant raves, his subjects pressing,
His gaining is their losse, his treasure their distressing.

The third bad water, bubbling from this fountain,
Is wheyish cold, which with good liquours meint,
Is drawn into the double Nephros mountain;
Which suck the best for growth, and nourishment:
The worst, as through a little pap, distilling
To divers pipes, the pale cold humour swilling,
Runs down to th' Urine-lake, his banks thrice daily filling.

These mountains differ but in situation;
In form and matter like: the left is higher,
Lest even height might slack their operation:
Both like the Moon which now wants half her fire;
Yet into two obtuser angles bended,
Both strongly with a double wall defended;
And both have walls of mudde before those walls extended.

The sixt and last town in this region,
With largest stretcht precincts, and compasse wide,
Is that, where Venus and her wanton sonne
(Her wanton Cupid) will in youth reside:
For though his arrows and his golden bow
On other hills he frankly does bestow,
Yet here he hides the fire with which each heart doth glow.

For that great Providence, their course foreseeing
Too eas'ly led into the sea of death;
After this first, gave them a second being,
Which in their off-spring newly flourisheth:
He therefore made the fire of generation
To burn in Venus courts without cessation,
Out of whose ashes comes another Island nation.

For from the first a fellow Isle he fram'd,
(For what alone can live, or fruitfull be?)
Arren the first, the second Thelu nam'd;
Weaker the last, yet fairer much to see:
Alike in all the rest, here disagreeing,
Where Venus and her wanton have their being:
For nothing is produc't of two in all agreeing.

But though some few in these hid parts would see
Their Makers glory, and their justest shame;
Yet for the most would turn to luxurie,
And what they should lament, would make their game:
Flie then those parts, which best are undescri'd;
Forbear, my maiden song, to blazon wide
What th' Isle and Natures self doth ever strive to hide.

These two fair Isles distinct in their creation,
Yet one extracted from the others side,
Are oft made one by Loves firm combination,
And from this unitie are multipli'd:
Strange may it seem; such their condition,
That they are more dispread by union;
And two are twenty made, by being made in one.

For from these two in Loves delight agreeing,
Another little Isle is soon proceeding;
At first of unlike frame and matter being,
In Venus temple takes it form and breeding;
Till at full time the tedious prison flying,
It breaks all lets its ready way denying;
And shakes the trembling Isle with often painfull dying.

So by the Bosphor straits in Euxine seas,
Not farre from old Byzantum, closely stand
Two neighbour Islands, call'd Symplegades,
Which sometime seem but one combined land:
For often meeting on the watrie plain,
And parting oft, tost by the boist'rous main,
They now are joyn'd in one, and now disjoyn'd again.

Here oft not Lust, but sweetest Chastitie,
Coupled sometimes, and sometimes single, dwells;
Now linkt with Love, to quench Lusts tyrannie,
Now Phoenix-like alone in narrow cells:
Such Phoenix one, but one at once may be:
In Albions hills thee, Basilissa, thee,
Such onely have I seen, such shall I never see.

What Nymph was this, (said fairest Rosaleen)
Whom thou admirest thus above so many?
She, while she was, (ah!) was the shepherds Queen;
Sure such a shepherds Queen was never any:
But (ah!) no joy her dying heart contented,
Since she a deare Deers side unwilling rented;
Whose death she all too late, too soon, too much, repented.

Ah royall maid! why should'st thou thus lament thee?
Thy little fault was but too much beleeving:
It is too much so much thou should'st repent thee;
His joyous soul at rest desires no grieving.
These words (vain words!) fond comforters did lend her;
But (ah!) no words, no prayers might ever bend her
To give an end to grief, till endlesse grief did end her.

But how should I those sorrows dare display?
Or how limme forth her vertues wonderment?
She was (ay me! she was) the sweetest May
That ever flowr'd in Albions regiment.
Few eyes fall'n lights adore: yet fame shall keep
Her name awake, when others silent sleep;
While men have eares to heare, eyes to look back, and weep.

And though the curres (which whelpt and nurst in Spain,
Learn of fell Geryon to snarle and brawl)
Have vow'd and strove her Virgin tombe to stain;
And grinne, and fome, and rage, and yelp, and bawl:
Yet shall our Cynthia's high-triumphing light
Deride their houling throats, and toothlesse spight;
And sail through heav'n, while they sink down in endlesse night.

So is this Islands lower region:
Yet ah much better is it sure then so.
But my poore reeds, like my condition,
(Low is the shepherds state, my song as low)
Marre what they make: but now in yonder shade
Rest we, while Sunnes have longer shadows made:
See how our panting flocks runne to the cooler glade.

[Boas (1909) 2:37-44]

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