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

The Purple Island. Canto IV.

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

Rev. Phineas Fletcher


Canto IV anatomizes the Breast, including the ribs, lungs, and heart.

James Hervey, proposing a new edition: "Methinks if a Subscription to modernize valuable Authors and thus rescue them from the Pit of Oblivion was properly set on Foot by some Men of Eminence, and the Proposals well drawn up, it would meet with due Encouragement. I have often wondered, that such an Attempt has never yet been made. How many excellent Books of the last Century are now out of Print, whilst such a Number of useless and pernicious Writings are continually published" 1758; in Collection of Letters by James Hervey (1760) 2:153-54.

Herbert E. Cory: "From The Purple Island Fletcher still claims some honor and something not unlike notoriety. One is forced to admire, if with a smile, the astounding ingenuity with which Fletcher constructed allegorical poetry, almost always clever, sometimes of rare beauty, out of the physiology of the human body. As his point of departure in The Apollyonists was mainly from the first book of The Faerie Queene, here the description of the Castle of Alma (the soul), in the second book of the same poem, was doubtless Fletcher's most influential source. In the ninth canto Spenser allegorized the human body, which is the House of Alma, more elaborately than one can endure without a laugh. The bulwarks of the House of Alma are the five senses. Its cook, Concoction, and his abode, the stomach, are described with a fidelity which one could well wish less conscientious. In a tower of Alma's castle dwell Fancy, Memory, and Common-Sense, a conceit which we shall find Fletcher unblushingly imitating in great detail when it falls to his lot to describe the human head. The attacks of a motley crew of Vices on the bulwarks of sense gave Fletcher a suggestion for his marshalling and battle of the Virtues and Vices. Spenser's imitator, lost in his fetish-worship, multiplied details and made a complete reductio ad absurdum of his master's allegory. But Fletcher's poem is not a mere slavish imitation or merely an ingenious expansion of the episode in The Faerie Queene. Its exuberant stanzas abound in splendid and original bursts that make one feel querulous with Time who denies their enjoyment to all but a few patient students of seventeenth century literature" "Spenser, the Fletchers, and Milton" UCPMP 2 (1912) 318-19.



The shepherds in the shade their hunger feasted
With simple cates, such as the countrey yeelds;
And while from scorching beams secure they rested,
The Nymphs disperst along the woody fields,
Pull'd from their stalks the blushing strawberries,
Which lurk close shrouded from high-looking eyes;
Shewing that sweetnesse oft both low and hidden lies.

But when the day had his meridian runne
Between his highest throne, and low declining;
Thirsil again his forced task begunne,
His wonted audience his sides entwining.
The middle Province next this lower stands,
Where th' Isles Heart-city spreads his large comands,
Leagu'd to the neighbour towns with sure and friendly bands.

Such as that starre, which sets his glorious chair
In midst of heav'n, and to dead darknesse here
Gives light and life; such is this citie fair:
Their ends, place, office, state, so nearely neare,
That those wise ancients from their natures sight,
And likenesse, turn'd their names, and call'd aright
The sunne the great worlds heart, the heart the lesse worlds light.

This middle coast to all the Isle dispends
All heat and life: hence it another Guard
(Beside those common to the first) defends;
Built whole of massie stone, cold, drie, and hard:
Which stretching round about his circling arms,
Warrants these parts from all exteriour harms;
Repelling angry force, securing all alar'ms.

But in the front two fair twin-bulwarks rise,
In th' Arren built for strength, and ornament;
In Thelu of more use, and larger size;
For hence the young Isle draws his nourishment:
Here lurking Cupid hides his bended bow;
Here milkie springs in sugred rivers flow;
Which first gave th' infant Isle to be, and then to grow.

For when the lesser Island (still increasing
In Venus temple) to some greatnesse swells,
Now larger rooms and bigger spaces seizing,
It stops the Hepar rivers; backward reels
The stream, and to these hills bears up his flight,
And in these founts (by some strange hidden might)
Dies his fair rosie waves into a lily white.

So where fair Medway, down the Kentish dales
To many towns her plenteous waters dealing,
Lading her banks, into wide Thamis falls;
The big-grown main with fomie billows swelling,
Stops there the sudding stream; her steddy race
Staggers awhile, at length flies back apace,
And to the parent fount returns its fearfull pace.

These two fair mounts are like two hemispheres,
Endow'd with goodly gifts and qualities;
Whose top two little purple hillocks reares,
Most like the Poles in heavens Axletrees:
And round about two circling altars gire,
In blushing red; the rest in snowy tire
Like Thracian Haemus looks, which ne're feels Phoebus fire.

That mighty hand in these dissected wreathes,
(Where moves our Sunne) his thrones fair picture gives;
The pattern breathlesse, but the picture breathes;
His highest heav'n is dead, our low heav'n lives:
Nor scorns that loftie one thus low to dwell;
Here his best starres he sets, and glorious cell;
And fills with saintly spirits, so turns to heav'n from hell.

About this Region round in compasse stands
A Guard, both for defence, and respiration,
Of sixtie foure, parted in severall bands;
Half to let out the smokie exhalation,
The other half to draw in fresher windes:
Beside both these, a third of both their kindes,
That lets both out, and in; which no enforcement bindes.

This third the merrie Diazome we call,
A border-citie these two coasts removing;
Which like a balk, with his crosse-builded wall,
Disparts the terms of anger, and of loving;
Keeps from th' Heart-citie fuming kitchin fires,
And to his neighbours gentle windes inspires;
Loose when he sucks in aire, contract when he expires.

The Diazome of severall matter's fram'd:
The first moist, soft; harder the next, and drier:
His fashion like the fish a Raia nam'd;
Fenc'd with two walls, one low, the other higher;
By eight streams water'd; two from Hepar low,
And from th' Heart-town as many higher go;
But two twice told down from the Cephal mountain flow.

Here sportfull Laughter dwells, here ever sitting,
Defies all lumpish griefs, and wrinkled care;
And twentie merrie-mates mirth causes fitting,
And smiles, which Laughters sonnes, yet infants are.
But if this town be fir'd with burnings nigh,
With selfsame flames high Cephals towers fry;
Such is their feeling love, and loving sympathie.

This coast stands girt with a peculiar wall,
The whole precinct, and every part defending:
The chiefest Citie, and Imperiall,
Is fair Kerdia, farre his bounds extending;
Which full to know were knowledge infinite:
How then should my rude pen this wonder write,
Which thou, who onely mad'st it, onely know'st aright?

In middle of this middle Regiment
Kerdia seated lies, the centre deem'd
Of this whole Isle, and of this government:
If not the chiefest this, yet needfull'st seem'd,
Therfore obtain'd an equall distant seat,
More fitly hence to shed his life and heat,
And with his yellow streams the fruitfull Island wet.

Flankt with two severall walls (for more defence)
Betwixt them ever flows a wheyish moat;
In whose soft waves, and circling profluence
This Citie, like an Isle, might safely float:
In motion still (a motion fixt, not roving)
Most like to heav'n in his most constant moving:
Hence most here plant the seat of sure and active loving.

Built of a substance like smooth porphyrie;
His matter hid, and (like it self) unknown:
Two rivers of his own; another by,
That from the Hepar rises, like a crown,
Infold the narrow part: for that great All
This his works glory made pyramicall;
Then crown'd with triple wreath, and cloath'd in scarlet pall.

The Cities self in two partitions rest;
That on the right, this on the other side:
The right (made tributarie to the left)
Brings in his pension at his certain tide,
A pension of liquours strangely wrought;
Which first by Hepars streams are hither brought,
And here distill'd with art, beyond or words or thought.

The grosser waves of these life-streams (which here
With much, yet much lesse labour is prepar'd)
A doubtfull chanel doth to Pneumon bear:
But to the left those labour'd extracts shar'd,
As through a wall, with hidden passage slide;
Where many secret gates (gates hardly spi'd)
With safe convoy give passage to the other side.

At each hand of the left two streets stand by,
Of severall stuffe, and severall working fram'd,
With hundred crooks, and deep-wrought cavitie:
Both like the eares in form, and so are nam'd.
I' th' right hand street the tribute liquour sitteth:
The left forc't aire into his concave getteth;
Which subtile wrought, and thinne, for future workmen fitteth.

The Cities left side, (by some hid direction)
Of this thinne aire, and of that right sides rent,
(Compound together) makes a strange confection;
And in one vessel both together meynt,
Stills them with equall never-quenched firing:
Then in small streams (through all the Island wiring)
Sends it to every part, both heat and life inspiring.

In this Heart-citie foure main streams appeare;
One from the Hepar, where the tribute landeth,
Largely poures out his purple river here;
At whose wide mouth a band of Tritons standeth,
(Three Tritons stand) who with their three-forkt mace
Drive on, and speed the rivers flowing race,
But strongly stop the wave, if once it back repace.

The second is that doubtfull chanel, lending
Some of this tribute to the Pneumon nigh;
Whose springs by carefull guards are watcht, that sending
From thence the waters, all regresse denie:
The third unlike to this, from Pneumon flowing,
And his due ayer-tribute here bestowing,
Is kept by gates and barres, which stop all backward going.

The last full spring out of this left side rises,
Where three fair Nymphs, like Cynthia's self appearing,
Draw down the stream which all the Isle suffices;
But stop back-waies, some ill revolture fearing.
This river still it self to lesse dividing,
At length with thousand little brooks runnes sliding,
His fellow course along with Hepar chanels guiding.

Within this Citie is the palace fram'd,
Where life, and lifes companion, heat, abideth;
And their attendants, passions untam'd:
(Oft very hell in this strait room resideth)
And did not neighbouring hills, cold aires inspiring,
Allay their rage and mutinous conspiring,
Heat all (it self and all) would burn with quenchlesse firing.

Yea that great Light, by whom all heaven shines
With borrow'd beams, oft leaves his loftie skies,
And to this lowly seat himself confines.
Fall then again, proud heart, now fall to rise:
Cease earth, ah cease, proud Babel earth, to swell:
Heav'n blasts high towers, stoops to a low-rooft cell;
First heav'n must dwell in man, then man in heav'n shall dwell.

Close to Kerdia Pneumon takes his seat,
Built of a lighter frame, and spungie mold:
Hence rise fresh aires to fanne Kerdia's heat;
Temp'ring those burning fumes with moderate cold:
It self of largest size, distended wide,
In divers streets and out-wayes multipli'd:
Yet in one Corporation all are joyntly ti'd.

Fitly 't is cloath'd with hangings thinne and light,
Lest too much weight might hinder motion:
His chiefest use to frame the voice aright;
(The voice which publishes each hidden notion)
And for that end a long pipe down descends,
(Which here it self in many lesser spends)
Untill low at the foot of Cephal mount it ends.

This pipe was built for th' aiers safe purveiance,
To fit each severall voice with perfect sound;
Therefore of divers matter the conveiance
Is finely fram'd; the first in circles round,
In hundred circles bended, hard and drie,
(For watrie softnesse is sounds enemie)
Not altogether close, yet meeting very nigh.

The seconds drith and hardnesse somewhat lesse,
But smooth and pliable made for extending,
Fills up the distant circles emptinesse;
All in one bodie joyntly comprehending:
The last most soft, which where the circles scanted
Not fully met, supplies what they have wanted,
Not hurting tender parts, which next to this are planted.

Upon the top there stands the pipes safe covering,
Made for the voices better modulation:
Above it foureteen carefull warders hovering,
Which shut and open it at all occasion:
The cover in foure parts it self dividing,
Of substance hard, fit for the voices guiding;
One still unmov'd (in Thelu double oft) residing.

Close by this pipe runnes that great chanel down,
Which from high Cephals mount twice every day
Brings to Koilia due provision:
Straight at whose mouth a floud-gate stops the way,
Made like an Ivie leaf, broad-angle-fashion;
Of matter hard, fitting his operation,
For swallowing soon to fall, and rise for inspiration.

But see, the smoak mounting in village nigh,
With folded wreaths steals through the quiet aire;
And mixt with duskie shades in Eastern skie,
Begins the night, and warns us home repair:
Bright Vesper now hath chang'd his name and place,
And twinkles in the heav'n with doubtfull face:
Home then my full-fed lambes; the night comes, home apace.

[Boas (1909) 2:45-52]

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