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

The Purple Island. Canto V.

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

Rev. Phineas Fletcher


Canto V describes the Head ("Thelu") with the skull, face, and brain.

Edmund Gosse: "In canto four the heart again and the lungs are treated; in canto five the head, the face, and the organs which occur in it. After describing the tongue, the story of Eurydice is told, and the anatomical portion of the allegory is concluded" The Jacobean Poets (1894) 148.

Robert Anderson: "Though it may somewhat detract from his invention, it must also be owned, that in some instances he has adopted imagery, and particular figures, from Spenser. The eulogium to Spenser's memory, Canto I. Stanza 19. does equal credit to his heart and abilities. He again touches on the misfortunes of Spenser, Canto VI. Stanza 52" British Poets (1795) 4:379.

Joan Grundy: "Structurally, The Purple Island combines the idea of the House of Alma with that of the Divine Weeks and Works. Thirsil's story ... takes seven days to tell. It does so because it is the story of the microcosm, the 'little world' of man" The Spenserian Poets (1969) 188.



By this the old nights head (grown hoary gray)
Foretold that her approaching end was neare;
And gladsome birth of young succeeding day
Lent a new glory to our Hemispheare:
The early swains salute the infant ray;
Then drove the dammes to feed, the lambes to play:
And Thirsil with nights death revives his morning lay.

The highest region in this little Isle
Is both the Islands and Creatours glorie:
Ah then, my creeping Muse, and rugged style,
How dare you pencill out this wondrous storie?
Oh thou that mad'st this goodly regiment,
So heav'nly fair, of basest element,
Make this inglorious verse thy glories instrument.

So shall my flagging Muse to heav'n aspire,
Where with thy self thy fellow-shepherd sits;
And warm her pineons at that heav'nly fire;
But (ah!) such height no earthly shepherd fits:
Content we here low in this humble vale
On slender reeds to sing a slender tale.
A little boat will need as little sail and gale.

The third precinct, the best and chief of all,
Though least in compasse, and of narrow space,
Was therefore fram'd like heaven, sphericall,
Of largest figure, and of loveliest grace:
Though shap'd at first the least of all the three;
Yet highest set in place, as in degree,
And over all the rest bore rule and soveraigntie.

So of three parts fair Europe is the least,
In which this earthly Ball was first divided;
Yet stronger farre, and nobler then the rest,
Where victorie and learned arts resided,
And by the Greek and Romane monarchie
Swaid both the rest; now prest by slaverie
Of Mosco, and the big-swoln Turkish tyrannie.

Here all the senses dwell, and all the arts;
Here learned Muses by their silver spring:
The Citie sever'd in two divers parts,
Within the walls, and Suburbs neighbouring;
The Suburbs girt but with the common fence,
Founded with wondrous skill, and great expence;
And therefore beautie here keeps her chief residence.

And sure for ornament and buildings rare,
Lovely aspect, and ravishing delight,
Not all the Isle or world with this compare;
But in the Thelu is the fairer sight:
These Suburbs many call the Islands face;
Whose charming beautie, and bewitching grace
Ofttimes the Prince himself enthralls in fetters base.

For as this Isle is a short summarie
Of all that in this All is wide dispread;
So th' Islands face is th' Isles Epitomie,
Where ev'n the Princes thoughts are often read:
For when that All had finisht every kinde,
And all his works would in lesse volume binde,
Fair on the face he wrote the Index of the minde.

Fair are the Suburbs; yet to clearer sight
The Cities self more fair and excellent:
A thick-grown wood, not pierc'd with any light,
Yeelds it some fence, and much more ornament:
The divers-colour'd trees and fresh aray
Much grace the town, but most the Thelu gay:
Yet all in winter turn to snow, and soon decay.

Like to some stately work, whose queint devices,
And glitt'ring turrets with brave cunning dight,
The gazers eye still more and more entices
Of th' inner rooms to get a fuller sight;
Whose beautie much more winnes his ravisht heart,
That now he onely thinks the outward part
To be a worthie cov'ring of so fair an art.

Foure severall walls, beside the common guard,
For more defence the citie round embrace:
The first thick, soft; the second drie and hard;
As when soft earth before hard stone we place.
The second all the Citie round enlaces,
And like a rock with thicker sides embraces;
For here the Prince his court and standing palace places.

The other two of matter thinne and light;
And yet the first much harder then the other;
Both cherish all the Citie: therefore right
They call that th' hard, and this the tender mother.
The first with divers crooks and turnings wries,
Cutting the town in foure quaternities;
But both joyn to resist invading enemies.

Next these, the buildings yeeld themselves to sight;
The outward soft, and pale, like ashes look;
The inward parts more hard, and curdy white:
Their matter both from th' Isles first matter took;
Nor cold, nor hot: heats needfull sleeps infest,
Cold nummes the workmen; middle temper's best;
When kindely warmth speeds work, and cool gives timely rest.

Within the centre (as a market place)
Two caverns stand, made like the Moon half spent;
Of speciall use, for in their hollow space
All odours to their Judge themselves present:
Here first are born the spirits animall,
Whose matter, almost immateriall,
Resembles heavens matter quintessentiall.

Hard by, an hundred nimble workmen stand,
These noble spirits readily preparing;
Lab'ring to make them thinne, and fit to hand,
With never ended work, and sleeplesse caring:
Hereby two little hillocks joyntly rise,
Where sit two Judges clad in seemly guise,
That cite all odours here, as to their just assise.

Next these, a wall built all of saphires shining,
As fair, more precious; hence it takes his name;
By which the third cave lies, his sides combining
To th' other two, and from them hath his frame;
(A meeting of those former cavities)
Vaulted by three fair arches safe it lies,
And no oppression fears, or falling tyrannies.

By this third cave the humid citie drains
Base noisome streams the milkie streets annoying;
And through a wide-mouth'd tunnel duely strains,
Unto a bibbing substance down convoying;
Which these foul dropping humours largely swills,
Till all his swelling spunge he greedy fills,
And then through other sinks by little soft distills.

Between this and the fourth cave, lies a vale,
(The fourth, the first in worth, in rank the last)
Where two round hills shut in this pleasant dale,
Through which the spirits thither safe are past;
Those here refin'd their full perfection have;
And therefore close by this fourth wondrous cave
Rises that silver well, scatt'ring his milkie wave.

Not that bright spring, where fair Hermaphrodite
Grew into one with wanton Salmacis,
Nor that where Biblis dropt, too fondly light,
Her tears and self, may dare compare with this;
Which here beginning down a lake descends,
Whose rockie chanel these fair streams defends,
Till it the precious wave through all the Isle dispends.

Many fair rivers take their heads from either,
(Both from the lake, and from the milkie well)
Which still in loving chanels runne together,
Each to his mate a neighbour parallel:
Thus widely spread with friendly combination,
They fling about their wondrous operation,
And give to every part both motion and sensation.

This silver lake, first from th' Head-citie springing,
To that bright fount foure little chanels sends;
Through which it thither plenteous water bringing,
Straight all again to every place dispends:
Such is th' Head-citie, such the Princes Hall;
Such, and much more, which strangely liberall,
Though sense it never had, yet gives all sense to all.

Of other stuffe the Suburbs have their framing;
May seem soft marble, spotted red and white:
First stands an Arch, pale Cynthia's brightnes shaming,
The Cities forefront, cast in silver bright:
At whose proud base are built two watching towers,
Whence hate and love skirmish with equall powers;
Whence smiling gladnesse shines, and sullen sorrow showers.

Here sits retir'd the silent reverence;
And when the Prince, incens'd with angers fire,
Thunders aloud, he darts his lightning hence;
Here dusky-reddish clouds foretell his ire:
Of nothing can this Isle more boast aright:
A twin-born Sunne, a double seeing light;
With much delight they see, are seen with much delight.

That Thracian shepherd call'd them Natures glasse;
Yet then a glasse in this much worthier being:
Blinde glasses represent some neare-set face;
But this a living glasse, both seen and seeing:
Like heav'n in moving, like in heav'nly firing;
Sweet heat and light, no burning flame inspiring:
Yet (ah!) too oft we find they scorch with hot desiring.

They mounted high, sit on a loftie hill;
(For they the Princes best intelligence,
And quickly warn of future good, or ill)
Here stands the palace of the noblest sense;
Here Visus keeps, whose Court then crystall smoother,
And clearer seems; he, though a younger brother,
Yet farre more noble is, farre fairer then the other.

Six bands are set to stirre the moving tower:
The first the proud band call'd, that lifts it highter;
The next the humble band, that shoves it lower;
The bibbing third draws it together nigher;
The fourth disdainfull, oft away is moving:
The other two, helping the compasse roving,
Are call'd the circling trains, and wanton bands of loving.

Above, two compasse groves, (Loves bended bows)
Which fence the towers from flouds of higher place:
Before, a wall, deluding rushing foes,
That shuts and opens in a moments space:
The low part fixt, the higher quick descending;
Upon whose tops spearmen their pikes intending,
Watch there both night and day, the castles port defending.

Three divers lakes within these bulwarks lie,
The noblest parts and instruments of sight:
The first, receiving forms of bodies nigh,
Conveys them to the next, and breaks the light,
Danting his rash and forcible invasion;
And with a clear and whitish inundation,
Restrains the nimble spirits from their too quick evasion.

In midst of both is plac't the Crystall pond;
Whose living water thick, and brightly shining,
Like Saphires, or the sparkling Diamond,
His inward beams with outward light combining,
Alt'ring it self to every shapes aspect,
The divers forms doth further still direct,
Till by the nimble poast th' are brought to th' Intellect.

The third, like molten glasse, all cleare and white:
Both round embrace the noble Crystalline.
Six inward walls fence in this Tower of sight:
The first, most thick, doth all the frame inshrine,
And girts the Castle with a close embrace,
Save in the midst is left a circles space,
Where light and hundred shapes flock out and in apace.

The second not so massie as the other,
Yet thicker then the rest, and tougher fram'd,
Takes his beginning from that harder mother:
The outward part like horn, and thence is nam'd;
Through whose translucent sides much light is born
Into the Tower, and much kept out by th' horn,
Makes it a pleasant light, much like the ruddie morn.

The third, of softer mold, is like a grape,
Which all entwines with his encircling side:
In midst a window lets in every shape;
Which with a thought is narrow made, or wide:
His inmost side more black then starrelesse night;
But outward part (how like an hypocrite!)
As painted Iris looks, with various colours dight.

The fourth of finest work, more slight, and thinne,
Then or Arachne, (which in silken twine
With Pallas strove) or Pallas self could spinne:
This round enwraps the fountain Crystalline.
The next is made out of that milkie spring,
That from the Cephal mount his waves doth fling,
Like to a curious net his substance scattering.

His substance as the Head-spring, perfect white;
Here thousand nimble spies are round dispread:
The forms caught in this net, are brought to sight,
And to his eye are lively pourtrayed.
The last the glassie wall (that round encasing
The moat of glasse, is nam'd from that enlacing)
The white and glassy wells parts with his strict embracing.

Thus then is fram'd the noble Visus bower;
The outward light by th' first walls circle sending
His beams and hundred forms into the tower,
The wall of horn, and that black gate transcending,
Is lightned by the brightest Crystalline,
And fully view'd in that white nettie shine,
From thence with speedy haste is poasted to the minde.

Much as an one-ey'd room, hung all with night,
(Onely that side, which adverse to his eye
Gives but one narrow passage to the light,
Is spread with some white shining tapestrie)
An hundred shapes that through flit ayers stray,
Shove boldly in, crouding that narrow way,
And on that bright-fac'd wall obscurely dancing play.

Two pair of rivers from the Head-spring flow
To these two Towers: the first in their mid-race
(The spies conveying) twisted joyntly go,
Strength'ning each other with a firm embrace.
The other pair these walking Towers are moving;
At first but one, then in two chanels roving:
And therefore both agree in standing, or removing.

Auditus, second of the Pemptarchie,
Is next, not all so noble as his brother;
Yet of more need, and more commoditie:
His seat is plac'd somewhat below the other:
Of each side of the mount a double cave;
Both which a goodly Portall doth embrave,
And winding entrance, like Maeanders erring wave.

The Portall hard and drie, all hung around
With silken, thinne, carnatian tapestrie:
Whose open gate drags in each voice and sound,
That through the shaken ayer passes by:
The entrance winding; lest some violence
Might fright the Judge with sudden influence,
Or some unwelcome guest might vex the busie sense.

This caves first part fram'd with a steep ascent
(For in foure parts 'tis fitly severed)
Makes th' entrance hard, but easie the descent:
Where stands a braced drumme, whose sounding head
(Obliquely plac'd) strook by the circling aire,
Gives instant warning of each sounds repair,
Which soon is thence convey'd unto the Judgement chair.

The drumme is made of substance hard and thinne;
Which if some falling moisture chance to wet,
The loudest sound is hardly heard within:
But if it once grows thick, with stubborn let
It barres all passage to the inner room;
No sounding voice unto his seat may come:
The lazie sense still sleeps, unsummon'd with his drum.

This drumme divides the first and second part,
In which three hearing instruments reside;
Three instruments compact by wondrous art,
With slender string knit to th' drummes inner side:
Their native temper being hard and drie,
Fitting the sound with their firm qualitie,
Continue still the same in age and infancie.

The first an Hammer call'd, whose out-grown sides
Lie on the drumme; but with his swelling end
Fixt in the hollow Stithe, there fast abides:
The Stithes short foot doth on the drumme depend,
His longer in the Stirrup surely plac't;
The Stirrups sharp side by the Stithe embrac't,
But his broad base ti'd to a little window fast.

Two little windows ever open lie,
The sound unto the caves third part convaying;
And slender pipe, whose narrow cavitie
Doth purge the in-born aire, that idle staying
Would els corrupt, and still supplies the spending:
The caves third part in twentie by-wayes bending,
Is call'd the Labyrinth, in hundred crooks ascending.

Such whilome was that eye-deceiving frame,
Which crafty Daedal with a cunning hand
Built to empound the Cretan Princes shame:
Such was that Woodstock cave, where Rosamand,
Fair Rosamand, fled jealous Ellenore;
Whom late a shepherd taught to weep so sore,
That woods and hardest rocks her harder fate deplore.

The third part with his narrow rockie straits
Perfects the sound, and gives more sharp accenting;
Then sends it to the fourth; where ready waits
A nimble poast, who ne're his haste relenting,
Flings to the judgement-seat with speedy flight:
There th' equall Judge attending day and night,
Receives the entring sounds, and dooms each voice aright.

As when a stone, troubling the quiet waters,
Prints in the angry stream a wrinkle round,
Which soon another and another scatters,
Till all the lake with circles now is crown'd:
All so the aire struck with some violence nigh,
Begets a world of circles in the skie;
All which infected move with sounding qualitie.

These at Auditus palace soon arriving,
Enter the gate, and strike the warning drumme;
To those three instruments fit motion giving,
Which every voice discern: then that third room
Sharpens each sound, and quick conveys it thence;
Till by the flying poast 'tis hurri'd hence,
And in an instant brought unto the judging sense.

This sense is made the Master of request,
Prefers petitions to the Princes eare;
Admits what best he likes, shuts out the rest;
And sometimes cannot, sometimes will not heare:
Ofttimes he lets in anger-stirring lies,
Oft melts the Prince with oylie flatteries.
Ill mought he thrive, that loves his Masters enemies!

'Twixt Visus double court a Tower stands,
Plac't in the Suburbs centre; whose high top,
And loftie raised ridge the rest commands:
Low at his foot a double doore stands ope,
Admitting passage to the aires ascending;
And divers odours to the Citie sending,
Revives the heavie town, his liberall sweets dispending.

This vaulted Tower's half built of massie stone,
The other half of stuffe lesse hard and drie,
Fit for distending, or compression:
The outward wall may seem all porphyrie.
Olfactus dwells within this lofty fort;
But in the citie is his chief resort,
Where 'twixt two little hils he keeps his judging court.

By two great caves are plac't these little hills,
Most like the nipples of a virgins breast;
By which the aire that th' hollow Tower fills,
Into the Citie passeth: with the rest
The odours pressing in are here all staid;
Till by the sense impartially weigh'd,
Unto the common Judge they are with speed conveyd.

At each side of that Tower stand two fair plains,
More fair then that which in rich Thessalie
Was once frequented by the Muses trains:
Here ever sits sweet-blushing Modestie;
Here in two colours Beautie shining bright,
Dressing her white with red, her red with white,
With pleasing chain enthralls, and bindes loose wandring sight.

Below, a cave rooft with an heav'n-like plaister,
And under strew'd with purple tapestrie,
Where Gustus dwells, the Isles and Princes Taster,
Koilia's Steward, one of th' Pemptarchie;
Whom Tactus (so some say) got of his mother:
For by their nearest likenesse one to th' other,
Tactus may eas'ly seem his father, and his brother.

Tactus the last, but yet the eldest brother;
(Whose office meanest, yet of all the race
The first and last, more needfull then the other)
Hath his abode in none, yet every place:
Through all the Isle distended is his dwelling;
He rules the streams that from the Cephal swelling
Runne all along the Isle, both sence and motion dealing.

With Gustus Lingua dwells, his pratling wife,
Indu'd with strange and adverse qualities;
The nurse of hate and love, of peace and strife,
Mother of fairest truth, and foulest lies:
Or best, or worst; no mean: made all of fire,
Which sometimes hell, and sometimes heav'ns inspire;
By whom oft Truth self speaks, oft that first murth'ring liar.

The idle Sunne stood still at her command,
Breathing his firie steeds in Gibeon:
And pale-fac'd Cynthia at her word made stand,
Resting her coach in vales of Aialon.
Her voice oft open breaks the stubborn skies,
And holds th' Almighties hands with suppliant cries:
Her voice tears open hell with horrid blasphemies.

Therefore that great Creatour, well foreseeing
To what a monster she would soon be changing,
(Though lovely once, perfect and glorious being)
Curb'd her with iron bit, and held from ranging;
And with strong bonds her looser steps enchaining,
Bridled her course, too many words refraining,
And doubled all his guards, bold libertie restraining.

For close within he sets twice sixteen guarders,
Whose hardned temper could not soon be mov'd:
Without the gate he plac'd two other warders,
To shut and ope the doore, as it behov'd:
But such strange force hath her enchanting art,
That she hath made her keepers of her part,
And they to all her slights all furtherance impart.

Thus (with their help) by her the sacred Muses
Refresh the Prince dull'd with much businesse;
By her the Prince unto his Prince oft uses
In heav'[n]ly throne from hell to finde accesse.
She heav'n to earth in musick often brings,
And earth to heaven: but oh how sweet she sings,
When in rich graces key she tunes poor natures strings!

Thus Orpheus wanne his lost Eurydice;
Whom some deaf snake, that could no musick heare,
Or some blinde neut, that could no beautie see,
Thinking to kisse, kill'd with his forked spear:
He, when his plaints on earth were vainly spent,
Down to Avernus river boldly went,
And charm'd the meager ghosts with mournfull blandishment.

There what his mother, fair Calliope,
From Phoebus harp and Muses spring had brought him,
What sharpest grief for his Eurydice,
And love redoubling grief had newly taught him,
He lavisht out, and with his potent spell
Bent all the rigorous powers of stubborn hell:
He first brought pitie down with rigid ghosts to dwell.

Th' amazed shades came flocking round about,
Nor car'd they now to passe the Stygian ford:
All hell came running there, (an hideous rout)
And dropt a silent tear for every word:
The aged Ferrieman shov'd out his boat;
But that without his help did thither float;
And having ta'ne him in, came dancing on the moat.

The hungry Tantal might have fill'd him now,
And with large draughts swill'd in the standing pool:
The fruit hung listning on the wondring bough,
Forgetting hells command; but he (ah fool!)
Forgot his starved taste, his eares to fill.
Ixions turning wheel unmov'd stood still;
But he was rapt as much with powerfull musicks skill.

Tir'd Sisyphus sat on his resting stone,
And hop'd at length his labour done for ever:
The vulture feeding on his pleasing mone,
Glutted with musick, scorn'd grown Tityus liver:
The Furies flung their snakie whips away,
And molt in tears at his enchanting lay,
No shrieches now were heard; all hell kept holy-day.

That treble Dog, whose voice ne're quiet fears
All that in endlesse nights sad kingdome dwell,
Stood pricking up his thrice two listning eares,
With greedy joy drinking the sacred spell;
And softly whining, piti'd much his wrongs;
And now first silent at those dainty songs,
Oft wisht himself more ears, and fewer mouths and tongues.

At length return'd with his Eurydice,
But with this law, not to return his eyes,
Till he was past the laws of Tartarie;
(Alas! who gives love laws in miseries?
Love is loves law; love but to love is ti'd)
Now when the dawns of neighbour day he spi'd,
Ah wretch! Eurydice he saw, and lost, and di'd.

All so who strives from grave of hellish night
To bring his dead soul to the joyfull skie;
If when he comes in view of heav'nly light,
He turns again to hell his yeelding eye,
And longs to see what he had left; his sore
Grows desp'rate, deeper, deadlier then afore:
His helps and hopes much lesse, his crime and judgement more.

But why do I enlarge my tedious song,
And tire my flagging Muse with wearie flight?
Ah! much I fear I hold you much too long.
The outward parts be plain to every sight:
But to describe the people of this Isle,
And that great Prince, these reeds are all too vile:
Some higher verse may fit, and some more loftie style.

See, Phlegon drenched in the hizzing main,
Allayes his thirst, and cools the flaming carre;
Vesper fair Cynthia ushers, and her train:
See, th' apish earth hath lighted many a starre,
Sparkling in dewie globes: all home invite:
Home then my flocks, home shepherds, home; 'tis night:
My song with day is done; my Muse is set with light.

By this the gentle boyes had framed well
A myrtle garland mixt with conqu'ring bay,
From whose fit match issu'd a pleasing smell,
And all enamel'd it with roses gay;
With which they crown their honour'd Thirsils head:
Ah blessed shepherd-swain! ah happy meed!
While all his fellows chaunt on slender pipes of reed.

[Boas (1909) 2:53-68

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