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

The Purple Island. Canto X.

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

Rev. Phineas Fletcher


Canto X describes the moral virtues: Peaceablenesse, Fortitude, Long-suffering, Gentlenesse or courtesie, Temperance, Chastitie (distinguished between married and single persons), and Modestie.

Biographia Dramatica: "He is an author whose fame is not equal to his merit, having written several pieces, as The Purple Island, Piscatory Eclogues, Locustae, and other works, which deserve to be better known than they are at present" (1764; 1782; 1812) 1:243.

William Spalding: "The Purple Island of the younger brother, Phineas, is the nearest thing we have to an imitation of Spenser; but it is hardly worthy of its fame. It is an undisguised and wearisome allegory, symbolising all parts and functions both of man's body and of his mind; and it is redeemed only by the poetical spirit of some of the passages" History of English Literature (1852; 1882) 277; in Moulton, Library of Literary Criticism (1901-05) 116.

Frank S. Kastor: "A study of the response to Phineas Fletcher, poet, reveals through the centuries that The Purple Island is unmistakably an albatross around his poetic neck" Giles and Phineas Fletcher (1978) 147.



The Shepherds to the woodie mount withdrew,
Where th' hillock seats, shades yeeld a canopie;
Whose tops with violets di'd all in blue
Might seem to make a little azure skie:
And that round hill, which their weak heads maintain'd,
A lesser Atlas seem'd, whose neck sustain'd
The weight of all the heav'ns, which sore his shoulders pain'd.

And here and there sweet Primrose scattered,
Spangling the blue, fit constellations make:
Some broadly flaming their fair colours spread;
Some other winkt, as yet but half awake:
Fit were they plac't, and set in order due:
Nature seem'd work by art, so lively true
A little heav'n on earth in narrow space she drew.

Upon this earthly heav'n the shepherds play,
The time beguiling, and the parching light;
Till the declining Sunne, and elder day
Abate their flaming heat, and youthfull might:
The sheep had left the shades, to minde their meat;
Then all returning to their former seat,
Thirsil again began his wearie song repeat.

Great power of Love! with what commanding fire
Dost thou enflame the worlds wide Regiment,
And kindely heat in every heart inspire!
Nothing is free from thy sweet government:
Fish burn in seas; beasts, birds thy weapons prove;
By thee dead elements and heavens move,
Which void of sense it self, yet are not void of love.

But those twinne Loves, which from thy seas of light
To us on earth derive their lesser streams,
Though in their force they shew thy wondrous might,
On thee reflecting back their glorious beams,
Yet here encountred with so mightie foe,
Had need both arm'd and surely guarded go:
But most thy help they need; do not thy help foreslow.

Next to the younger Love Irenus went,
Whose frostie head proclaim'd his winter age:
His spring in many battels had he spent,
But now all weapons chang'd for counsell sage.
His heavie sword (the witnesse of his might)
Upon a lopped tree he idlely pight;
There hid in quiet sheath, sleeps it in endlesse night.

Patience his shield had lent to ward his breast,
Whose golden plain three Olive-branches dresse:
The word in letters large was fair exprest,
Thrice happy authour of a happie peace.
Rich plenty yeelds him power, power stores his will;
Will ends in works, good works his treasures fill:
Earths slave, heav'ns heir he is; as God, payes good for ill.

By him Andreos pac't, of middle age,
His minde as farre from rashnesse, as from fears;
Hating base thoughts as much as desperate rage:
The worlds loud thund'rings he unshaken heares;
Nor will he death or life or seek or flie,
Readie for both. He is as cowardly
That longer fears to live, as he that fears to die.

Worst was his civil warre, where deadly fought
He with himself, till Passion yeelds, or dies:
All heart and hand, no tongue; not grimme, but stout:
His flame had counsell in't, his furie eyes;
His rage well temper'd is: no fear can dant
His reason; but cold bloud is valiant:
Well may he strength in death, but never courage want.

But like a mighty rock, whose unmov'd sides
The hostile sea assaults with furious wave,
And 'gainst his head the boist'rous North-winde rides;
Both fight, and storm, and swell, and roar, and rave;
Hoarse surges drum, loud blasts their trumpets strain:
Th' heroick cliffe laughs at their frustrate pain:
Waves scatter'd drop in tears, windes broken whining plain:

Such was this Knights undanted constancie;
No mischief weakens his resolved minde:
None fiercer to a stubborn enemie,
But to the yeelding none more sweetly kinde.
His shield an even-ballast ship embraves,
Which dances light, while Neptune wildely raves:
His word was this, I fear but heav'n, nor windes, nor waves.

And next, Macrothumus, whose quiet face
No cloud of passion ever shadowed;
Nor could hot anger Reasons rule displace,
Purpling the scarlet cheek with firie red:
Nor could revenge, clad in a deadly white,
With hidden malice eat his vexed sprite:
For ill he good repay'd, and love exchang'd for spite.

Was never yet a more undanted spirit;
Yet most him deem'd a base and tim'rous swain:
But he well weighing his own strength and merit,
The greatest wrong could wisely entertain.
Nothing resisted his commanding spear:
Yeelding it self to him a winning were;
And though he di'd, yet dead he rose a conquerer.

His naturall force beyond all nature stretched:
Most strong he is, because he will be weak;
And happie most, because he can be wretched.
Then whole and sound, when he himself doth break;
Rejoycing most when most he is tormented:
In greatest discontents he rests contented:
By conquering himself all conquests he prevented.

His rockie arms of massie adamant
Safely could back rebutt the hardest blade:
His skinne it self could any weapon dant,
Of such strange mold and temper was he made:
Upon his shield a Palm-tree still increased,
Though many weights his rising arms depressed:
His word was, Rising most, by being most oppressed.

Next him Androphilus, whose sweetest minde
'Twixt mildenesse temper'd, and low courtesie,
Could leave as soon to be, as not be kinde:
Churlish despite ne're lookt from his calm eye,
Much lesse commanded in his gentle heart:
To baser men fair looks he would impart;
Nor could he cloak ill thoughts in complementall art.

His enemies knew not how to discommend him,
All others dearely lov'd; fell ranc'rous Spite,
And vile Detraction fain would reprehend him;
And oft in vain his name they closely bite,
As popular, and flatterer accusing:
But he such slavish office much refusing,
Can eas'ly quit his name from their false tongues abusing.

His arms were fram'd into a glitt'ring night,
Whose sable gown with starres all spangled wide
Affords the weary traveller cheerfull light,
And to his home his erring footsteps guide:
Upon his ancient shield the workman fine
Had drawn the Sunne, whose eye did ne're repine
To look on good, and ill: his word, To all I shine.

Fair Vertue, where stay'st thou in poore exile,
Leaving the Court from whence thou took'st thy name?
While in thy place is stept Disdaining vile,
And Flatterie, base sonne of Need and Shame;
And with them surly Scorn, and hatefull Pride;
Whose artificiall face false colours di'd,
Which more display her shame, then loathsome foulnesse hide.

Late there thou livedst with a gentle Swain,
(As gentle Swain as ever lived there)
Who lodg'd thee in his heart, and all thy train,
Where hundred other Graces quarter'd were:
But he (alas!) untimely dead and gone,
Leaves us to rue his death, and thee to mone,
That few were ever such, and now those few are none.

By him the stout Encrates boldly went,
Assailed oft by mightie enemies,
Which all on him alone their spite misspent;
For he whole armies single bold defies:
With him nor might, nor cunning slights prevail;
All force on him they trie, all forces fail:
Yet still assail him fresh, yet vainly still assail.

His body full of vigour, full of health;
His table feeds not lust, but strength, and need:
Full stor'd with plenty, not by heaping wealth,
But topping rank desires, which vain exceed:
On's shield an hand from heav'n an orchyard dressing,
Pruning superfluous boughs the trees oppressing,
So adding fruit: his word, By lessening increasing.

His setled minde was written in his face:
For on his forehead cheerfull gravitie
False joyes and apish vanities doth chase;
And watchfull care did wake in either eye:
His heritance he would not lavish sell,
Nor yet his treasure hide by neighbouring hell:
But well he ever spent, what he had gotten well.

A lovely pair of twins clos'd either side:
Not those in heav'n, the flowrie Geminies,
Are half so lovely bright; the one his Bride,
Agnia chaste, was joyn'd in Hymens ties,
And love, as pure as heav'ns conjunction:
Thus she was his, and he her flesh and bone:
So were they two in sight, in truth entirely one.

Upon her arched brow unarmed Love
Triumphing sat in peacefull victorie;
And in her eyes thousand chaste Graces move,
Checking vain thoughts with awfull majestie:
Ten thousand moe her fairer breast contains;
Where quiet meeknesse every ill restrains,
And humbly subject spirit by willing service reignes.

Her skie-like arms glitter'd in golden beams,
And brightly seem'd to flame with burning hearts:
The scalding ray with his reflected streams
Fire to their flames, but heav'nly fire, imparts:
Upon her shield a pair of Turtles shone;
A loving pair, still coupled, ne're alone:
Her word, Though one when two, yet either two, or none.

With her, her sister went, a warlike Maid,
Parthenia, all in steel, and gilded arms;
In needles stead a mighty spear she swayd,
With which in bloudy fields and fierce alarms
The boldest champion she down would bear,
And like a thunderbolt wide passage tear,
Flinging all to the earth with her enchanted spear.

Her goodly armour seem'd a garden green,
Where thousand spotlesse lilies freshly blew;
And on her shield the 'lone bird might be seen,
Th' Arabian bird, shining in colours new:
It self unto it self was onely mate;
Ever the same, but new in newer date:
And underneath was writ, Such is chaste single state.

Thus hid in arms, she seem'd a goodly Knight,
And fit for any warlike exercise:
But when she list lay down her armour bright,
And back resume her peacefull Maidens guise;
The fairest Maid she was, that ever yet
Prison'd her locks within a golden net,
Or let them waving hang, with roses fair beset.

Choice Nymph, the crown of chaste Diana's train,
Thou beauties lilie, set in heav'nly earth;
Thy fairs unpattern'd all perfections stain:
Sure heav'n with curious pencil, at thy birth,
In thy rare face her own full picture drew:
It is a strong verse here to write but true:
Hyperboles in others are but half thy due.

Upon her forehead Love his trophies fits,
A thousand spoils in silver arch displaying;
And in the midst himself full proudly sits,
Himself in awfull majestie araying:
Upon her brows lies his bent Ebon bow,
And ready shafts: deadly those weapons show;
Yet sweet that death appear'd, lovely that deadly blow.

And at the foot of this celestiall frame
Two radiant starres, then starres yet better being,
Endu'd with living fire, and seeing flame;
Yet with heav'ns starres in this too neare agreeing;
They timely warmth, themselves not warm, inspire;
These kindle thousand hearts with hot desire,
And burning all they see, feel in themselves no fire.

Ye matchlesse starres, (yet each the others match)
Heav'ns richest diamonds, set on Ammel white,
From whose bright spheres all grace the Graces catch,
And will not move but by your load-starres bright;
How have you stoln, and stor'd your armourie
With Loves and deaths strong shafts, and from your skie
Poure down thick showers of darts to force whole armies flie?

Above those Sunnes two Rainbows high aspire,
Not in light shews, but sadder liveries drest;
Fair Iris seem'd to mourn in sable tire;
Yet thus more sweet the greedie eye they feast:
And but that wondrous face it well allow'd,
Wondrous it seem'd, that two fair Rainbows show'd
Above their sparkling Sunnes, without or rain, or cloud.

A bed of lilies flower upon her cheek,
And in the midst was set a circling rose;
Whose sweet aspect would force Narcissus seek
New liveries, and fresher colours choose
To deck his beauteous head in snowie tire;
But all in vain: for who can hope t' aspire
To such a fair, which none attain, but all admire?

Her rubie lips lock up from gazing sight
A troop of pearls, which march in goodly row:
But when she deignes those precious bones undight,
Soon heav'nly notes from those divisions flow,
And with rare musick charm the ravisht eares,
Danting bold thoughts, but cheering modest fears:
The spheres so onely sing, so onely charm the spheres.

Her daintie breasts, like to an April rose
From green-silk fillets yet not all unbound,
Began their little rising heads disclose,
And fairly spread their silver circlets round:
From those two bulwarks Love doth safely fight;
Which swelling easily, may seem to sight
To be enwombed both of pleasure and delight.

Yet all these Starres which deck this beauteous skie,
By force of th' inward Sunne both shine and move:
Thron'd in her heart sits Loves high majestie;
In highest majestie the highest Love.
As when a taper shines in glassie frame,
The sparkling crystall burns in glitt'ring flame:
So does that brightest Love brighten this lovely dame.

Thus, and much fairer, fair Parthenia
Glist'ring in arms, her self presents to sight;
As when th' Amazon Queen, Hippolyta,
With Theseus entred lists in single fight,
With equall arms her mighty foe opposing;
Till now her bared head her face disclosing,
Conquer'd the conquerour, and wan the fight by losing.

A thousand Knights woo'd her with busie pain,
To thousand she her virgin grant deni'd;
Although her deare-sought love to entertain
They all their wit and all their strength appli'd:
Yet in her heart Love close his scepter swayd,
That to an heav'nly spouse her thoughts betraid,
Where she a maiden wife might live, and wifely maid.

Upon her steps a virgin Page attended,
Fair Erythre, whose often-blushing face
Sweetly her in-born shame-fac't thoughts commended;
The faces change prov'd th' hearts unchanged grace,
Which she a shrine to puritie devotes:
So when cleare ivorie vermeil fitly blots,
By stains it fairer grows, and lovelier by its spots.

Her golden hair, her silver forehead high,
Her teeth of solid, eyes of liquid pearl;
But neck and breast no man might bare descrie,
So sweetly modest was this bashfull girle:
But that sweet paradise (ah!) could we see,
On these white mountlets daintier apples be,
Then those we bought so deare on Edens tempting tree.

These noble Knights this threatned fort defend;
These, and a thousand moe heroick Swains,
That to this 'stressed State their service lend,
To free from force, and save from captive chains.
But now too late the battell to recite;
For Hesperus heav'ns tapers 'gins to light,
And warns each starre to wait upon their Mistres Night.

[Boas (1909) 2:130-39]

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