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

Eclogue I. Amyntas.

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

Rev. Phineas Fletcher


A piscatory eclogue in 22 irregular Spenserians (ababacC). Phineas Fletcher's Piscatory eclogues were composed circa 1606-15 and published in 1633. The first Eclogue, modeled on Spenser's autobiographical December eclogue, tells of the sufferings endured by the elder Giles Fletcher: "When the raw blossome of my youth was yet | In my first childhoods green enclosure bound, | Of Aquadune I learnt to fold my net, | And spread the sail, and beat the river round, | And withy labyrinths in straits to set." Thelgon describes his career at Cambridge, his travels to Germany, Moscow and Scotland, and his fruitless attempts to win preferment from his patron Amyntas.

Alexander Fraser Tytler: "The Poet, under the character of Thelgon, a fisher, paints his own father, and, in an allegory, describes his life. Having spent his youth in the country, he is solicited to court, where, though honourably employed by his sovereign, he seems to think his labours met not with the reward which they merited. This beautiful eclogue begins with the most fanciful and picturesque description. The season and scene are laid down: — An invocation to the sea-nymphs: — Thelgon's childhood, and education among the fishers: — The dawning and improvement of his poetical genius: — His removal to court, and his employments in consequence of it: — The rise of his love for Amyntas, with whom he passionately expostulates. The Eclogue concludes with a most beautiful picture of the innocent pleasures of a fisher's life, by which he endeavours to allure Amyntas to reside with him" Piscatorie Eclogs and Poetical Miscellanies (1771) 2.

Universal Magazine: "The pastoral state has been conceived by the poets to be a state of perfect innocence, and pastoral poetry, accordingly, has been thought to require the utmost simplicity of expression and sentiment. The life of a fisherman admits sometimes of scenes as delightful, and generally more various, than those of the shepherd. The piscatory Eclogue exhibits, therefore, over the pastoral, a larger and more busy field; and a greater degree of art may perhaps be shewn in its expression. In regard to poetical merit, the present Eclogues have considerable pretentions to reputation; and it was certainly a laudable attempt to rescue them from oblivion" 50 (May 1772) 266.

Critical Review: "Without the smallest hesitation, we admit these eclogues to possess poetical merit, in a high degree. They are generally written in the plaintive strain and breathe a pleasing tenderness of elegiac sentiment. In point of simplicity, however, we cannot exempt them from censure; for they abound with affected antitheses, unnatural conceits in thought, and quaintness of expression, which nothing but the vitiated taste of the age in which they were written, can possibly excuse. The imagery, for the most part, is beautiful, and well adapted to piscatory composition" 34 (August 1772) 145.

Thomas Dermody: "I know of no two productions more worthy of revival by some man of influence and fortune, than this which I have attempted to draw into a fainter degree of notice from its long unmerited oblivious recess [Britannia's Pastorals], and the piscatory eclogues of Phineas Fletcher; whose Purple Island, though inferior, has been favourably regarded by some late commentators of literary eminence" in Life of Dermody, ed. Raymond (1806) 2:306.

David Masson: "The Piscatorie Eclogues of Phineas Fletcher differ from Spenserian pastorals only in this, that the occupations of Thyrsilis, Thelgon, Dorus, Thomalin, and the rest, are those of fishermen rather than shepherds. Otherwise the fiction is the same; and, following his simple fisher-lads down the Cam, or the Thames, or the Medway, or out at sea in their skiffs along the rocky coasts, the poet, just as in the other case, but with more of watery than of sylvan circumstance, expresses his own feelings and makes his own point" Life of Milton (1859-94, 1965) 1:460.

Abram Barnett Langdale: "The Piscatorie Eclogs of Phineas Fletcher provide the only account of his father's university career, the whole concealed under a pastoral disguise which is both the despair and the justification of the Fletcherian student. Shadowy figures, such as Griphus, play shady tricks upon Thelgon, Giles Fletcher. Boats, nets, fishermen, shepherds, are all intermingled with the roaring of the seas which beat upon the shores of an imaginary continent, echoing and re-echoing through the rocky caves until their accents become indistinguishable. The very pains taken by Phineas Fletcher in chronicling his father's failure at Cambridge suggest that he saw a connection between it and his own academic mishaps" Phineas Fletcher (1937) 29-30.

Henry Marion Hall: "A poem so closely imitated from Spenser's Shepherds Calender that it might almost be called a fisher adaptation of the first great English pastoral. Fletcher's calendar is a hybrid form, bearing the same relationship to Spenser's poetry as Sannazaro's do to Virgil's. In all the piscatories imagery, settings and general conventions are borrowed directly from Sannazaro, wherever such borrowing makes it feasible for the poet to imitate Spenserian effects in their equivalent marine phraseology. This method is used consistently throughout, just as we have seen it done in Sannazaro's imitations of Virgil" Idylls of Fishermen (1944) 111.

Langdale notes imitations of Sannazarro, and Spenser's Maye, Aprill, and December. On the biographical material, see Frank S. Kastor, Giles and Phineas Fletcher (1978) 83-89.



It was the time faithfull Halcyone,
Once more enjoying new-liv'd Ceyx bed,
Had left her young birds to the wavering sea,
Bidding him calm his proud white-curled head,
And change his mountains to a champian lea;
The time when gentle Flora's lover reignes,
Soft creeping all along green Neptunes smoothest plains;

When haplesse Thelgon (a poore fisher-swain)
Came from his boat to tell the rocks his plaining:
In rocks he found, and the high-swelling main
More sense, more pitie farre, more love remaining,
Then in the great Amyntas fierce disdain:
Was not his peer for song 'mong all the lads,
Whose shrilling pipe, or voice the sea-born maiden glads.

About his head a rocky canopie,
And craggy hangings round a shadow threw,
Rebutting Phoebus parching fervencie;
Into his bosome Zephyr softly flew;
Hard by his feet the sea came waving by;
The while to seas and rocks (poore swain!) he sang;
The while the seas and rocks answ'ring loud echoes rang.

You goodly Nymphs, that in your marble cell
In spending never spend your sportfull dayes,
Or when you list in pearled boats of shell
Glide on the dancing wave, that leaping playes
About the wanton skiffe, and you that dwell
In Neptunes court, the Oceans plenteous throng,
Deigne you to gently heare sad Thelgons plaining song.

When the raw blossome of my youth was yet
In my first childhoods green enclosure bound,
Of Aquadune I learnt to fold my net,
And spread the sail, and beat the river round,
And withy labyrinths in straits to set,
And guide my boat, where Thames and Isis heire
By lowly Aeton slides, and Windsor proudly fair.

There while our thinne nets dangling in the winde
Hung on our oars tops, I learnt to sing
Among my Peers, apt words to fitly binde
In numerous verse: witnesse thou crystall Spring,
Where all the lads were pebles wont to finde;
And you thick hasles, that on Thamis brink
Did oft with dallying boughs his silver waters drink.

But when my tender youth 'gan fairly blow,
I chang'd large Thames for Chamus narrower seas:
There as my yeares, so skill with yeares did grow;
And now my pipe the better sort did please;
So that with Limnus, and with Belgio
I durst to challenge all my fisher-peers,
That by learn'd Chamus banks did spend their youthfull yeares.

And Janus self, that oft with me compared,
With his oft losses rais'd my victory;
That afterward in song he never dared
Provoke my conquering pipe, but enviously
Deprave the songs which first his songs had marred;
And closely bite, when now he durst not bark,
Hating all others light, because himself was dark.

And whether nature, joyn'd with art, had wrought me,
Or I too much beleev'd the fishers praise;
Or whether Phoebus self, or Muses taught me,
Too much enclin'd to verse, and Musick playes;
So farre credulitie, and youth had brought me,
I sang sad Telethusa's frustrate plaint,
And rustick Daphnis wrong, and magicks vain restraint:

And then appeas'd young Myrtilus, repining
At generall contempt of shepherds life;
And rais'd my rime to sing of Richards climbing;
And taught our Chame to end the old-bred strife,
Mythicus claim to Nicias resigning:
The while his goodly Nymphs with song delighted,
My notes with choicest flowers, and garlands sweet requited.

From thence a Shepherd great, pleas'd with my song,
Drew me to Basilissa's Courtly place:
Fair Basilissa, fairest maid among
The Nymphs that white-cliffe Albions forrests grace.
Her errand drove my slender bark along
The seas, which wash the fruitfull Germans land,
And swelling Rhene, whose wines run swiftly o're the sand.

But after bold'ned with my first successe,
I durst assay the new-found paths, that led
To slavish Mosco's dullard sluggishnesse;
Whose slothfull Sunne all winter keeps his bed,
But never sleeps in summers wakefulnesse:
Yet all for nought: another took the gain:
Faitour, that reapt the pleasure of anothers pain!

And travelling along the Northern plains,
At her command I past the bounding Twead,
And liv'd a while with Caledonian swains:
My life with fair Amyntas there I led:
Amyntas fair, whom still my sore heart plains.
Yet seem'd he then to love, as he was loved;
But (ah!) I fear, true love his high heart never proved.

And now he haunts th' infamous woods and downs,
And on Napaean Nymphs doth wholly dote:
What cares he for poore Thelgons plaintfull sounds?
Thelgon, poore master of a poorer boat.
Janus is crept from his wont prison bounds,
And sits the Porter to his eare and minde:
What hope, Amyntas love a fisher-swain should finde?

Yet once he said, (which I, then fool, beleev'd)
(The woods of it, and Damon witnesse be)
When in fair Albions fields he first arriv'd,
When I forget true Thelgons love to me,
The love which ne're my certain hope deceiv'd;
The wavering sea shall stand, and rocks remove:
He said, and I beleev'd: so credulous is love.

You steady rocks, why still do you stand still?
You fleeting waves, why do you never stand?
Amyntas hath forgot his Thelgons quill;
His promise, and his love are writ in sand:
But rocks are firm, though Neptune rage his fill;
When thou, Amyntas, like the fire-drake rangest:
The sea keeps on his course, when like the winde thou changest.

Yet as I swiftly sail'd the other day,
The setled rock seem'd from his seat remove,
And standing waves seem'd doubtfull of their way,
And by their stop thy wavering reprove:
Sure either this thou didst but mocking say,
Or else the rock and sea had heard my plaining.
But thou (ay me!) art onely constant in disdaining.

Ah! would thou knew'st how much it better were
To 'bide among the simple fisher-swains:
No shrieching owl, no night-crow lodgeth here;
Nor is our simple pleasure mixt with pains:
Our sports begin with the beginning yeare,
In calms to pull the leaping fish to land,
In roughs to sing, and dance along the golden sand.

I have a pipe, which once thou lovedst well,
(Was never pipe that gave a better sound)
Which oft to heare fair Thetis from her cell,
Thetis the Queen of seas, attended round
With hundred Nymphs and many powers that dwell
In th' Oceans rocky walls, came up to heare,
And gave me gifts, which still for thee lie hoarded here.

Here with sweet bayes the lovely myrtils grow,
Where th' Oceans fair-cheekt maidens oft repair;
Here to my pipe they dancen on a row:
No other swain may come to note their fair;
Yet my Amyntas there with me shall go.
Proteus himself pipes to his flocks hereby,
Whom thou shalt heare, ne're seen by any jealous eye.

But (ah!) both me, and fishers he disdains,
While I sit piping to the gadding winde,
Better that to the boysterous sea complains;
Sooner fierce waves are mov'd, then his hard minde:
I'le to some rock farre from our common mains,
And in his bottome learn forget my smart,
And blot Amyntas name from Thelgons wretched heart.

So up he rose, and lancht into the deep;
Dividing with his oare the surging main,
Which dropping seem'd with teares his case to weep;
The whistling windes joyn'd with the seas to plain,
And o're his boat in whines lamenting creep.
Nought feared he fierce Oceans watry ire,
Who in his heart of grief and love felt equall fire.

[pp. 1-6]