The seventh eclogue rings changes on that which precedes it. The theme is still love, but erotic love is now praised in verses turning on metaphor rather than argument. The concluding poem takes the traditional form of a singing contest, between the shepherd Thirsil and the fisherman Thomalin, with Thirsil as judge. While the song is of love, the contest exemplifies how masculine friendship transcends difference and misfortunes. The intertwining songs and verses, as one might expect, are the most elaborate of the cycle.
Alexander Fraser Tytler: "At sunrise, a band of shepherds and shepherdesses are seen advancing in order, and are joined by a troop of fishers and water-nymphs, who had concerted to dispute with them the prize of singing. Daphnis, the shepherd's, and Thomalin, the fisher's champion, advance in the middle of the circle, before Thirsil, who is appointed judge, and begin an alternate song, in which after invoking their tutelary gods, they each recite the history of their loves, and the praises of their mistresses. After deciding the controversy, Thirsil, the judge, gives an invitation to the shepherds and fishers, with their nymphs, and with him the day is spent in sporting and festivity.
"This Eclogue is modelled after the third of Virgil, and fifth or eighth of Theocritus, which there have been few pastoral writers who have not chosen to imitate in some of their eclogues: There are, however, I believe, none who, upon comparing this of our poet with the similar eclogues of other authors, (nay, of these great models themselves), will deny him in this the superiority. There is here a much greater variety of sentiment than in the like eclogues of others. Even in Virgil and Theocritus, the one shepherd but barely repeats the sentiment of the other, only varying a little, and adapting it to apply his own circumstances. One shepherd says, he intends to make a present of pigeons to his mistress; the other, instead of pigeons, says he will give her apples. The contention between the shepherds in Spenser's Eclogues has something extremely ludicrous and burlesque, where the one shepherd is merely an echo to the last words of the other, and the whole merit lies in an awkward chime of words with little or no meaning. — If this eclogue yields to any of the same kind, it is to the ninth of Michael Drayton's pastorals, which is full of picturesque description, and the contest between the shepherds is there finely managed" Piscatorie Eclogs and Poetical Miscellanies (1771) 108-10.
Herbert E. Cory: "The sixth eclogue, in which the young poet is exhorted to turn from earthly loves, is attractively earnest. Very charming is the eighth [seventh] eclogue, a series of song-contests between shepherds and fishers. But the mingling of classical influence has made these pastorals seem languorous hen we remember the sprightly native notes of Drayton" "Spenserian Pastoral" PMLA 25 (1910) 262.
Henry Marion Hall: "The last poem, 'The Prize,' is a song contest, not imitated from Spenser's spirited 'verse-capping' August eclogue, but expanded line by line and passage by passage from the earlier Latin 'Lusus'.... The idyll is very elaborate and strives everywhere to catch the mannerisms of Spenser. It is, however, by far the most classic in form of the entire set, since the songs of the fishermen, as in the 'Lusus,' are derived from Sannazaro, while the songs of the shepherd are as strictly Virgilian" Idylls of Fishermen (1944) 127.
THIRSIL. DAPHNIS. THOMALIN.
Aurora from old Tithons frosty bed
(Cold, wintry, wither'd Tithon) early creeps;
Her cheek with grief was pale, with anger red;
Out of her window close she blushing peeps;
Her weeping eyes in pearled dew she steeps,
Casting what sportlesse nights she ever led:
She dying lives, to think he's living dead.
Curst be, and cursed is that wretched sire,
That yokes green youth with age, want with desire.
Who ties the sunne to snow? or marries frost to fire?
The morn saluting, up I quickly rise,
And to the green I poste; for on this day
Shepherd and fisher-boyes had set a prize,
Upon the shore to meet in gentle fray,
Which of the two should sing the choicest lay;
Daphnis the shepherds lad, whom Mira's eys
Had kill'd; yet with such wound he gladly dies:
Thomalin the fisher, in whose heart did reigne
Stella; whose love his life, and whose disdain
Seems worse then angry skies, or never quiet main.
There soon I view the merry shepherd-swains
March three by three, clad all in youthfull green:
And while the sad recorder sweetly plains,
Three lovely Nymphs (each several row between,
More lovely Nymphs could no where els be seen,
Whose faces snow their snowy garments stains)
With sweeter voices fit their pleasing strains.
Their flocks flock round about; the horned rammes,
And ewes go silent by, while wanton lambes
Dancing along the plains, forget their milky dammes.
Scarce were the shepherds set, but straight in sight
The fisher-boyes came driving up the stream;
Themselves in blue, and twenty sea-nymphs bright
In curious robes, that well the waves might seem:
All dark below, the top like frothy cream:
Their boats and masts with flowres, and garlands dight;
And round the swannes guard them with armies white:
Their skiffes by couples dance to sweetest sounds,
Which running cornets breath to full plain grounds,
That strikes the rivers face, and thence more sweet rebounds.
And now the Nymphs and swains had took their place;
First those two boyes; Thomalin the fishers pride,
Daphnis the shepherds: Nymphs their right hand grace;
And choicest swains shut up the other side:
So sit they down in order fit appli'd;
Thirsil betwixt them both, in middle space:
(Thirsil their judge, who now's a shepherd base,
But late a fisher-swain, till envious Chame
Had rent his nets, and sunk his boat with shame;
So robb'd the boyes of him, and him of all his game).
So as they sit, thus Thirsil 'gins the lay;
You lovely boyes, (the woods, and Oceans pride)
Since I am judge of this sweet peacefull fray,
First tell us, where, and when your Loves you spied:
And when in long discourse you well are tried,
Then in short verse by turns we'l gently play:
In love begin, in love we'l end the day.
Daphnis, thou first; to me you both are deare:
Ah, if I might, I would not judge, but heare:
Nought have I of a judge, but an impartiall eare.
Phoebus, if as thy words, thy oaths are true;
Give me that verse which to the honour'd bay
(That verse which by thy promise now is due)
To honour'd Daphne in a sweet tun'd lay
(Daphne thy chang'd, thy love unchanged aye)
Thou sangest late, when she now better staid,
More humane when a tree, then when a maid,
Bending her head, thy love with gentle signe repaid.
What tongue, what thought can paint my Loves perfection?
So sweet hath nature pourtray'd every part,
That art will prove that artists imperfection,
Who, when no eye dare view, dares limme her face.
Phoebus, in vain I call thy help to blaze
More light then thine, a light that never fell:
Thou tell'st what's done in heav'n, in earth, and hell:
Her worth thou mayst admire; there are no words to tell.
She is like thee, or thou art like her, rather:
Such as her hair, thy beams; thy single light,
As her twin-sunnes: that creature then, I gather,
Twice heav'nly is, where two sunnes shine so bright:
So thou, as she, confound'st the gazing sight:
Thy absence is my night; her absence hell.
Since then in all thy self she doth excell,
What is beyond thy self, how canst thou hope to tell?
First her I saw, when tir'd with hunting toyl,
In shady grove spent with the weary chace,
Her naked breast lay open to the spoil;
The crystal humour trickling down apace,
Like ropes of pearl, her neck and breast enlace:
The aire (my rivall aire) did coolly glide
Through every part: such when my Love I spi'd,
So soon I saw my Love, so soon I lov'd, and di'd.
Her face two colours paint; the first a flame,
(Yet she all cold) a flame in rosie die,
Which sweetly blushes like the mornings shame:
The second snow, such as on Alps doth lie,
And safely there the sunne doth bold defie:
Yet this cold snow can kindle hot desire.
Thou miracle; mar'l not, if I admire,
How flame should coldly freez, and snow should burn as fire.
Her slender waste, her hand, that dainty breast,
Her cheek, her forehead, eye, and flaming hair,
And those hid beauties, which must sure be best,
In vain to speak, when words will more impair:
Of all the fairs she is the fairest fair.
Cease then vain words; well may you shew affection,
But not her worth: the minde her sweet perfection
Admires: how should it then give the lame tongue direction?
Unlesse thy words be flitting as thy wave,
Proteus, that song into my breast inspire,
With which the seas (when loud they rore and rave)
Thou softly charm'st, and windes intestine ire
(When 'gainst heav'n, earth, and seas they did conspire)
Thou quiet laid'st: Proteus, thy song to heare,
Seas listning stand, and windes to whistle fear;
The lively Delphins dance, and brisly Seales give eare.
Stella, my starre-like love, my lovely starre:
Her hair a lovely brown, her forehead high,
And lovely fair; such her cheeks roses are:
Lovely her lip, most lovely is her eye:
And as in each of these all love doth lie;
So thousand loves within her minde retiring,
Kindle ten thousand loves with gentle firing.
Ah let me love my Love, not live in loves admiring!
At Proteus feast, where many a goodly boy,
And many a lovely lasse did lately meet;
There first I found, there first I lost my joy:
Her face mine eye, her voice mine eare did greet;
While eare and eye strove which should be most sweet,
That face, or voice: but when my lips at last
Saluted hers, those senses strove as fast,
Which most those lips did please; the eye, eare, touch, or taste.
The eye sweares, never fairer lip was eyed;
The eare with those sweet relishes delighted,
Thinks them the spheares; the taste that nearer tried
Their relish sweet, the soul to feast invited;
The touch, with pressure soft more close united,
Wisht ever there to dwell; and never cloyed,
(While thus their joy too greedy they enjoyed)
Enjoy'd not half their joy, by being overjoyed.
Her hair all dark more clear the white doth show,
And with its night her faces morn commends:
Her eye-brow black, like to an ebon bow;
Which sporting Love upon her forehead bends,
And thence his never-missing arrow sends.
But most I wonder how that jetty ray,
Which those two blackest sunnes do fair display,
Should shine so bright, and night should make so sweet a day.
So is my love an heav'n; her hair a night:
Her shining forehead Dian's silver light:
Her eyes the starres; their influence delight:
Her voice the sphears; her cheek Aurora bright:
Her breast the globes, where heav'ns path milkie-white
Runnes 'twixt those hills: her hand (Arions touch)
As much delights the eye, the eare as much.
Such is my Love, that, but my Love, was never such.
The earth her robe, the sea her swelling tide;
The trees their leaves, the moon her divers face;
The starres their courses, flowers their springing pride;
Dayes change their length, the Sunne his daily race:
Be constant when you love; Love loves not ranging:
Change when you sing; Muses delight in changing.
Pan loves the pine-tree; Jove the oak approves;
High populars Alcides temples crown:
Phoebus, though in a tree, still Daphne loves,
And hyacinths, though living now in ground:
Shepherds, if you your selves would victours see,
Girt then this head with Phoebus flower and tree.
Alcinous peares, Pomona apples bore:
Bacchus the vine, the olive Pallas chose:
Venus loves myrtils, myrtils love the shore:
Venus Adonis loves, who freshly blowes,
Yet breathes no more: weave, lads, with myrtils roses
And bay, and hyacinth the garland loses.
Mira, thine eyes are those twin-heav'nly powers,
Which to the widowed earth new offspring bring:
No marvel then, if still thy face so flowers,
And cheeks with beauteous blossomes freshly spring:
So is thy face a never-fading May:
So is thine eye a never-falling day.
Stella, thine eyes are those twin-brothers fair,
Which tempests slake, and promise quiet seas:
No marvel then if thy brown shadie hair,
Like night, portend sweet rest and gentle ease.
Thus is thine eye an ever-calming light:
Thus is thy hair a lovers ne'r-spent night.
If sleepy poppies yeeld to lilies white;
If black to snowy lambes; if night to day;
If Western shades to fair Aurora's light;
Stella must yeeld to Mira's shining ray.
In day we sport, in day we shepherds toy:
The night, for wolves; the light, the shepherds joy.
Who white-thorn equalls with the violet?
What workman rest compares with painfull light?
Who weares the glaring glasse, and scorns the jet?
Day yeeld to her, that is both day and night.
In night the fishers thrive, the workmen play;
Love loves the night; night's lovers holy-day.
Fly thou the seas, fly farre the dangerous shore:
Mira, if thee the king of seas should spie,
He'l think Medusa (sweeter then before)
With fairer hair, and double fairer eye,
Is chang'd again; and with thee ebbing low,
In his deep courts again will never flow.
Stella, avoid both Phoebus eare, and eye:
His musick he will scorn, if thee he heare:
Thee Daphne, (if thy face by chance he spie)
Daphne now fairer chang'd, he'l rashly sweare:
And viewing thee, will later rise and fall;
Or viewing thee, will never rise at all.
Phoebus and Pan both strive my love to gain,
And seek by gifts to winne my carelesse heart;
Pan vows with lambes to fill the fruitfull plain;
Apollo offers skill, and pleasing art:
But Stella, if thou grant my suit, a kisse;
Phoebus and Pan their suit, my love, shall misse.
Proteus himself, and Glaucus seek unto me;
And twenty gifts to please my minde devise:
Proteus with songs, Glaucus with fish doth woo me:
Both strive to winne, but I them both despise:
For if my Love my love will entertain,
Proteus himself, and Glaucus seek in vain.
Two twin, two spotted lambes, (my songs reward)
With them a cup I got, where Jove assumed
New shapes, to mock his wives too jealous guard;
Full of Joves fires it burns still unconsumed:
But Mira, if thou gently deigne to shine,
Thine be the cup, the spotted lambes be thine.
A pair of swannes are mine, and all their train;
With them a cup, which Thetis self bestowed,
As she of love did heare me sadly plain;
A pearled cup, where Nectar oft hath flowed:
But if my Love will love the gift, and giver;
Thine be the cup, thine be the swannes for ever.
Thrice happy swains! thrice happy shepherds fate!
Ah blessed life! ah blessed fishers state!
Your pipes asswage your love; your nets maintain you.
Your lambkins clothe you warm; your flocks sustain you:
You fear no stormie seas, nor tempests roaring.
You sit not rots or burning starres deploring:
In calms you fish; in roughs use songs and dances.
More do you fear your Loves sweet-bitter glances,
Then certain fate, or fortune ever changing.
Ah that the life in seas so safely ranging,
Should with loves weeping eye be sunk, and drown'd!
The shepherds life Phoebus a shepherd crown'd,
His snowy flocks by stately Peneus leading.
What herb was that, on which old Glaucus feeding,
Grows never old, but now the gods augmenteth?
Delia her self her rigour hard relenteth:
To play with shepherds boy she's not ashamed.
Venus, of frothy seas thou first wast framed;
The waves thy cradle: now Love's Queen art named.
Thou gentle boy, what prize may well reward thee?
So slender gift as this not half requites thee.
May prosperous starres, and quiet seas regard thee;
But most, that pleasing starre that most delights thee:
May Proteus still and Glaucus dearest hold thee;
But most, her influence all safe infold thee:
May she with gentle beams from her fair sphear behold thee.
As whistling windes 'gainst rocks their voices tearing;
As rivers through the valleys softly gliding;
As haven after cruel tempests fearing:
Such, fairest boy, such is thy verses sliding.
Thine be the prize: may Pan and Phoebus grace thee;
Most, whom thou most admir'st, may she embrace thee;
And flaming in thy love, with snowy arms enlace thee.
You lovely boyes, full well your art you guided;
That with your striving songs your strife is ended:
So you your selves the cause have well decided;
And by no judge can your award be mended.
Then since the prize for onely one intended
You both refuse, we justly may reserve it,
And as your offering in Love's temple serve it;
Since none of both deserve, when both so well deserve it.
Yet, for such songs should ever be rewarded;
Daphnis, take thou this hook of ivory clearest,
Giv'n me by Pan, when Pan my verse regarded:
This fears the wolf, when most the wolf thou fearest.
But thou, my Thomalin, my love, my dearest,
Take thou this pipe, which oft proud storms restrained;
Which, spite of Chamus spite, I still retained:
Was never little pipe more soft, more sweetly plained.
And you, fair troop, if Thirsil you disdain not,
Vouchsafe with me to take some short refection:
Excesse, or daints my lowly roofs maintain not;
Peares, apples, plummes, no sugred made confection.
So up they rose, and by Love's sweet direction
Sea-nymphs with shepherds sort: sea-boyes complain not
That wood-nymphs with like love them entertain not.
And all the day to songs and dances lending,
Too swift it runnes, and spends too fast in spending.
With day their sports began, with day they take their ending.