1616 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Visions.

Original Poems. [Samuel Egerton Brydges, ed.]

William Browne of Tavistock


Six undated allegorical sonnets, first published in the nineteenth century from B.M. Landsdowne MS 777. The "mushroom" and "caterpillar" were standard metaphors for corruption; "Pan" is presumably James I.

Edmund Gosse: "The very high praise awarded by some critics to the poetry of Browne is somewhat unaccountable. To compare him with Keats, as has been done, is quite preposterous. In his work we have a return to the pure Elizabethan manner, loose and fluid versification, and ingenuous pursuit of beauty. But the early freshness of the pastoral poets is gone, and the archaic words, introduced in imitation of Spenser, have lost their illustion" The Jacobean Poets (1894) 152.

Sukanta Chaudhuri: "the six extent sonnets of his Visions imitate Spenser's own emblematic visions, Vanitie, Bellay, Petrarch, and the 'tragick Pageants' which conclude Ruines of Time. Browne's first sonnet recalls the opening of Vanitie, and the swan and garden images in sonnets 3 and 5 echo Time (589-95, 519-32); but while Spenser's visions treat time and death generally, Browne's hint at specific topical allusions" Spenser Encyclopedia (1990) 115.

William Wells: "the poems quoted here appear to have been written in the 1620's, though the Caelia may be earlier" Spenser Allusions (1972) 169.



I.
Sitting one day beside the banks of Mole,
Whose sleepy stream by passages unknown
Conveys the fry of all her finny shoal,
As of the fisher she were fearful grown;
I thought upon the various turns of time,
And sudden changes of all human state:
The fear mix'd pleasures of all such as climb
To fortunes merely by the hand of fate,
Without desert. Then weighing inly deep
The griefs of one whose nearness makes him mine,
Wearied with thoughts, the leaden god of sleep
With silken arms of rest did me entwine:
While such strange apparitions girt me round,
As need another Joseph to expound.

III.
I saw a silver swan swim down the Lea,
Singing a sad farewell unto the vale,
While fishes leapt to hear her melody,
And on each thorn a gentle nightingale
And many other birds forbore their notes,
Leaping from tree to tree, as she along
The panting bosom of the current floats,
Rapt with the music of her dying song:
When from a thick and all-entangled spring
A neatherd rude came with no small ado,
Dreading an ill presage to hear her sing,
And quickly struck her tender neck in two;
Whereat the birds, methought, flew thence with speed,
And inly griev'd for such a cruel deed.

IV.
Within the compass of a shady grove
I long time saw a loving turtle fly,
And lastly pitching by her gentle love,
Sit kindly billing in his company:
Till, hapless souls, a falcon, sharply bent,
Flew towards the place where these kind wretches stood,
And sev'ring them, a fatal accident,
She from her mate flung speedy through the wood;
And 'scaping from the hawk, a fowler set
Close and with cunning underneath the shade,
Entrapp'd the harmless creature in his net,
And nothing moved with the plaint she made,
Restrain'd her from the groves and deserts wide,
Where, overgone with grief, poor bird, she died.

V.
A Rose, as fair as ever saw the North,
Grew in a little garden all alone;
A sweeter flower did Nature ne'er put forth,
Nor fairer garden yet was never known:
The maidens danc'd about it morn and noon,
And learned bards of it their ditties made;
The nimble fairies by the pale-fac'd moon
Water'd the root and kiss'd her pretty shade.
But well-a-day, the gard'ner careless grew;
The maids and fairies both were kept away,
And in a drought the caterpillers threw
Themselves upon the bud and every spray.
God shield the stock! If heaven send no supplies,
The fairest blossom of the garden dies.

VI.
Down in a valley, by a forest's side,
Near where the crystal Thames rolls on her waves,
I saw a mushroom stand in haughty pride,
As if the lillies grew to be his slaves;
The gentle daisy, with her silver crown,
Worn in the breast of many a shepherd's lass;
The humble violet, that lowly down
Salutes the gay nymphs as they trimly pass:
These, with a many more, methought, complain'd
That Nature should those needless things produce,
Which not alone the sun from others gain'd
But turn it wholly to their proper use.
I could not choose but grieve that Nature made
So glorious flowers to live in such a shade.

VII.
A gentle shepherd, born in Arcady,
That well could tune his pipe, and deftly play
The nymphs asleep with rural minstrelsy,
Methought I saw, upon a summer's day,
Take up a little satyr in a wood,
All masterless forlorn as none did know him,
And nursing him with those of his own blood,
On mighty Pan he lastly did bestow him;
But with the god he long time had not been,
Ere he the shepherd and himself forgot,
And most ingrateful, ever stepp'd between
Pan and all good befell the poor man's lot:
Whereat all good men griev'd, and strongly swore
They never would be foster-fathers more.

[Poems, ed. Goodwin (1893) 2:279-82]