1621
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Song of Songs: The Proeme.

The Song of Songs, which was Salomons, metaphrased in English Heroiks by way of Dialogue. With certayne of the Brides Ornaments, viz. Poeticall Essayes upon a Divine Subject. Whereunto is added a Funerall Elegie, consecrate to the Memorie of that ever honoured Lord, John, Late Bishop of London. By R. A.

Robert Aylett


1 + 21 Spenserians by Robert Aylett, who signs himself "R. A."

F. M. Padelford: "The author describes the discipline he underwent in the Court of Heavenly Love. This furnishes and opportunity to present in allegorical form the relations and offices of the various virtues which were to be exhaustively expounded in the succeeding meditations. The proem is modeled on Spenser's House of Holiness, with the respective virtues performing essentially the same offices in each. In view of this correspondence and the author's indebtedness to the Faerie Queene, it is somewhat naive to find the opening stanzas voicing regret that Spenser, along with the other great poets, had chosen to write of 'Ladies loves, and Nobles courtesie'" "Robert Aylett" (1936) 5.

The poem was revised and the ending changed in the 1654 edition.



THE CONTENTS.
The Porter of Loves Gate, Humilitie:
Her Treasurer, Knowledge; Fortitude, Generall;
Mercy, her Chancellor; Truth, Secretarie:
Justice, chiefe Judge; Prudence directeth all.
Temp'rance, Comptroller; Repentance, Marshall.
Bountie, the Almoner; Faith, Hope, Patrons are;
Patience, Obedience, Meeknesse, Maides I call,
Attending Love: Joy privy Seal doth beare;
Gods word Sword-bearer is; Zeale, Prayer, Chaplens there.

THE PROEME.
Those sublime Wits, that in high Court of Fame
Doe seeke to rank themselves by Poesie,
Eternizing the glorie of their name
By prayse of Honour, and of Chivalrie,
To some great Princes Court their youth apply,
Knights honourable actions to behold;
Chaste Ladies loves, and Nobles courtesie.
Of such have Homer, Virgil, Spencer told,
And have thereby their names in Fames faire Court, enrold.

But had they waited on the glorious Court
Of Heavenly Love, by some call'd Charitie,
And seene the order there, and gracious Port
Of this great Queene and her faire Companie,
Her gentle Government and Majestie,
This sure their high Heroicke Muse might raise,
As farre above their moderne pitch to flie,
As candle-light's surmounted by Sunnes rayes,
Or as the Creatures boasting is by Makers praise.

Nor had their stately Muse beene rais'd more high,
By this employment in Loves Meditation,
Than their own soules, which up to heaven would flie
By this delightfull heav'nly Contemplation,
Where they might view th' eternall Habitation,
Prepared for the faithfull Friends of Love.
That by her Lawes frame life and conversation,
As members of one glorious Head above,
Which here upon the Earth by it doe live, be, and move.

Long time I sought Loves Court most carefully,
And on her noble Actions set my mind,
That, in her praise, my Muse might soare on high,
I sought in vaine, but could no entrance finde,
Untill a courteous Lady then assign'd
To keepe the Court Gate, hight Humilitie,
Well knowing what I sought, lowly declin'd,
Assuring me I never could descry
Loves honourable Court, but by Humilitie.

Shee was a lovely Lady cloth'd in gray,
Of russet wooll, which her owne hands did spin,
Nor would expend her state in garments gay,
Her care was to be glorious within;
Yet had this Lady goodly commings in,
Which for Loves sake shee dealt amongst the Poore,
To fill their bellies shee look'd leane and thin,
Would stoupe to heale the meanest Lazars sore,
Yet when shee had done all, griev'd shee could doe no more.

She soone in me espies a dangerous sore,
Most dangerous, because it was least seene,
But inwardly did fester more and more;
It was Ambition, which ev'n from my Spleen
Unto mine heart had sent her poysonous teene;
To cure which sore, shee med'cine straight applyes,
Before I came in presence of her Queene.
Who gayns, saith shee, grace in my Soveraignes eyes,
By meekenesse, not ambition, seekes, as I, to rise.

Many good med'cines did this Maid devise,
Whereby shee might recure my dangerous sore,
As good examples, words eke of the wise,
But none of these did yeeld me profit more,
Then mine owne wretchednesse; which shee before
Me laid; that I might humbled be thereby,
And though my flesh first spurn'd against this lore,
Yet shee so gently did this salve apply,
That my proud heart it made stoupe to Humilitie.

Thus humbled, I was to Repentance brought,
Who was their Marshall, wondrous grave and sage,
Ah! shee, at first, me mickle sorrow wrought,
And shew'd how I unworthy was to wage,
Or be admitted to Loves equipage.
Shee then my Conscience forthwith did demand,
To bring my Sinnes and Follies on the stage;
Who, streight-wayes, did obey her great command;
And loe! my sins appear'd in number like the Sand.

Sinnes done in secret, and long since forgot,
Shee there exhibited plain to be seene,
And straight me to the Barre of Justice got,
Accusing of high treason to her Queene:
Justice was chiefe Judge, in the Law well seene,
Yet limited by bounds of her Commission;
Law was her rule, not what shee did esteeme,
To extend Mercy, shee had no permission:
They that have sinn'd must be condemn'd without remission.

But Faith and Hope, two Patrons neare at hand
To all distressed soules that crave their aid,
Advis'd me not on mine owne workes to stand,
But on His merits that had fully paid
The ransome of my sinnes; and further said,
From Justice I to Mercy might appeale.
This done, the Court most willingly convaid
Me to the Throne of Mercy, which should heale,
And all by Justice done against me, would repeale.

Mercy a Princesse was of high degree,
And neare unto the Queene of Love allide;
Most pleasant was her countenance to see:
Knowledge the Treasurer sate by her side;
But Prudence most of all her Grace did guide.
The Secretarie Truth her Acts did write,
Shee Mercy yet with Justice did divide,
To all those Suitors that did crave their right;
And were, by Faith and Hope, taught how to plead aright.

I had good audience at my first appearing,
But when Faith, Hope, began my suite to move,
Repentance crav'd another day of hearing,
And shee would all my sinnes before them prove;
I answer'd, that this let I would remove,
For I confesse all against me laid,
And streight by Faith and Hope did plainely prove,
My Saviours merits, all my debts hath paid;
Then all the Court gan cry, I need not be afraid.

Yet Mercy with her counsell would advise,
Before that shee to sentence did proceed,
And first with Knowledge, Prudence, Truth devise,
The same which was long time before decreed:
And though damnation be thy sinnes just meed,
Yet seeing thou so rightly dost apply
Christs merits, thou from guilt of them art freed:
Wherefore by Faith, Hope, and Humilitie,
Here in Loves Court to abide, thou hast free libertie.

I thus absolv'd, by Mercies gracious dome
Was brought to Meeknesse and Obedience,
That they might me instruct, ere I should come
Into the Chamber of their Queenes presence:
And by the way I met with Patience;
These three sweet Ladies many precepts give,
With charge them t' observe with diligence,
And all my wrongs past and to come forgive,
If in this Court of Love, with honour, I would live.

Then Fortitude, this Queenes great Generall,
Taught me 'gainst all afflictions to stand fast,
For he that loveth well endureth all;
And Temperance enjoyned me to fast,
And all immoderate lusts from me to casts
This Temperance, Comptroller of the Hall,
Of slender dyet is and body chaste;
Bountie the Alm'ner next to me did call,
To doe good, and distribute to poore Saints 'bove all.

Then Lay Laetice, that staid all this while,
Longing and wishing me this good successe,
On me began most graciously to smile,
And comfort after my great heavinesse:
Shee is of high trust and great noblenesse,
And keepes the privy Signet of her Queene,
Which on the hearts of all shee doth impresse,
Absolv'd by Mercy from Lawes direfull teene:
Shee is cal'd Inward Joy, more to be felt then seene.

There met I Zeale without vaine superstition,
Who never, without Knowledge, durst come there,
So hot and fiery was her disposition,
As shee peeces could stone Tables teare;
Shee in grave comely habit did appeaer,
As of the Tribe of Aaron shee were borne;
Gods Name dishonoured shee could not beare,
Her haire was all dischevelled and torne,
Which she had rent to hear wretches her queenes Love scorn.

Shee was most earnest and patheticall,
And like Joy, did enflame mine inward parts:
Then Courtesie a Lady faire and tall,
Instructed me in her most pleasing Arts,
How first I should my lookes suite to mine heart,
And next according to mine heart should looke,
Unfeignedly the head and every part,
To love, who for love my sinnes on him tooke;
This Ladies loving heart, you might reade in her looke.

Then came Gods Word, of all the rest, the Guide,
From whose Mouth went a sharpe two edged sword,
Which did from me all sinne and lust divide,
And in my bleeding wounds sweet hony powr'd:
Last, Prayer needes this favour would afford,
My suite unto Loves Highness to present.
Then falling on my knees, shee did record
My words, and ev'n my secret heart intent,
And them, by Meditation, to Loves presence sent.

Thus was I to Loves glorious presence brought,
Which was beyond imagination great,
Who gently me enquired what I sought:
Madame, said I, This now I doe intreat,
Your Grace will give me licence to repeat
The goodly glorie I doe here behold:
Shee granted me I should of her entreat,
And all her Courtiers, whereof I have told,
Which by Gods grace I meane in order to unfold.

And that I may an order due observe,
The first that comes forth is the Queene her Grace,
Then follow on such Ladies as her serve,
In their due order, ranke, and proper place,
Humilitie first leades the Vertues trace:
Loe, next Repentance, Faith, and Hope have rome:
These three are Ladies which doe guide our race,
Till we into the armes of Love doe come;
But, loe, they leave us there; for then their charge is done.

[pp. 19-26]