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ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Peace with her Foure Garders: Meditation 2. Of Chastitie.

Peace with her Foure Garders. viz. Five Morall Meditations: Of Concord, Chastitie, Constancie. Courtesie. Gravitie. Eschew Evill, and Doe Good, Seeke Peace and Ensue It.

Robert Aylett


"Chastitie" includes the usual catalogue of chaste women. Robert Aylett's figure of Lust suggests Milton's Sin: "She's like the Serpent that did Eve assaile; | She pleasant fruits and pleasures doth pretend, | Her mouth drops hony-sweet, but with her taile, | She stings ev'n all to hell, with whom she doth prevaile."



Tho heav'nly Steeres-man, which was erst my guide
Unto the hav'n of peace and happy rest,
Where I could wish at anchor ay to ride,
Free from worlds stormes, which mortals heere molest;
Doth now unto my whiter Muse suggest,
The praise of heav'nly Chastitie to sing,
Most needfull grace for those, in peace, that rest:
For when she most tranquillity doth bring,
Man most in danger is of Lusts enchanting sting.

For such is Hels malicious subtilty,
With all advantages still to assaile
The part unarm'd of mans mortalitie,
That he with greater danger may prevaile:
And when we all his instruments do quaile
Of Anger, Envy, Covetize, and Pride:
In humble quiet peace, he will not faile,
By slight, within our wils with brands to slide,
Wherewith he fires the gates, and all the Towne beside.

Thus when as Joab and the host were prest
To lye in Tents, and Fields a warfaring,
And Ishai's sonne in Peace at home doth rest,
Divinest Hymnes and Layes on Harpe to sing;
Malicious Basiliske with lustfull sting
Enflames his eyes, which set his heart on fire,
And from his heav'nly peace to warre doth bring,
Such lustfull warres, such raging hot desire,
As breed him dismall broiles and Gods revenging ire.

For mans whole life is a continuall warre
With Satan, World, his fleshes sinne and Lust:
Satan the Captaine, these his Souldiers are,
Against these alwayes stand in armes we must:
But most of all, when we in peace doe trust,
We want Dame Chastity's commanding Power,
Sweet holy Lady, faithfull, pure and just,
In peace and rest our safe defence and tower,
Dames Laps enriching more than Danaes golden shower.

Thou; that from slime of earth man first did'st raise,
To beare thine owne expresse similitude,
That he in purity might spend his dayes,
And all corruption, sinne and lust exclude;
Who hast his heart with Grace divine indude,
To be thy temple, and thy Spirits Cell,
From me all thoughts, words, acts unchast seclude,
Whilst I the honour of this vertue tell,
For in a heart unpure, chast Spirit will not dwell.

I take her for that vertue of the minde,
Which doth the Furiousnesse of Lust retaine
In reasons bounds; And our affections binde
In Royall Links of Vertues golden Chaine:
As Abstinence doth appetite restraine
From foode immoderate: So from desire
Unlawfull, she doth mind and flesh containe,
And bounds in limits Generations fire,
As meekenesse bounds the rage of Zeales revenging ire.

For ev'n as Appetite, without restraint
Of Abstinence, delights in Gluttony,
And valiant Zeale is, without Meekenesse, taint
With cruell rage, and spites malignity:
Eu'n so without this vertue Chastitie,
The noblest vigour of sweet generation,
Abounds in Lust, and foule Adultery,
And spends the vitals without moderation,
But Chastitie bounds all to lawfull propagation.

In twofold currents runnes her purer sourse,
Body's and minds; The minde remaineth chast,
Though one by violence the Body force,
Againe thy mind may be corrupt, unchast,
Though thou no act in flesh committed hast:
Thine eyes, hands, eares, words, lookes, least lustfull thought
She will containe, if in thine heart once plas't:
Th' unspotted Lambe, whose bloud thee dearely bought,
Unchastly never spake, look'd, did, once heard or thought.

She hath her first divine pure excellence
With her beginning, from our Soules creation:
That heav'nly, holy, purest influence
God breath'd into the Lump his hand did fashion.
And though at first by Natures depravation,
She as all other vertues did us leave,
Yet we againe by true mortification
Of earthly Members, her againe receive,
And seeke, as members chaste, to chastest head to cleave.

For as nought better can the mind containe,
Than reading, heav'nly thoughts and meditation,
So nothing fleshly lusts doth more restraine,
Than Fasting, Prayer, and mortification:
Sweet chastity's of heav'nly propagation,
And as none gaine gift of Virginity,
But by the Spirits chaste sanctification,
So none conserve their Sacred Chastitie,
But by that Spirits working, Grace and Sanctitie.

Wherefore as wantonnesse, Adultery,
Amongst the wicked workes of flesh are nam'd,
So Meekenesse, Continence, and Chastity
Are call'd the Spirits Fruits by none defam'd:
Talke scurrilous to heare she is asham'd,
Her modest lookes are free from Wantonnesse,
Uncleannesse, Filthinesse may not be nam'd
Within their mouthes, that Chastitie professe,
Tongue, eye and eare, th' affections of the heart expresse.

The Heathen did this Chastitie of minde,
In all that came to worship God, require,
For they her seated in the Soule did find,
From whence comes ev'ry good or bad desire:
And as Soules substance pure immortall fire,
Doth Bodies made of Elements transcend,
So doth the Chastitie of minde aspire,
Our Soules to Angels purity doe tend,
When we in flesh with them in chastest thoughts contend.

The fleshes Chastitie is to be free
From sinfull touch, or act; that of the mind
Is Faith unviolate; not to agree
To any lustfull thought: we seldome find
The body chaste, where minde is ill inclin'd.
In this she doth Virginity transcend,
That she is the Preseruer of mankind,
And from chaste nuptiall bed doth children send,
Without which all the world would perish soone and end.

These therefore alwayes her Companions are,
Shamefastnesse, Continence, and Modesty,
The enemies that of her stand in feare,
Are Fornication, wanton Luxury;
For she ay chastens their iniquitie:
The Seminary's of Delight and Pleasure,
Carowsing, Chambering, and Gluttony,
Which Worldlings heere account their greatest treasure,
She hates, and lives in all by Natures little measure.

Fulnesse of meat, Sleepe, play, Garrulity,
With ease of body, costly vaine attire,
The fuell are of Lust and Luxury,
Which heere dry up our humid and conspire
To burne our soules and bodies in hell fire:
Other sinnes are without, but generation,
To procreate by mutuall desire,
Except it be confin'd with moderation,
A sinne is 'gainst our body's health, and soules salvation.

Lust may be lik'ned to some River maine,
Bounded by purest Channels of her owne,
Wherein so long as she her streames containe,
Her waters pleasant, pure and sweet are knowne,
But if her swelling waves so proud be growne,
They passe their Bounds, and overflow the Plaine,
Her flouds late pure, now foule and muddy showne,
And boundlesse overflow the grasse and graine;
So rageth lawlesse Lust, let loose from Vertues raine.

For we are like unruly Horses all
Still neighing after neighbours wives: But she
Us, as with Bit and Bridle, doth recall,
And makes our Lusts to reasons rules agree:
Thus two as in one Body joyned be,
And are for mutuall Bounds of sweet desier,
And bounded thus, the act is Chastitee,
Like to the usefull Element of fier,
Which bounded all preserves; but loos'd is all's destroyer.

This boundlesse Lust some liken to the Fire,
And Brimstone God did downe on Sodome raine,
Virginity to mount, God doth require
Lot to escape unto, who doth obtaine
Rather in little Zoar to remaine:
So they, that from Lusts Sodome-scorching flame,
Can not Virginiti's high Mount attaine,
May stay in Zoar, which they wedlock name
The Citti's safest, but the Mount of greater fame.

As glorious Sunne, when he doth first arise,
Is both of heav'n and earth the wonderment,
Ev'n so a woman, modest, chast and wise,
Of House and Husband is the ornament:
An honest Wife's a gift from heaven sent.
As light on golden Candlestick shines bright,
So Beauty in a woman continent,
A Lampe to House and Husband all the night,
All day like glorious Beames of Titans heav'nly Light.

And as that is the noblest victory,
Which Souldiers with most danger do obtaine,
So she, that keeps her honour'd Chastitie,
'Gainst most temptations, doth most glory gaine:
'Tis harder base affections to restraine
In ease and rest, than moderate aright
A Kingdome, which by open force we gaine,
So many are our Lusts that in us fight,
So strong is Satans force, so subtill is his slight.

No beauty, forme, or golden Vestiment
Do so adorne the Body; as the Mind
Is graced by this Vertues Ornament:
Without sweet Light the Sun as soone we find,
As Shamefastnesse from Chastity disjoyn'd:
Immodest lookes are Darts against her throwne,
When man and womans light aspects are joyn'd,
The battel's fought, both sides are overthrowne.
Ah cruell fight! where neither side defends her owne.

As eyes from wanton lookes, ev'n so our eare
'Gainst all immodest Charmes, we must inclose;
For Shamefastnesses vaile these off doe teare,
And our affections prone to Lust unlose:
The Flame and Fier do not sooner close,
Than Impudence and foule unchastity,
Then Beauty, like Gold-ring in swinish Nose,
Doth roote in Durt of Impudicity,
No Body's chast where Mind's joyne in Adultery.

Who is not cloth'd in robe pure snowy white
Of Chastitie, the Lambe will never know:
Then Dames, that in faire ornaments delight,
Desire to be, as you desire to show:
All richest Pearles, Gold, Jewels, heere below,
Are nothing to this Gem of Chastitie:
No fairer Flower, doth in Loves garden grow,
Than Blush of Shamefastnesse, and Modesty,
No Jewell like the Belt of Truth and Sanctitie.

Nor doe I onely heere of you require
A Continence, for feare of Law or Fame,
But such a Chastitie I doe desire,
That neither may your Mind nor Conscience blame
Oh let it be unto your Soules a shame,
A Bird should you in Chastity transcend,
The Turtle never changeth mate or name,
For this the Story Judith doth commend,
But this is no Command, but counsell for a friend.

Take heere for patterne Rachels chastest sonne,
Who ev'n a princesse lustfull soft embrace
For vertues Love, not feare of shame, did shun:
I heere might grant Lucretia a place,
But that selfe-murther doth her foule disgrace:
Penelope's a Mappe of Chaste desire,
Who farre away all Idlenesse doth chase,
Nor takes least heate from Suiters lustfull fire,
But twice ten yeeres expects her dearest Lords retire.

Susan's so chaste, her rumour dares not blame,
To this high pitch of honour they doe rise,
That shunne all idlenesse, and wanton game,
And more than gold their names and honour prize.
Sobriety them ay accompany's,
Both in their speaking, eating, and attire,
Their modest gate, sweet carriage, shamefast eyes,
Doe prove their Beds be nests of chaste desire,
To quench more than enflame the brands of lustfull fire.

Eu'n fruitfull Venus, true to husbands side,
May win from heav'ns high Queene the golden Ball:
And virgin-Pallas may be well denide
The honour, which chast Matrons doth befall.
Glory of either Sexe! Oh how then shall
This hand unchast of that pure chastnesse write,
By which Christs-Bride surmounts the daughters all,
And doth the Queenes and Concubines delight,
Binding ev'n mighty Kings with her most glorious sight?

Her turtle-voyce, Doves eyes, as Lilly-white
Excels the thornes, so She all Womankind:
Yet loves but one, whom she in bed by night,
Doth seeke for long, at last alone doth find:
He her alone in armes embraceth kind,
And she alone delights in his imbrace:
Chast Bridegrome, chastest Bride together joyn'd,
Of Saints beget a holy heav'nly race:
With this high Mystery, Christ doth chast Wedlocke grace:

And brandeth with spirituall Fornication,
Those, who on earth their chastest Head forsake,
And stoope to Idols and abomination,
Here choyce of Lovers to themselves to rake:
The Saints and Angels they for Bridegrome take,
When they before their Images do fall:
Thus she the Scarlet-whore herselfe doth make,
And they her bastards which she beareth all:
Such bastards, with true-heiers, ne'r inherit shall.

As chast, so we a jelous Bridegrome have,
And as his Love, like Death, is sure and strong,
So's Jelousie as cruell is as grave:
Who such a loving Husband dares to wrong,
His jelous Fury may expect ere long
But now I stray from sweetest Meditation,
I ought to end, as I began my song:
One word more of a Worthy of our nation,
A patterne worth thy learning, love, and imitation.

Thomas Archbishop of Yorks famous See;
When Doctors counsell, and his friends him praid,
For Cure, to use a female-remedy,
And for that turne, him brought a comely mayd;
Most piously to them replide, and said,
That to preserve his flesh, which was to die,
His Soules immortall Chastitie betraid
Should never be: Such heav'nly chastity
Shewes plaine, his Soule doth live in heav'n eternally.

But as the Lute, which yeelds a pleasant sound,
Doth others, but it selfe, no whit delight;
So, if examples onely I propound
To others, and not practise what I write,
I never may approach the chastest Light,
To which our chastest Head before is gone:
For no unchast one commeth in his sight,
Except with Magdalen they sigh and grone,
And cleanse with floods of teares their filthinesse each one.

Thus clensd our Soule is like Brides living-Well,
Whose waters are most pleasant, pure and sweet:
Our bodies eyes like fountaines two, which quell
And quench all Lusts-temptations which they meet:
But now adayes we hold this Grace unmeet,
In noble valiant brest to intertaine,
Men onely thinke her fit for Dames to greet,
And to their basest Lusts let loose the Raine:
But sure no Vertue dwels, where she doth not remaine.

The Flesh against the Spirit coveteth,
But if the Spirit manfully hold out,
It all Lusts base temptations vanquisheth;
Who have a purpose resolute and stout,
To temper their affections, may (no doubt)
Defend their honour 'gainst Concupiscence;
And though they oft opposd are by a rout
Of their owne lusts, hels, and worlds violence,
Their chast resolved mind maintaines their innocence.

Then Fooles are they, that when they have began
In spirit, in the flesh will make an end:
He that once tastes of Lust, more hardly can
Abstaine, than he that never did intend:
Me, from her first Beginnings, Lord defend!
She's like the Serpent that did Eve assaile;
She pleasant fruits and pleasures doth pretend,
Her mouth drops hony-sweet, but with her taile,
She stings ev'n all to hell, with whom she doth prevaile.

But though I make a cov'nant with mine eyes,
Like Job, no lustfull object to behold,
Yet oft this Monster will mine heart surprize,
And unawares in sinfull Thought infold:
This Serpents cunning sleights can not be told:
The best way to avoyd them can be found,
Is her aloofe to keepe: if thou be bold
To chat with her, she unawares will wound.
I almost feare her filthinesse now to propound.

Uncircumcised, rayling Philistine!
Who all Gods hoste defies in single fight,
I dare not suffer thee to come within,
Such is thy force, such is thy cunning slight:
Thou art a Gyant of exceeding might.
If you will hearken unto my perswasion,
Keepe him aloofe, and in the forehead smite.
Best way to shun Lusts furious invasion,
Is warily here to avoid the least occasion.

David escapes the Beares and Lyons pawes,
And overthrowes the Philistine in field,
And yet this subtill Serpent him so drawes,
His heart unto her Syrens-songs doth yeeld:
Then she him conquers without sword or shield,
And leades him by the eye-lids to her snare.
Heav'ns from such subtill vile allurements shield
All those, that have a Conscience and care,
Their hearts fit Temples for thy Spirit to prepare.

Purge us with Hyssope, and we shall be pure:
Wash us, we than the Snow shall be more white;
Our Soules and Bodies Temple shall be sure
A holy house, wherein thou mayst delight:
But I the vertue for the vice have quight,
I purpos'd Chastity here to commend,
But Lust so fiercely with my Muse doth fight,
I scarce mine owne am able to defend:
Therefore with Prayer I my Meditation end.

Oh thou, that mad'st my Soule a little King,
And in this little-world, my-Body plac't;
It subject making to the ordering
Of Reason, wherewith thou this King hast grac't;
Set first of all the Soveraignes Kingdome fast,
Whereby his Subjects he may rule aright,
That is, affections keepe most pure and chast,
But most in spirituall chastitie delight,
To which adde Constancie, of which I next do write.

[pp. 12-22]