1645
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Battell of the Summer Islands.

Poems, &c. written by Mr. Ed. Waller of Beckonsfield, Esquire; lately a Member of the honourable House of Commons. All the lyrick Poems in this Booke were set by Mr. Henry Lawes Gent. of the Kings Chappell, and one of his Majesties Private Musick.

Edmund Waller


Mock-heroics: the inhabitants of Bermuda are terrified by the noisy appearance of two whales; an inconclusive battle ensues. The 1645 edition compares the thrashing whale to "Fairy Talus," later emended to "Spenser's Talus."

John Aubrey: "His intellectuals are very good yet (1680), and makes verses; but he growes feeble. He wrote verses of the Bermudas 50 yeares since, upon the information of one that had been there; walking in his fine woods, the poetique spirit came upon him" Brief Lives, ed. Clark (1898) 2:276.

Elijah Fenton: "The Islands of Bermuda deriv'd that name from the first European discoverer, who was a Spaniard: but, about the year 1609, Sir George Summers being wreck'd on that coast, settled a colony there which he intended to have planted in Virginia, and call'd them the Summer-Islands: they are situate in 32 Degrees, and 30 minutes, of northern latitude.... ["Like Spenser's Talus with his iron flail"] A bold machine, and proper only to be play'd in Fairy-Land! but, it is not of Spenser's invention. For, Talus was a strict minister of justice under Radamanthus King of Crete, who us'd yearly to make three circuits round that island to put the laws in execution; which being engrav'd on brazen tablets, the Greeks, in their allegorical manner of speech, call'd him 'The Man of Brass'; in which form he is represented by Apollonius in the Argonautics" Works of Waller (1729) xlvi, xlviii.

Samuel Johnson: "Of The Battle of the Summer Islands it seems not easy to say whether it is intended to raise terror or merriment: the beginning is too splendid for jest, and the conclusion too light for seriousness. The versification is studied, the scenes are diligently displayed, and the images artfully amplified; but as it ends neither in joy nor sorrow it will scarcely be read a second time" Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 1:289.

G. Thorn Drury: "The whole of Marvell's poem ["Bermudas"], Fairfax, Godfrey of Bulloigne, xv. 35-36, xvi. 11, and Spenser, Faerie Queene, iii.6.42 [Garden of Adonis], should be compared with Waller's description of the islands" Poems (1893) 309n.

Herbert E. Cory: "Edmund Waller, as we have noted, learned his devotion to finish from Fairfax. He seems to have returned to Spenser as well for that mellifluousness which is characteristic of his smooth, sensuous verse. His most elaborate poem, The Battle of the Midsummer Islands, follows Spenser and Fairfax in the creation of a sort of tropical Bower of Bliss, or Eden. A reference in the third canto seems to show that Waller, unlike many professed students of English literature, had arrived as far as the fifth book of The Faerie Queene. For he describes a wounded whale scourging the waves 'like Spenser's Talus with his iron flail'" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 112.



CANTO I.
What fruit they have, and how heaven smiles
Upon those late discover'd Isles.

Aide me Bellona while the dreadfull fight
Betwixt a Nation and two Whales I write:
Seas stain'd with goar, I sing advent'rous toyle,
And how these Monsters did disarme an Isle.

Bermudas wall'd with rocks, who does not know
That happy Island where huge Lemons grow,
And Orange trees which golden fruit doe bear,
Th' Hesperian garden boasts of none so fair?
Where shining pearle, corall, and many a pound
On the rich shore, of Amber-greece is found:
The lofty Cedar which to heaven aspires,
The Prince of trees is fewell for their fires:
The smoak by which their loaded spits do turne
For incense, might on sacred Altars burn.
There private roofs on od'rous timber borne,
Such as might Pallaces for Kings adorne:
The sweet Palmettas, a new Bacchus yeeld
With leaves as ample as the broadest shield:
Under the shadow of whose friendly boughs
They sit carrowsing, where their liquor grows:
Figs there unplanted through the fields doe grow,
Such as fierce Cato did the Romans shew;
With the rare fruit inviting them to spoyle,
Carthage the mistris of so rich a soyle:
The naked rocks are not unfruitful there,
But at some constant seasons every year:
Their barren top with loucious food abound,
And with the egges of various fowles are crown'd:
Tobacco is their worst of things which they
To English Land-lords as their Tribute pay:
Such is the mould, that the blest Tennant feeds
On pretious fruits, and payes his rent in weeds:
With candid plantines and the jucy Pine,
On choicest Melons and sweet Grapes they dine,
And with Potato's fat their wanton Swine:
Nature these Cates with such a lavish hand
Powres out among them, that our courser Land
Tastes of that bounty, and does Cloth return,
Which not for warmth, but ornament is worne:
For the kinde Spring which but salutes us here
Inhabits there, and courts them all the year:
Ripe fruits and blossomes, on the same trees live,
At once they promise what at once they give:
So sweet the aire, so moderate the clime,
None sickly lives, or dyes before his time.
Heaven sure has kept this spot of earth uncurst
To shew how all things were created first:
The tardy plants in our cold Orchards plac't,
Reserve their fruits for the next ages taste:
There a small graine in some few months will be
A firme, a lofty, and a spacious tree:
The Parmachristi, and the fair Papah,
Now but a seed (preventing natures law)
In halfe the circle of the hasty year
Project a shade, and lovely fruit doe wear:
And as their trees in our dull Region set
But faintly grow, and no perfection get:
So in this Northerne tract our hoarser throats
Utter unripe and ill constrained notes,
Where the supporter of the Poets stile,
Phoebus on them eternally does smile.
O how I long my carelesse limbs to lay
Under the plantanes shade, and all the day
With am'rous eyes my fancy entertaine,
Invoke the Muses, and improve my veine:
No passion there in my free breasts should move,
None but the sweet and best of passions love:
There while I sing if gentle love be by
That tunes my lute, and winds the strings so high:
With the sweet sound of Sacharissa's name,
He make the listning salvages grow tame.
But while I doe these pleasing dreams indite,
I am diverted from the promis'd fight.

CANTO II.
Of their affright, and how their foes
Discovered were, this Canto shews.

Though Rocks so high about this Iland rise,
That well thy may the num'rous Turk despise;
Yet is no humane fate exempt from fear
Which shakes their hearts, while through the Ile they hear
A lasting noise, as horrid and as loud
As thunder makes before it breaks the cloud.
Three dayes they dread this murmur ere they know
From what blind cause th' unwonted sound may grow.
At length two monsters of unequall size
Hard by the shore a fisher man espies;
Two mighty Whales, which swellings Seas has tost,
And left them prisoners on the rocky coast;
One as a mountaine vast, and with her came
A Cub not much inferior to his Dam:
Here in a poole among the Rocks ingag'd,
They roar'd like Lions caught in toyles and rag'd:
The man knew what they were, who heretofore
Had seen the like lye murdered on the shore,
By the wild fury of some tempest cast
The fate of ships and shipwrackt men to taste;
As carelesse dames whom wine and sleep betray
To frantick dreams their Infants overlay:
So there sometime the raging Ocean sailes,
And her owne brood exposes when the Whales
Against sharpe Rocks like reeling vessels quash't,
Though huge as mountains, are in peeces dash't;
Along the shore their dreadfull limbs lye scatter'd,
Like hills with earthquakes shaken, torn and shatter'd:
Heart sure of brasse they had who tempted first,
Rude Seas that spare not what themselves have nurst.

The welcome news through all the Nation spread,
To sudden joy and hope converts their dread.
What lately was their publique terror, they
Behold with glad eyes as a certaine prey;
Dispose already of th' untaken spoyle,
And as if purchase of their future toyle,
These share the bones and they divide the oyle:
So was the Hunts man by the Bear opprest,
Whose hide he sold before he caught the beast.

They man their Boasts, and all their young men arm
With whatsoever may the Monsters harme;
Pikes, holberts, spits and darts, that wound so far
The tools of peace, and instruments of war:
Now as the time for vigrous lads to shew
What love or honour could invite them too;
A goodly Theatre where rocks are round
With reverend age, and lovely lasses crown'd:
Such was the lake which held this dreadfull pare
Within the bounds of noble Warwicks share:
Warwicks bold Earle, then which no title bears
A greater found among our Brittish Peers;
And worthy he the memory to renew
The fate and honour, to that title due;
Whose brave adventures have transferr'd his name,
And through the new world spread his growing fame.
But how they fought, and what their valour gain'd,
Shall in another Canto be contain'd.


CANTO III.
The bloudy fight, succeslesse toyle,
And how the Fish sack'd the Isle.

The boat which on the first assault did goe
Stroke with a harping Iron the younger foe;
Who when he felt his side so rudely goar'd
Loud as the Seas that nourish'd him he roar'd;
As a broad bream to please some curious taste,
While yet alive in boyling water cast;
Vex't with unwonted heat, boyles, flings about
The scorching brasse, and hurles the liquor out:
So with the barbed Javeling stung, he raves,
And scourges with his tayle the suffering waves;
Like fairy Talus with his iron flayle,
He threatens ruine with his pondrous tayle;
Dissolving at one stroak the battered Boat,
And downe the men fall drenched in the moat:
With every fierce encounter they are forc't
To quit their boats, and fare like men unhorst.

The bigger Whale like some huge Carrack lay,
Which wanteth Sea roome, with her foes to play;
Slowly she swims, and when provok'd she woud
Advance her tail, her head salutes the mud.
The shallow water doth her force infringe,
And renders vaine her tails impetuous swinge.
The shining steele her tender sides receive,
And there like Bees they all their weapons leave.

This sees the Cub, and does himself oppose
Betwixt his cumbred mother and her foes:
With desperate courage he receives her wounds,
And men and boats his active tayl confounds.
Their surges joyn'd, the Seas with billows fill,
And make a tempest, though the winds be still.

Now would the men with half their hoped prey
Be well content, and wish this cub away:
Their wish they have, he to direct his dam
Unto the gap through which they thither came,
Before her swains, and quits the hostile lake,
A pris'ner there, but for his mothers sake.
She by the Rocks compell'd to stay behind,
Is by the vastnesse of her bulks confin'd.
They shout for joy, and now on her alone
Their furie fals, and all their darts are thrown:
Their launces spent; one bolder than the rest
With his broad sword provok'd the sluggish beast:
Her oyly side devours blade and heft,
And there his Steel the bold Bermudian left.
Courage the rest from his example take,
And now they change the colour of the lake.
Blood flows in rivers from her wounded side,
As if they would prevent the tardie tide;
And raise the flood to that propitious height,
As might convey her from this fatall streight.
She swims in blood, and blood do's spouting throw
To heaven, that Heaven mens cruelties might know.
Their fixed javelings in her side she weares,
And on her back a grove of pikes appears.
You would have thought had you the monster seen
Thus drest, she had another Island been:
Roaring she teares the ayre with such noise,
(As well resembled with conspiring voice
Of routed Armies, when the field is won)
To reach the ears of her escaped son.
He (though a league escaped the foe)
Hasts to her aid, the pious Trojan so
Neglecting for Creusas life his own,
Repeats the danger of the burning Town,
The men amazed blush to see the seed
Of monsters, humane pietie exceed,
Well proves the kindnesse what the Grecians sung,
That loves bright mother from the Ocean sprung.
Their courage droops, and hopelesse now they wish
For composition with th' unconquer'd fish:
So she their weapons would restore again,
Through rocks they'd hew her passage to the main.
But how instructed in each others mind,
Or what commerce can men with monsters find.
Not daring to approach their wounded fo,
Whom her couragious son protected so:
They charge their musket, and with hot desire
Standing aloofe with lead, they bruise the scales,
And tare the flesh of the incensed Whales.
But no successe their fierce endeavours found,
Nor this way could they give one fatall wound.
Now to their Fort they are about to send
For the loud Engines which their Isle defend.
But what those peices fram'd to batter walls
Would have effected on those mighty Whales,
Great Neptune will not have us know, who finds
A tyde so high that it relieves his friends.
And thus they parted with exchange of harms,
Much blood the Monsters lost, and they their Arms.

[pp. 52-59]