1679
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Legend of Love. Canto III.

A Paraphrase upon the Canticles, and some Select Hymns of the New and Old Testament, with other Occasional Compositions in English Verse. By Samuel Woodford. D.D.

Rev. Samuel Woodford


Herbert E. Cory: "We need not follow Woodford in his third canto, where he writes of the moral anarchy described in some of the historical passages in the Old Testament and hymns the rise of lawful marriage. Nor is it necessary to meddle further with the work of other poets of this school who persisted even into the eighteenth century. Indeed to many readers I shall seem to have exhumed freakish poems out of all proportion. But it is high time that we understood more clearly than any critic has yet set forth the immediate poetic environment of Lycidas, Paradise Lost, and Paradise Regained, the welter of religion and sensuality, of lofty idealism and ferocious bigotry, from which the great Puritan drew far more than we commonly realize" "Spenser, the Fletchers, and Milton" UCPMP 2 (1912) 343-44.



Tire'd with the Way I have already gone
Longer by many a Stage, than setting out
I thought it would have prov'd, and where there's none
To guide me, in the search I am about,
How well I shall succeed is my great doubt,
Who almost of the Enterprize repent,
Wishing I better of it first had thought;
At least before me some Espials sent,
Who might have told the hazard of the bold Attempt.

But to repent (alas!) 'tis now too late,
And in the last Act fail, a wrong to Love,
Which in another I should surely hate,
And cannot in my self unblam'd approve,
What Arguments so e're Distrust may move;
Which many, cogent seem, and weighty all,
But all which by this single' One I reprove,
That well if well, if ill succeed I shall,
'Tis not inglorious from the noblest heights to fall.

But help me Love, and I'll not yet despair!
For other Muse I dare not invocate;
None but thy Self, with whom the Treasures are
Of bright Idaeas, tho discover'd late
To me, who half my time in Darkness sat,
Ylamped only by a Foolish Fire,
Whose wandring guidance I now deprecate,
Led by it often, and my vain desire,
To whence I could not till Thy Day brake out, retire.

At length it brake out, and I came to know
How wofully I had mistook my Way;
Shine forth again with double Glory now,
And in my Verse Thy fairest Beams display,
That others with me in it triumph may:
And having their Night Sullys thence refin'd,
Carol with sacred Hymn's to th' Beauteous Day;
Carol to Thee, by Heav'n, and God design'd,
The Counterfeit to' uncase, and Eyes restore the Blind.

Long had the Mock-love, by his false disguise,
Upon the Credulous World impos'd, but more
Upon himself, if he had been so wise
To think how much 'twould cost him to restore,
And, what by tort he' had snatcht, a new pay o're;
But this (alas!) came seldom in his thought,
Rather perverse still, as he was before,
The World, which he had into Bondage brought,
Eternally to enthral, was th' only Prize he sought.

This was his aim, nor to rebate it found,
Save Prophecies of a Supplanters race;
Which well he knew not, and could worse expound,
Wherein the happy Country was the place,
Whence was foretold should come his great disgrace;
But when, or how, tho himself Oracles gave,
Too hard to be resolv'd was the dark case;
Nor could he any certain knowledg have,
Who should the Mighty Conqueror be, his Thralls to' unslave.

The happy Country well enough he knew,
Part of his Syria to be 'hight Palestine;
Wherefore he thither his Chief Forces drew,
And seiz'd it first by 'a more than double Trine
Of cursed Nations, from the Great Chams Line;
Cham, who first gave him credit by his Arms,
And then his Empire to him did resign;
Cham, whom he thus rewarded for the harms
He had sustain'd, to be Camp-Master of his Charms.

Seven cursed Nations, of his cursed Seed,
To be its constant Guard Love thither sent;
Who fill'd the Land so with their cursed Breed,
That scarce was left him room for his own Tent,
Less for new Col'onies, if such thither went:
A stupid, bestial, and unmanly Rout,
That all their Age in Lusts unnatural spent;
Till the time came their Land should spue them out,
Too long opprest, and bring the dread Foresight about.

Love saw it coming, and began to fear,
When Jacob's numerous Host, from Bondage led,
Unto the Cananitish bounds drew near,
Seising the Nations with unusual Dread,
While Seas to make them way rose up and fled;
But never did he more confounded stand,
Than when he Jordan saw recoil to 'his Head,
And to new Armies shar'd by Lot his Land,
Supplanted e're he did th' Supplanters understand.

Before he doubted those would prove the Men,
And therefore when they were upon the Way,
From Madian drest a Female Stratagem,
By which above two Myriads slaughter'd lay,
Tho Madian for it after dear did pay,
And he who gave the Counsel with them fell.
Balam their Priest and his the Sword did slay,
To expiate for th' Whoredoms he did sell,
And more advise, than by Prophetic rage foretel:

But then he knew it, and in every Age,
As Israel did in wealth and power encrease,
New Wars would with the Holy People wage,
Wars Amorous, the sad result of Peace;
Nor his Assaults defeated oft surcease;
Till David was exalted to the Throne,
With Testimony that he God did please,
As Enoch had, and then Love gave for gone
All he before had gain'd, and by his Conquests won.

Ah! that it had been gone! and that his sway
Had here expir'd! But Jesses Son soon fell,
A victim at his Altars, and a Prey;
Wherewith, and with his Pride he so did swell,
That tho he after had not much to tell,
Nor much to boast more, during his whole Reign,
Eluded was he judg'd the Oracle,
Nor could there for him ought behind remain,
But what He thus had got, as happ'ly to maintain.

This Salomons youth did easily perswade,
(David's next Successor) who tho most wise,
(Love of the Wisest ne're was yet afraid)
Had other Grandures, which might chance to rise
Higher in Loves account, well plac'd, than his:
Infinite Riches, Peaceful Government,
The Necks, and Pleasures of his Enemies;
And, what then these was more, a mind intent,
Of Folly, and of Love to make th' Experiment.

He made it, and in making it was caught,
To his Lands baleful Ruine, and his own;
And both, by him that, he by Love ill taught,
As from a Precipice together thrown,
Ne're stopt till come to th' bottom Head-long down:
Unhappy Prince, who could not single fall!
Whose smiles appear'd more fatal than his frown;
The Kingdoms Laws this, for the Criminal,
But bad example those, which further reacht to all!

And now, if ever, Love to the top was got
Of his unmeasurable Soveraigntie;
So far above his Hope and deepest Plot,
That scarce could he believe what he did see,
And almost trembled in those heights to be,
Compar'd with which the Honours he had gain'd,
In the World Heathen, were a low degree;
For there he o're the brutish only reign'd,
The Noblest, and the Wisest here to 'his Lore were train'd.

Ev'n God himself most High to serve was made;
And his first Institution, Marriage,
Cement of holy Love, so base allay'd,
That it degen'rated to Bestial rage,
And more divided, than it did engage
To mutual Amours and joyn'd Hearts consent:
Madness before begun, but which this Age,
With ancient Rites, indulg'd long, not content,
Perfected by a new, and wild Establishment,

Of sharers infinite in the Marriage Bed,
By this false Loves prime Ministers brought in;
With Artifice, at first, close palliated,
The New-made World, which was but peopled thin,
To stock amain and plausibly begin:
Hence Bigamy, and then Polygamy,
Causless Divorce next, to them near of kin,
On every small dislike, did multiply,
And Children reck'ned were of Loves huge Family.

And so it stood, even in the Holy Race,
(From the Beginning tho it were not so)
For many Ages of permissive Grace,
But more of Hardness that ith' Heart did grow.
Of those, who no delight in One would know,
And whom Variety would only please:
Yet God at first but One design'd, to show
His, and the pow'r of Love, and if Disease
Abus'd 't should after be, its Remedy and Ease.

(For more, if more are sought the drought to allay,
But like strange waters to th' Hydropic prove,
And frequent draughts, which in the Bowels stay,
And nor the Thirst, nor the Disease remove;
And such is Change to him, who Change does love,
(The more, the worse) He drinks, and thirsts again,
And still the more he drinks, does more improve
His Thirst, the very remedy is pain,
Yet neither can shake off, of neither but complain.)

And that Disease 'twould prove, in his Foresight,
Abus'd once, the Almighty knew, and thence
To 'a single Circle bound the subtile Sp'rit,
Who, one transgrest, was Proof against all fence,
And easi'ly could with Just and Fit dispense;
One Partner in Chast Nuptials, as enough
Their Ornament to be, and their Defence,
By Sin prevented, all that was above,
Or two, or more, or many, came from this False Love.

From him they came All, but successively,
And even the Many yet were but a Few,
Compar'd with that excess, which grown most high,
In Salomon's Reign, no limits had, or knew,
And into th' Band, not One, but Hundreds drew:
Seven hundred Wives, Three hundred Concubins,
Whom the Uxorious King did close pursue,
A Female Army, under Love's Ensigns,
With Treasure infi'nit drein'd, and with exausted Loins.

Prodigious Astoreth, be 'it an He, or She,
Or both, or neither, an opprobrious Stock;
For Sex in Idols is a Nicetie
Unknown to th' Makers, whom it ne're did choque
To stile as they should please the sensless Block:
Tho if they call'd it by a Female Name,
More Folly, and less Power, they yfere did yoke;
And, if need serv'd, a Male the God became,
Their own to 'attemper, and expose the Votaries shame.

Be it prodigious therefore, and a She!
And a She this Mock-Love, if so it please!
Prodigious Astoreth! and prodigious He,
Who was her Slave, and Slave to 'a thousand Shees,
On the Rack put by 'his Lusts, or Marriages!
And if 'tis true, that each a Body makes,
(And true it is) how monstrous with all these,
Must his appear, who has so different stakes,
Where each with only 'him, he with each, and all partakes?

With all partook he, and made up with all
One monstrous Body, which did all contain;
All Lands, and Languages, from the huge Wall
Of Babylon, to where Nile bedds the Main,
Lusty in Egypts Spoils, with Pompous Train:
No Country was there, but sent in some Love,
No Love, but did its Countries Gods retain,
All which he serv'd, if he were Service-proof,
Enough to satiate, not to satisfy enough.

Marriage perverted thus from its design,
Love to enhance, and raise an Holy Seed,
To hinder Whoredoms, and the Rage confine
Of an unruly Passion, which did need
More Reins than Spurs, and of Hells fiercest breed;
But above all, nobly to typify
The Mystic Union, which shall intercede
'Twixt Christ and holy Church, Man and th' Most High,
All Mischiefs thence brake in, and all Idolatry.

Thence Whoredoms, Fornications thence brake in,
And, which the Holy People did or'eflow,
Rapes, Incests, and than Incest worse, the Sin
Confusion call'd, foul Sod'omy, and a row
Of bestial Vices, which 'twere guilt to know,
But more to tell; The 'unwary Course some take
Lust to perstringe by action, or by show,
But teaching more, what does no teaching lack,
And those whose Ign'orance, their whole Innocence does make.

Yet Israel acted all, and did out-do,
Well thew'd in Villanies, their Teachers skill;
And Men with Men, with Women Women too
All Shame put off, and did both parts fulfil,
With Sexes counterfeited, (every Hill,
And Grove with Humane Beasts, and mingled Blood
Promiscuous cast, replenisht thick) the while
Brutes themselves, as less salvage, wondring stood,
Man o're them made to reign, should with them change Manhood.

No wonder thus debas'd, new Gods they chose,
Gods like themselves, and they new Gods did chuse,
Prodigious as their Lusts, on whom they'impose
Horrors the Beast would, if it could, refuse,
Design'd for Service and a nobler use:
Baalim and Astaroth, or what-ever name
Those Generals include, bleeding Thamuze,
Dagon, and Moloch, Kemos, Moabs shame,
And thousand others, which into the Bead-roll came:

All which they worship'd, and did lowly bow
Before their Altars; lowest bow'd their King,
Who Temples made them, and did first allow
Their Rites absurd, (by his strange Wives brought in,
Authentick made, when their establishing
Own'd him as Founder) and some think that Verse
Then lustful Orgias first began to sing,
And prostituted Mysteries rehearse,
Which Fabulous Greece did after through the World disperse.

Verse it is sure, did early suffer wrong;
And Tyran Love debaucht it, as he' had done
God's noblest Creature, for the chains are strong,
With which he holds it yet, as if his own
It purely were, and were enough alone
All that he else has lost back to regain,
And whence he had been tumbled, to the Throne
Once more advance him, in his Hands the Rein
Of all things, midst an holier People, put again.

It serv'd a little then, its service now
Is wondrously encreast, since Sloth, and Age
Have heightned Vice, and made Verse to it bow;
To th' Gods before it was in Vassalage,
And only knew the Pythonesses rage,
Or Priests inspir'd, to all beside most chast,
To Vertue did, and to true Worth engage;
And if the Object had been rightly plac'd,
Might for a real Vertue, and true Grace have past.

But now, (what quickly after it begun)
Retaining nothing but the Ill 'it has gain'd,
By Lux, and Travel, it does counter-run
To all that's Good, or Honest, or maintain'd
I' th' Civil Worlds esteem, with Atheism stain'd,
(As the next step to many Gods is none)
And all Impiety, has place obtain'd
With the worst Men, and is so furious grown,
That in its fits it God and King defies alone.

These it defies, and dare unmask'd profess,
(Where'it may be free, and to its full pitch flown)
What e'ven to think abash'd mere Heathenness;
Nay when reserv'd most, and most modest grown,
'Twill others Follies sing, and make its own,
And than the Wise much rather please the Vain:
But since its present State too well is known
To be conceal'd, my self I shall not pain
To tell it here, or further, tho provok'd complain.

Ah! that it would it self, or could complain!
And of the Lusts, to which it did submit
Unwillingly at first, nor without pain,
But willingly when Custom humbled it,
Betray'd by 'its false and treacherous Mi'gnon Wit:
Her Mistress Verse the treacherous Maid beguil'd,
The false Love her; and up they both did set
One shameless Brothel, wanton that, this wild,
Till both of Honour, Vertue, and true Love were spoil'd.

Despoil'd they were, despoil'd, what they did serve,
Honour, and Vertue, and the Love Divine,
And Wedlock, which did covertly preserve
Some Traces of a Vigor Masculine,
Which Lust could never to its Beck incline
So perfectly, but it resistance made,
Weak as it was, and sprung a Counter-mine:
But now aside all Enmities were laid,
And all with one consent did plot Heav'n to invade.

Which as th' Almighty saw into his Mind,
That Mind of his it came, which ever love
To 'his Works did bear, to Man was ever kind,
The madness of such Faytours to reprove,
And what none else could do, the Cause remove;
The cause was this Mock-Love, whom to debase,
Into his Mind it came, by him, who strove
So high to raise him, and who what he was,
Of all Men best did know, did all in Loves surpass.

Wise Salomon, who when he long had try'd
The vain Experiment, at length grew Wise;
Nor longer with him would the secret hide,
Than till th' Almighty open'd had his Eyes,
And to him clear'd the blest Discoveries:
Till his Repentance had his Loves effac'd,
And Credence gain'd us, that, immerst to rise
Tho hard it be, the Doom may not be past,
If what's too long one Day deferr'd, yet come at last.

Him his great Prophet God most high did raise,
Turning the Tenor of his inspir'd String,
Of Ancient Honour, and of Future Praise,
But most of Love, the Cause, and end to sing,
And hidden Mysteries to the Light to bring;
The mighty Works th' Almighty's Self would do,
For Loves, and his BELOVEDS ransoming:
All which he did to th' Royal Prophet show,
And all which, by him taught, his Israel came to know.

Not as those Works, when finisht perfectly
Should be display'd, but as became their state,
And Him, who was, restor'd, the Type to be
Of all the Glories, which he should relate;
By Figures, and by Shadows adaequate
To Humane Reasonings, and Discourse finite;
By his chang'd Loves a Love to adumbrate,
Which cannot else be seen by Mortal Light,
God's Love to man, which different Natures should unite.

That Love, which God in time from Heav'n should bring,
With Man to dwell, and as true Man appear;
Which Man no less, of all his Works the King,
To Heav'n, excluded thence by' his Fall, should bear,
And on his Wings triumphantly up-rear:
And all the way, as he does thither rise,
With Idees fill him of the Beauties there;
That Love, in fine, which does all Loves comprize,
Whence Man to'his Maker lives, his Maker for him dies.

Of all which Marriage is the Sacrament;
(Or Symbol call it, if the Name displease)
The closest Union to represent,
'Twixt God and Man, 'twixt Man and Happiness;
And if there closer Union be than these,
Or more (and whether more be meant who knows?
Tho closer none) in one Term all to' express;
Marriage, which once confirm'd by holy Vows,
Is Loves Reprizal, and in one all Unions shows.

So God most High resolv'd, so Salomon,
By him inspir'd did carnal Love impeach
Of highest Treason, and Rebellion;
The first, who plainly did the Mystery preach,
And what himself, but late learnt, others teach:
That Love alone, whose long and outstretcht Line,
Through Natures Works, to Natures end does reach,
Their Love, whom God, not Lust or Interest joyn,
Unequal tho it be, comes nearest the Divine.

As near as was, or fit for us to know,
Or possible, in Mortal Flesh immur'd;
(Tho God himself the Form would take below)
When brighter Vision could not be endur'd,
Nor Loves invisible taught else, or secur'd;
For such is Man, tho of God's Works the chief,
Of things Invisible to be assur'd,
That from things Visible he must receive
Th' imperfect Image, and of God by' himself conceive.

His Bodies structure, and his Souls great Powers,
Both which as having God himself propounds;
Tho Acts Organical are purely Ours,
And he the Deity by the shift confounds,
Who makes it what the Parable expounds,
With Senses, and with Parts corporeal,
Loving like us, and with a Lovers Wounds,
Which from the Deity are excluded all,
And only us'd, that under Sense those Acts may fall.

Yet so God loves, so would be known to Love,
As Love ith' Marriage Bed, kept undefil'd,
Might figure best, if one the Vail remove,
Our Nature, which of Innocence dispoyl'd,
Till rais'd, whence sunk, beguiles and is beguil'd;
But once restor'd, is worthy Him, and Us,
Him still to love, with Love us to be fill'd,
(Of Grace not Debt) become both Amorous,
The Churches Husband He, the Church his Bride and Spouse.

Thus loving, and belov'd thus shame on those,
Whose either Atheism, or Impiety,
Dare the Tremendous Figure, or expose,
Or subject make it of foul Raillery,
And to vile Lust embase the Mystery!
That of their Happ'ness have so little sense,
Their God, their Souls, and their Civility,
That they with things most sacred can dispense,
And rather than not give it, take from Heav'n offence!

From Thee, most sacred and inspired Song,
The humblest Condescention of Heav'ns King,
From which my roving Verse has stray'd too long,
Led by the Mock-love, and now late does sing;
Next that the humblest, which with Saffron Wing,
Gabriel, the True-loves mighty Harbinger,
Foretold to th' EVER-VIRGIN, e're the thing
Was full accomplisht, and thereof did bear,
When done first News, and what the signs to know him were.

Signs too unlikely, till by Angels told,
Whereby the Maker of all things to find;
For who would think a simple Cratch should hold
Eternal Majesty, mean Swathings bind
Th' Incomprehensible, and Unconfin'd;
And that an Ox, and Ass were company,
(To Scorn enur'd, and labour by their kind)
In an Inns-Stable fit for God Most High,
And that a Babe should be that God, and expos'd lie?

Yet signs they were with Heav'n which suited best,
And best with God, when God should Flesh appear;
And so was Wedlock, thence to be exprest,
E're that time came, the Image he should bear,
Or rather what our selves, allyed to' him near,
(Nearer by Purchase, than Creation)
Should thence become; like Glories with him wear,
And since to us it could not else be known,
Till Man to Heav'n should rise, high Heav'n to Man bring down.

By Love to bring it: And by Love HE brought it,
Who all the Mysteries of Love did know;
Second alone to Loves dear self, who taught it,
As or above it was, or as below,
And in thee, Song, its Mystic Power did show:
Not as thy Words to'us sound, but as thy Sense,
To th' Church apply'd, by holy Churches Vow,
Must be expounded, with this Difference,
Of God 'tis Figure All, of Man all Innocence,

Of Soul and Body, but of Soul the most,
Whose Acts and Motions Thou dost most intend,
By views Material, to our Light dispos'd,
But where the Matter does all Act suspend,
And shadows what it cannot comprehend;
Is nothing, or as nothing, how e're laid,
Compar'd with what comparison does transcend;
Nor meant at all, tho by it all is said,
That's said of Love, which through its broken Pipe's convey'd.

So wouldst Thou, Song, so must Thou be understood;
And short of this, who e're Thy Flight would bound,
To th' Deity sacrifices Human Blood,
And fixes on th' Impassible that Wound,
Which the Mock-love to offer had astound.
For He soon as he heard the words Divine,
His Sentence in them, and his Doom he found;
At which affrighted, back he did resign
All he before usurpt, nor ought had to rejoyn.

Happy he so could scape, tho e're away,
Cast, and condemn'd, he into Exile went,
The True Love, who long waited for that Day,
Hymen his great Embassadour down sent,
To beg some Exemplary Punishment,
And Caution, that he would return no more:
But all the Caution, which to give he meant,
Was but his Word, nor longer that than Power
Should fail him to attempt, what he had done before.

For Punishment, 'twas yet too early Day,
To move, or hope; Himself enough had done,
By those Spoyls, which unforce'd he down did lay,
The Jurisdiction of Heav'ns Court to own,
Whom that acknowledgment must serve or none:
And out he went, with stern, and bloody Eyes,
And bitter Railings on blest Hymen thrown;
Who all his Railings did no less despise,
Content (since he no more could get) with the bare Prize,

Marriage restor'd to' its Just and Ancient Right,
And all th' Intents, to which it was design'd;
Marriage, which once secur'd, does Souls unite,
And made in Heav'n, to Heav'n so near is joyn'd,
That only there we purer Love can find:
Marriage of th' Fallen World the best Estate,
Marriage most Honourable with Mankind,
Which to abuse, a Man his Flesh must hate,
Marriage God's Blessing, when He gave o're to create.

[pp. 100-118]