1807
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Specimen of Guy of Warwick. An Epic Poem, in Twenty-Four Cantos.

Poems, containing Dramatic Sketches of Northern Mythology, &c. By Frank Sayers, M.D. The Fourth Edition.

Dr. Frank Sayers


A fragment of a burlesque poem in thirteen irregular Spenserians (ababcdcdD) first printed in the fourth edition of Sayers's Poems. After a brief account of Guy's lusty boyhood and heroic adventures, the hero returns from fighting the Paynim only to fall hopelessly in love with the fair Phelis: "I pine, I languish for my blooming bride; | What's sticking Turks to marrying girls like thee? | What's chivalry, with all its pomp and pride, | Compar'd to sitting snug, my dear one, by thy side?" Poetical Works (1830) 244.

Guy of Warwick is written in the "easy" four-rhyme Spenserian stanza rather than the ottava rima that John Hookham Frere later popularized with his Whistlecraft burlesques published in 1817, the year of Sayers's death. The use of the Spenserian manner in this context may have been suggested by the Fabliaux (1796) composed by a fellow antiquary, Gregory Lewis Way.

Author's note: "For the facts on which the following Poem is built, I have to acknowledge myself indebted to a very ancient and popular history of Guy of Warwick, which was most judiciously reprinted, a few years since, by the Company of 'Walking' Stationers. A pedant in chronology might possibly discover some slight anachronisms in Guy's story; but it is hoped that they will be passed over with indulgence by genuine lovers of poetical fiction" p. 263.

William Taylor of Norwich to Robert Southey: "Dr. Sayers desired me to say that, if he knew how to forward it, he should willingly address you a copy of the new edition of his Poems, and that he wishes you were coming to Norwich to take it. The only new English poem is an incipient canto of Guy of Warwick, a comic epopea, never to be continued" 21 May 1807; in J. W. Robberds, Memoir of the Life and Writings of William Taylor (1843) 2:196.

William Taylor of Norwich: "In the same year [1803], with the title Nugae Poeticae, were published some minor poems, of which Jack the Giant Killer is one of the more conspicuous. This is perhaps the most truly Homeric narration in our language, and deserves to become the model of a peculiar class of epopea. The adaptation of this style to the story of Jack was occasioned, I understand, by a perusal of Holcroft's translation of Herman and Dorothea [1801], which Mr. Amyot had lent to Dr. Sayers, who returned the volume with some humorous lines, in which this form of parody was first realized. Dr. Sayers had an idea of versifying other Popular Tales of the English, and had made a collection of penny story-books, whence to choose the themes, such as Guy of Warwick, the Sleeping Beauty, St. George, Fortunatus, the Friar and Boy, &c. Guy of Warwick alone was attempted, but broken off" Memoir in Collective Works (1823) lxxxiii-iv.



In those rare days, when Aethelstan did reign,
And Scots and Danes sore trembled at his frown,
Those untir'd foes, who cut, and came again—
In those rare days was born in Warwick town,
To dame of low degree, a rosy boy;
Fat were his limbs, but firm — they call'd him Guy;
An imp of promise 'twas, his mother's joy;
For often would he smile with roguish eye,
Tho' oftener far he kick'd, and squall'd right lustily.

When scarce thirteen, his prowess burst to light,
Foretelling future deeds of high renown;
His play-mates spake his name with wild affright,
For often had he crack'd each play-mate's crown.
The book-learn'd monarch of the stinging birch,
To check Guy's pranks, now flogg'd, and now harangu'd;
Vain thoughts! the dog would almost rob a church;
His wrathful master, and his play-mates bang'd,
Swore Guy would be a knight, or else that Guy'd be hang'd.

And true they swore; for fierce in manhood's prime,
Well dubb'd, well arm'd, he join'd with huge delight
That highly-lauded band who spent their time
In borrowing knocks, and paying them at sight;
Of errant knights Sir Guy became the pride;
The east, the west, his mighty feats could tell;
How little did he heed his gentle hide,
While many a giant grim he sweated well,
And spitted too, like geese, full many an infidel.

Thus by Sir Guy the jolly hours were pass'd;
But glee unmix'd, alas! is rarely found;
E'en sticking Saracens will tire at last,
And brave Sir Guy to England's shore is bound.
Luckless the day when Asia's plains he left,
And o'er his brawny shoulders slung his shield,
And sheath'd that sword which many a pate had cleft;
Luckless the day, for soon Sir Guy must yield
To arms more potent far than those that Paynims wield.

Nor buckler stout, nor hauberk's linked mail,
Could save the warrior from his lethal wound;
Idly his forehead did the helmet vail,
For Phelis' eyes still made his brain turn round:
Phelis was fair as glistening snow, I ween,
Winning her look, and jaunty was her air,
Her person not too fat — nor yet too lean;
Some folk the maid to Helen would compare,
But Helen, simple fools, a blackmoor was to her.

How wan! how woe-be-gone is good Sir Guy!
He thinks, prates, dreams, of nought but Phelis bright,
On damosels he'd ever kept an eye,
But damosel like this ne'er cross'd his sight:
Warwick's high castle did his jewel hold;
Thither the pensive lover bent his way;
And now he quak'd with fear; and now, more bold,
He humm'd delighted many an amorous lay,
And vow'd to drown himself, or bear the maid away.

The castle's Lord, the Earl of Warwick he,
Receiv'd right courteously his valiant guest;
Strong was the ale, and shrill the minstrelsy,
And Guy drank deep, and then retir'd to rest.
But rest, alas! no leman true doth cheer;
Though loudly-snoring, still before his sight
Floats the sweet image of his lady dear,
Her dulcet voice still charms in dreams of night,
Her sparkling eyes inflame, her ruddy lips invite.

Such were Guy's dreams, which fled at opening morn;
When up he rose and to the garden hied;
There, far more fragrant than the flowering thorn,
In bower of eglantine he Phelis spy'd;
His breast throbb'd high with hope; a sudden spring
Brought him to Phelis' feet; "Ah! mistress dear,"
He faltering said, "Ah! take the heart I bring—
To my loud love-notes kindly lend an ear,
Nor drive me, lady sweet, to halters and despair.

"Sure never was a shape so deft as thine,
Nor eyes so black, nor cheeks so dainty red;
Never was heaven-born goddess so divine,
And die I must or share my Phelis' bed;
Quick let the holy spousals chaunted be,
I pine, I languish for my blooming bride;
What's sticking Turks to marrying girls like thee?
What's chivalry, with all its pomp and pride,
Compar'd to sitting snug, my dear one, by thy side?"

"Hold, hold, Sir Knight," the scornful Phelis cries,
"I vastly marvel at the tale you're telling;
At length, forsooth, I've chanced with a prize,
A leman gay without a house to dwell in:
Small are your wits that could not straight perceive
You're little fitting to my high degree;
The Earl of Warwick, you may well believe,
Would hang ten times ere give a maid like me
To one who's scant of coin to pay the wedding-fee."

Full stounding were her words; for well Guy knew
Nor house, nor coin, nor chattels he possess'd;
Heartless awhile he stood, and look'd askew;
But of a bargain bad he made the best;
"Fair maid," quoth he, "if want of gold be all
The harm thou spy'st in me, I'm not offended;
I'll win me gold in fight, or fearless fall;
So my sad hap may be at length amended,
And I may gain the bliss to which my heart pretended."

Guy hurried home, and on the common caught
His horse, which he had wisely turn'd to grass;
From an old trunk his casque and shield he brought,
And scaly greaves, and breastplate wrought with brass,
And all his stock of errant furniture;
He clean'd, and fix'd them on his body soon;
Then seiz'd his lance, and took his seat secure;
Off started Guy, as bright as silver spoon,
And wond'rous fierce he look'd, more fierce than man i' the moon.

Ah! who can tell how hard it is to trot
O'er stony ways, and staggering steed to goad!
How very hard to travel, sweltering hot,
Without a single ale-house on the road!
Yet if all-stirring love shall drive us on,
Or still more potent want of coin shall press,
Who'd meanly heed a dislocated bone,
Or parching thirst, or hunger's sharp distress,
Or day in mire yspent, or bed in wilderness?—

[pp. 265-71]