1590
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Faerie Queene. Book II. Canto II.

The Faerie Queene. Disposed into Twelve Books, fashioning XII. Morall Vertues.

Edmund Spenser


George L. Craik: "Canto II. (46 stanzas). — Guyon, having taken up in his arms the smiling infant, utters a few pitying words: — 'Then, soft himself inclining on his knee | Down to that well, did in the water ween | (So love does loath disdainful nicety) | His guilty hands from bloody gore to clean'.... The wise palmer explains to him that the nymph of this well, flying from the pursuit of Faunus, had on her prayer to Diana been changed into the stone, still bearing the shape of a maid, from which the waters flow; and that they so retain her purity that they will not mingle with nor take the stain of anything foul. He advises that the babe's hands be allowed to remain bloody as they are, in token of its mother's fate and innocence. Guyon on this gives the child to the palmer, and, taking up the dead knight's bloody armour, proceeds to look for his horse, but is much amazed to find it gone. So there is nothing for him but to trudge along on foot with his double load.

"At last they come to an ancient castle built on a rock close to the sea. 'Therein three sisters dwelt of sundry sort, | The children of one sire by mothers three'.... Of the Two Extremities, the sisters of Medina, or Golden Mean, the eldest is called Elissa; the youngest Perissa. They are at present each with her knight; the suitor of the eldest being Sir Huddibras, 'an hardy man,' but 'more huge in strength than wise in works,' and 'all armed in shining brass;' that of the youngest, our old acquaintance Sansloy, 'he that fair Una late foul outraged.' The two knights bear deadly envy and hate to one another; but yet, as soon as they hear of the arrival of the stranger, they make haste to offer him battle.

"Meanwhile, however, they fail to quarrelling between themselves, and make such a thundering commotion that all who dwell in the house are called to the spot, and among the rest Guyon, who, instantly binding his 'sun-broad shield' about his wrist, and unsheathing his shining blade, runs up to learn the cause of their strife. 'But they, him spying, both with greedy force | At once upon him ran, and him beset'.... Guyon beats them off, but still, whenever he renews his attempt to Part them, they fall upon him again together.... Whilst they are thus furiously intermingled, 'the fair Medina, with her tresses torn,' runs among them, and, falling down before them, beseeches them — 'by the womb which had them borne, | And by the loves which were to them most dear, | And by the knighthood which they sure had sworne,' to forbear; her efforts are frustrated for a time by the loud and vehement opposition of her two sisters, but at last her gracious words produce some effect, and she prevails upon the combatants, after they have laid down their weapons, to repair to her lodging, there to have terms of peace arranged and established. The two froward sisters come with the rest, and do their best to feign such cheer 'as for the time behoves,' yet cannot altogether repress their real natures. Elissa inwardly despises the entertainment as base and scanty, and will scarcely either eat or speak; young Perissa, on the contrary, is all full of laughter and loose disport; 'No measure in her mood, no rule of right, | But poured out in pleasure and delight'....

"The fair Medina, taking her seat between them, has an arduous post, while she plies all her efforts to keep them in order. When the feast is ended she beseeches Guyon to tell them whence he has come and whither he is bound; on which he relates in a long speech that the great Queen of Fairy Land — the 'most glorious virgin Queen alive' — having bestowed on him her renowned Order of Maidenhead, had, on the appearance of the old palmer, by whom he is attended, at the solemn feast she is wont to hold every first day of the year, and his complaint of the mischief done by a wicked fay, deigned to employ him, unworthy as he was, to go forth and redress the evil. It is three months since he has left her royal presence; and his resolution is to rest nowhere in house nor hold till he has conquered that false Acrasia, of whose foul deeds the little child he has with him is a wretched witness. He then tells the story of the infant, and its unhappy parents, Mordant and Amavia" Spenser and his Poetry (1845; 1871) 1:192-96.



Babe's bloody Hands may not be cleans'd:
The Face of golden Mean
Her Sisters, two Extremities,
Strive her to banish clean.

Thus when Sir Guyon with his faithful Guide
Had with due Rites and dolorous lament
The end of their sad Tragedy upty'd,
The little Babe up in his Arms he hent;
Who with sweet Pleasance and bold Blandishment
'Gan smile on them, that rather ought to weep,
As careless of his Woe, or innocent
Of that was doen, that ruth emperced deep
In that Knight's Heart, and words with bitter Tears did steep.

Ah! luckless Babe, born under cruel Star,
And in dead Parents baleful Ashes bred,
Full little weenest thou, what Sorrows are
Left thee for Portion of thy Livelihed;
Poor Orphan, in the wide World scattered,
As budding Branch rent from the native Tree,
And throwen forth, till it be withered:
Such is the State of Men; thus enter we
Into this Life with Woe, and end with Misery.

Then soft himself inclining on his Knee
Down to that Well, did in the Water ween
(So Love does loath disdainful Nicety)
His guilty Hands from bloody Gore to clean.
He wash'd them oft and oft, yet nought they been
(For all his washing) cleaner. Still he strove,
Yet still the little Hands were bloody seen;
The which him into great Amazement drove,
And into divers Doubt his wavering Wonder clove.

He wist not whether Blot of foul Offence
Might not be purg'd with Water nor with Bath;
Or that high God, in lieu of Innocence,
Imprinted had that Token of his Wrath,
To shew how sore Blood-guiltiness he hat'th;
Or that the Charm and Venom, which they drunk,
Their Blood with secret Filth infected hath,
Being diffused through the sensless Trunk,
That through the great Contagion direful deadly stunk.

Whom thus at gaze, the Palmer 'gan to bord
With goodly Reason, and thus fair bespake;
Ye been right hard amated, gracious Lord,
And of your Ignorance great marvel make,
Whiles Cause not well conceived ye mistake.
But know, that secret Vertues are infus'd
In every fountain, and in every Lake,
Which who hath Skill them rightly to have chus'd,
To proof of passing Wonders hath full often us'd.

Of those, some were so from their Source indu'd
By great Dame Nature, from whose fruitful Pap
Their Well-heads spring, and are with Moisture dew'd;
Which feeds each living Plant with liquid Sap,
And fills with Flowers fair Flora's painted Lap:
But other some, by Gift of later Grace,
Or by good Prayers, or by other Hap,
Had Vertue pour'd into their Waters bale,
And thence-forth were renown'd, and sought from place to place.

Such is this Well, wrought by occasion strange,
Which to her Nymph befel. Upon a Day,
As she the Woods with Bow and Shafts did range,
The heartless Hind and Robuck to dismay,
Dan Faunus chaunc'd to meet her by the way,
And kindling Fire at her fair burning Eye,
Inflamed was to follow Beauty's Chace,
And chaced her, that fast from him did fly;
As Hind from her, so she fled from her Enemy.

At last, when failing Breath began to faint,
And saw no means to 'scape, of Shame affraid,
She sat her down to weep for sore constraint,
And to Diana calling loud for Aid,
Her dear besought, to let her die a Maid.
The Goddess heard, and suddain where she sate,
Welling out Streams of Tears, and quite dismay'd
With stony fear of that rude rustick Mate,
Transform'd her to a Stone from stedfast Virgin's State.

Lo! now she is that Stone; from those two Heads
(As from two weeping Eyes) fresh Streams do flow,
Yet cold through Fear, and old conceived Dreads;
And yet the Stone her 'semblance seems to show,
Shap'd like a Maid, that such ye may her know;
And yet her Vertues in her Water 'bide:
For, it is chaste and pure, as purest Snow,
Ne lets her Waves with any Filth be dy'd,
But ever (like her self) unstained hath been try'd.

From thence it comes, that this Babe's bloody Hand
May not be cleans'd with Water of this Well:
Ne certes, Sir, strive you it to withstand,
But let them still be bloody, as befel,
That they his Mother's Innocence may tell,
As she bequeath'd in her last Testament;
That as a sacred Symbol it may dwell
In her Son's Flesh, to mind Revengement,
And be for all chaste Dames an endless Monument.

He hearkned to his Reason, and the Child
Uptaking, to the Palmer gave to bear;
But his sad Father's Arms with Blood defil'd,
An heavy Load himself did lightly rear;
And turning to that place, in which whylear
He left his lofty Steed with golden sell,
And goodly gorgeous Barbes, him found not there.
By other Accident that earst befel,
He is convey'd; but how, or where, here fits not tell.

Which when Sir Guyon saw, all were he wroth,
Yet algates mote he soft himself appease,
And fairly fare on foot, however loth:
His double burden did him sore disease.
So long they travelled with little Ease,
Till that at last they to a Castle came,
Built on a Rock adjoining to the Seas:
It was an auncient Work of antique Fame,
And wondrous strong by Nature, and by skilful Frame.

Therein three Sisters dwelt of sundry sort,
The Children of one Sire by Mothers three;
Who dying whilom, did divide this Fort
To them by equal Shares in equal Fee.
But strifeful Mind, and divers Quality
Drew them in parts, and each made other's Foe;
Still did they strive, and daily disagree;
The Eldest did against the Youngest go,
And both against the middest meant to worken Woe.

Where, when the Knight arriv'd, he was right well
Receiv'd, as Knight of so much Worth became,
Of second Sister, who did far excel
The other two; Medina was her Name,
A sober sad, and comely curteous Dame:
Who rich array'd, and yet in modest guise,
In goodly Garments, that her well became,
Fair marching forth in honourable wise,
Him at the Threshold met, and well did enterprise.

She led him up into a goodly Bower,
And comely courted with meet Modesty;
Ne in her Speech, ne in her 'Haviour,
Was Lightness seen, or looser Vanity,
But gracious Womanhood, and Gravity,
Above the Reason of her youthly Years.
Her golden Locks she roundly did uptie
In braided Tramels, that no looser Hairs
Did out of order stray about her dainty Ears.

Whilst she her self thus busily did frame,
Seemly to entertain her new-come Guest,
News hereof to her other Sisters came,
Who all this while were at their wanton Rest,
Accourting each her Friend with lavish Feast:
They were two Knights of peerless Puissaunce,
And famous far abroad for warlike Gest,
Which to these Ladies love did countenaunce,
And to his Mistress each himself strove to advaunce.

He that made love unto the eldest Dame,
Was hight Sir Hudibras, an hardy Man;
Yet not so good of Deeds, as great of Name,
Which he by many rash Adventures wan,
Since errant Arms to sew he first began.
More huge in Strength, than wise in Works he was,
And Reason with Fool-hardise over-ran;
Stern Melancholy did his Courage pass,
And was (for Terror more) all arm'd in shining Brass.

But he that lov'd the youngest, was Sans-loy,
He that fair Una late foul outraged,
The most unruly and the boldest Boy
That ever warlike Weapons menaged,
And to all lawless Lust encouraged,
Through strong Opinion of his matchless Might:
Ne ought he car'd, whom he endamaged
By tortious Wrong, or whom bereav'd of Right.
He now this Lady's Champion chose for Love to fight.

These two gay Knights, vow'd to so divers Loves,
Each other does envy with deadly Hate,
And daily War against his Foeman moves,
In hope to win more Favour with his Mate,
And th' other's pleasing Service to abate,
To magnify his own. But when they heard,
How in that Place strange Knight arrived late,
Both Knights and Ladies forth light angry far'd,
And fiercely unto Battle stern themselves prepar'd.

But ere they could proceed unto the place
Where he abode, themselves at discord fell,
And cruel Combat join'd in middle space;
With horrible Assault, and Fury fell,
They heap'd huge Stroaks, the scorned Life to quell,
That all on uproar from her settled Seat,
The House was rais'd, and all that in did dwell;
Seem'd that loud Thunder with Amazement great,
Did rend the rattling Skies with Flames of fouldring Heat.

The Noise thereof calth forth that stranger Knight,
To weet what dreadful thing was there in hond;
Where, when as two brave Knights in bloody Fight
With deadly Rancour he enraunged fond,
His Sunbroad Shield about his Wrist he bond,
And shining Blade unsheath'd, with which he ran
Unto that stead, their Strife to understond;
And, at his first arrival, them began
With goodly means to pacify, well as he can.

But they him spying, both with greedy Force
At once upon him ran, and him beset
With stroaks of mortal Steel without Remorse,
And on his Shield like iron Sledges bet:
As when a Bear and Tyger, being met
In cruel Fight on Lybick Ocean wide,
Espy a Traveller with Feet surbet,
Whom they in equal Prey hope to divide,
They stint their Strife, and him assail on every side.

But he, not like a weary Traveller,
Their sharp Assault right boldly did rebut,
And suffred not their Blows to bite him near;
But with redoubled Buffes them back did put:
Whose grieved Minds, which Choler did englut,
Against themselves turning, their wrathful Spight,
'Gan with new Rage their Shields to hew and cut.
But still when Guyon came to part their Fight,
With heavy Load on him they freshly 'gan to smite.

As a tall Ship tossed in troublous Seas,
Whom raging Winds, threatning to make the Prey
Of the rough Rocks, do diversly disease,
Meets two contrary Billows by the way,
That her on either side do sore assay,
And boast to swallow her in greedy Grave:
She, scorning both their Spights, does make wide way,
And with her Breast breaking the foamy Wave,
Does ride on both their Backs, and fair her self doth save.

So boldly he him bears, and rusheth forth
Between them both, by Conduct of his Blade.
Wondrous great Prowess and heroick Worth
He shew'd that day, and rare Ensample made,
When two so mighty Warriors he dismay'd:
At once he wards and strikes, he takes and pays,
Now forc'd to yield, now forcing to invade,
Before, behind, and round about him lays:
So double was his Pains, so double be his Praise.

Strange sort of sight, three valiant Knights to see
Three Combats join in one, and to darrain
A triple War with triple Enmity;
All for their Ladies froward Love to gain,
Which gotten was, but Hate. So Love does reign
In stoutest Minds, and maketh monstrous War;
He maketh War, he maketh Peace again,
And yet his Peace is but continual Jar:
O miserable Men, that to him subject are!

While thus they mingled were in furious Arms,
The fair Medina with her Tresses torn,
And naked Breast (in pity of their Harms)
Emongst them ran; and falling them beforn,
Besought them by the Womb which them had born,
And by the Loves which were to them most dear,
And by the Knighthood which they sure had sworn,
Their deadly cruel Discord to forbear,
And to her just Conditions of fair Peace to hear.

But her two other Sisters, standing by,
Her loud gainsay'd, and both their Champion bad
Pursue the end of their strong Enmity,
As ever of their Loves they would be glad.
Yet she, with pithy Words and Counsel sad,
Still strove their stubborn Rages to revoke:
That, at the last, suppressing Fury mad,
They 'gan abstain from Dint of direful Stroke,
And hearken to the sober Speeches which she spoke.

Ah! puissaunt Lords, what cursed evil Spright,
Or fell Erinnys, in your noble Hearts
Her hellish Brond hath kindled with despight,
And stir'd you up to work your wilful Smarts?
Is this the Joy of Arms? Be these the parts
Of glorious Knighthood, after Blood to thirst,
And not regard due Right and just Desarts?
Vain is the Vaunt, and Victory unjust,
That more to mighty Hands, than rightful Cause doth trust.

And, were there rightful Cause of difference,
Yet were nor better, fair it to accord,
Than with Blood-guiltiness to heap Offence,
And mortal Vengeance join to Crime abhor'd?
O! fly from Wrath: By, O my lifest Lord.
Sad be the Sights, and bitter Fruits of War,
And thousand Furies wait on wrathful Sword;
Ne ought the praise of Prowress more doth mar,
Than foul revenging Rage, and base contentious Jar.

But lovely Concord, and most sacred Peace,
Doth nourish Vertue, and fast Friendship breeds;
Weak she makes strong, and strong thing does increase,
Till it the pitch of highest praise exceeds:
Brave be her Wars, and honourable Deeds,
By which she triumphs over Ire and Pride,
And wins an Olive Garland for her Meeds.
Be therefore, O my dear Lords, pacify'd,
And this misseeming Discord meekly lay aside.

Her gracious words their Rancour did appall,
And sunk so deep into their boiling Breasts,
That down they let their cruel Weapons fall,
And lowly did abase their lofty Crests
To her fair Presence, and discreet Behests.
Then she began a Treaty to procure,
And 'stablish Terms betwixt both their Requests,
That as a Law for ever should endure;
Which to observe, in word of Knights they did assure.

Which to confirm, and fast to bind their League,
After their weary Sweat and bloody Toil,
She them besought, during their quiet Treague,
Into her Lodging to repair awhile,
To rest themselves, and Grace to reconcile.
They soon consent: so forth with her they fare,
Where they are well receiv'd, and made to spoil
Themselves of soiled Arms, and to prepare
Their Minds to Pleasure, and their Mouths to dainty Fare.

And those two froward Sisters (their fair Loves)
Came with them eke (all were they wondrous loth)
And feigned Chear, as for the time behoves;
But could not colour yet to well the Troth,
But that their Natures bad appear'd in both:
For, both did at their second Sister grutch,
And inly grieve, as doth an hidden Moth
The inner Garment fret, not th' utter touch;
One thought their Chear too little, th' other thought to much.

Elissa (so the eldest hight) did deem
Such Entertainment base, ne ought would eat,
Ne ought would speak, but evermore did seem
As discontent for want of Mirth or Meat;
No Solace could her Paramour intreat
Her once to show, ne Court, nor Dalliance.
But with bent lowring Brows, as she would threat,
She scold, and frown'd with froward Countenance,
Unworthy of fair Ladies comely governance.

But young Perissa was of other mind,
Full of disport, still laughing, loosely light,
And quite contrary to her Sister's kind;
No measure in her Mood, no Rule of Right,
But poured out in Pleasure and Delight:
In Wine and Meats she flow'd above the Bank,
And in Excess exceeded her own Might;
In sumptuous Tire she joy'd her felt to prank;
But of her Love too lavish (little have she thank).

First, by her side did sit the bold Sans-loy,
Fit Mate for such a mincing Mineon,
Who in her Looseness took exceeding joy;
Might not be found a franker Franion,
Of her leud parts to make Companion:
But Hudibras, more like a Malecontent,
Did see and grieve at his bold Fashion;
Hardly could he endure his Hardiment,
Yet still he sat, and inly did himself torment.

Betwixt them both, the fair Medina sate,
With sober Grace, and goodly Carriage;
With equal measure she did moderate
The strong Extremities of their Outrage:
That forward Pair she ever would assuage,
When they would drive due Reason to exceed;
But that same froward Twain would accourage,
And of her Plenty add unto their Need:
So kept she them in order, and her self in heed.

Thus fairly she attempered her Feast,
And pleas'd them all with meet satiety:
At last, when Lust of Meat and Drink was ceas'd,
She, Guyon dear, besought of Courtesy,
To tell from whence he came through Jeopardy,
And whither now on new Adventure bound.
Who, with bold Grace, and comely Gravity,
Drawing to him the Eyes of all around,
From lofty Siege began these words aloud to sound.

This thy Demand, O Lady, doth revive
Fresh Memory in me of that great Queen,
Great and most glorious Virgin Queen alive,
That with her sovereign Power, and Scepter sheen,
All Fairy Lond does peaceable susteen.
In widest Ocean she her Throne does rear,
That over all the Earth it may be seen;
As morning Sun, her Beams dispredden clear;
And in her Face, fair Peace and Mercy doth appear.

In her, the Riches of all heavenly Grace
In chief degree are heaped up on high;
And all, that else this World's enclosure base
Hath great or glorious in mortal Eye,
Adorns the Person of her Majesty:
That Men beholding so great Excellence,
And rare Perfection in Mortality,
Do her adore with sacred Reverence,
As th' Idol of her Maker's great Magnificence.

To her, I Homage and my Service owe,
In number of the noblest Knights on ground,
'Mongst whom, on me she deigned to bestow
Order of Maidenhead, the most renown'd,
That may this day in all the World be found:
And yearly solemn Feast she wonts to make
The day that first doth lead the Year around;
To which all Knights of Worth and Courage bold
Resort, to hear of strange Adventures to be told.

There this old Palmer shew'd himself that day,
And to that mighty Princess did complain
Of grievous Mischiefs, which a wicked Fay
Had wrought, and many whelm'd in deadly Pain,
Whereof he crav'd redress. My Sovereign,
Whose glory is, in gracious Deeds and Joys,
Throughout the World her Mercy to maintain,
Eftsoons devis'd Redress for such Annoys:
Me (all unfit for so great purpose) she employs.

Now hath fair Phoebe with her silver Face
Thrice seen the Shadows of the neather World,
Sith last I left that honourable place,
In which her Royal Presence is introl'd;
Ne ever shall I rest in House nor Hold,
Till I that false Acrasia have won;
Of whose foul Deeds (too hideous to be told)
I witness am, and this their wretched Son,
Whose woful Parents she hath wickedly fordone.

Tell on, fair Sir, said she, that doleful Tale,
From which sad Ruth does seem you to restrain,
That we may pity such unhappy Bale,
And learn from Pleasure's Poison to abstain:
Ill, by Ensample, Good doth often gain.
Then forward he his purpose 'gan pursue,
And told the Story of the mortal Pain,
Which Mordaunt and Amavia did rew;
As with lamenting Eyes himself did lately view.

Night was far spent, and now in Ocean deep,
Orion, flying fast from hissing Snake,
His flaming Head did hasten for to steep,
When of his piteous Tale he end did make;
Whilst with Delight of that he wisely spake,
Those Guests beguiled, did beguile their Eyes
Of kindly Sleep, that did them overtake.
At last, when they had mark'd the changed Skies,
They wist their Hour was spent; then each to rest him hies.

[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 2:204-16]

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