George L. Craik: "Canto II. (52 stanzas). — The poet begins this Canto by complaining that men have not generally shown themselves 'indifferent,' that is, impartial, 'to womankind;' 'To whom no share in arms and chivalry | They do impart, ne maken memory | Of their brave gests and prowess martial'.... By record of ancient times, nevertheless, he finds that women were formerly wont in wars to bear the greatest sway, and even in all great exploits to bear away the garland, till envious men began to 'coin strait laws to curb their liberty.' Yet, he gallantly adds, since they have laid aside warlike weapons and exercises, 'They have excelled in arts and policy, | That now we foolish men that praise gan eke to envy.' This, of course, is a piece of adulation to Queen Elizabeth.
"As Britomart and the Redcross Knight (here called Guyon, by a mistake either of the press, or, more probably, of the author) are journeying on together, the maid, at the fairy's request, and after suffering violent agitation before she begins, relates to him what it is that has induced her to take up the vocation of knight errantry. Ever since her birth she has been trained to arms, and has loathed her life to lead, 'As ladies wont, in pleasure's wanton lap, | To finger the fine needle and nice thread.' All her delight, on the contrary, has been in warlike adventures; and in quest of praise and fame so to be acquired it is that she has come from her native soil, the Greater Britain, hither to Fairy Land. But can the knight, she asks, give her any tidings of one who has lately done her foul dishonour, and on whom she is now seeking to be revenged, one whose name is Arthegal? She would recall the words, but it is too late: 'Fair martial maid,' replies the Redcross Knight, 'of all that ever played | At tilt or tourney, or like warlike game, | The noble Arthegal hath ever borne the name.'
"Britomart is inwardly rejoiced 'to hear her love so highly magnified;' but she still professes to be intent on revenge, and requests the knight to direct her where she 'that faitor false [false doer or deceiver] may find.' He answers that it is not easy to say where or how Sir Arthegal may be found; 'For he ne wonneth in one certain stead, | But restless walketh all the world around, | Aye doing thinges that to his fame redound, | Defending ladies' cause and orphans' right.' His words sink into her 'molten heart:' — 'For pleasing words are like to magic art, | That doth the charmed snake in slumber lay | Such secret ease felt gentle Britomart, | Yet list the same efforce with feigned gainsay | (So discord oft in music makes the sweeter lay).' So she goes on to protest that, if she and Arthegal chance to encounter, one of them shall certainly die or surrender; and she gets the Redcross Knight to describe to her his shield, his arms, his horse, his person, that she may know him when she beholds him. Yet all these particulars she is already familiar with, and has had by heart ever since she first fell in love with Arthegal upon seeing his image in Britain revealed in the magician Merlin's wondrous mirror.
"This looking-glass Merlin had fabricated in Deheubarth, or South Wales, in the days of King Ryence: — 'it virtue had to show in perfect sight | Whatever thing was in the world contained | Betwixt the lowest earth and heaven's height, | So that it to the looker appertained'.... Britomart, who was King Ryence's only daughter, and the heir of his kingdom, having one day gone into her father's closet, first viewed awhile her fair self in that fair mirror.... Soon there presented himself in the glass a comely knight, in complete armour, with his visor up so as to disclose his manly face; his person was portly and of heroic grace.... She both viewed this personage well, and liked him well; but lingered no further over what she saw, and went her way.... By day, by night, she cannot escape from the thought of that 'fair image written in her heart.' At last one night her aged nurse Glauce, who slept with her, extracted her secret and restored to her some measure of peace of mind. 'O daughter dear,' rejoined the old woman to Britomart's first confession of hopeless affection, 'despair no whit, | For never sore but might a salve obtain; | That blinded god, which bath ye blindly smit, | Another arrow hath your lover's heart to hit'.... And then the kind and wise-hearted dame followed up her re-assuring words with caresses that made them irresistible.....
"In the end, when Britomart had told her all, her faithful friend vowed, if she could not conquer her passion, that, by wrong or right, she would compass her desire and find for her the object of her love. In the morning they both arose before day, and repaired to church, where, however, we are told, they said their prayers, although with great devotion, yet with little zeal: — 'For the fair damsel from the holy herse | Her love-sick heart to other thoughts did steal: | And that old dame said many an idle verse, | Out of her daughter's heart fond fancies to reverse.' The noble maid, in fact, 'shortly like a pined ghost became | Which long bath waited by the Stygian strand;' and Glance, utterly baffled, wist not what to do" Spenser and his Poetry (1845; 1871) 2:15-21.
The Redcross Knight to Britomart
The Wondrous Mirrour, by which she
In love with him did fall.
There have I cause, in Men just Blame to find,
That in their proper Praise too partial be
And not indifferent to Womankind,
To whom no share in Arms and Chevalry
They do impart, ne maken memory
Of their brave Gests and Prowess martial;
Scarce do they spare to one, or two, or three,
Room in their Writs: yet the same Writing small
Does all their Deeds deface, and dims their Glories all.
But by Record of antique Times I find,
That Women wont in Wars to bear most Sway,
And to all great Exploits themselves inclin'd:
Of which they still the Girlond bore away,
Till envious Men (fearing their Rule's Decay)
'Gan coin strait Laws to curb their Liberty;
Yet sith they warlike Arms have laid away,
They have excel'd in Arts and Policy,
That now we foolish Men that Praise 'gin eke t' envy.
Of warlike Puissaunce in Ages spent,
Be thou fair Britomart, whose Praise I write;
But of all Wisdom be thou Precedent,
O sovereign Queen! whose Praise I would endite,
Endite I would, as Duty doth excite.
But ah! my Rhimes too rude and rugged are,
When in so high an Object they do light,
And striving fit to make, I fear do mar:
Thy self thy Praises tell, and make them knowen far.
She, travelling with Guyon by the way,
Of sundry things fair Purpose 'gan to find,
T' abridg their Journey long and lingring Day;
'Mongst which it fell into that Fairy's Mind,
To ask this Briton Maid, what uncouth Wind
Brought her into those Parts, and what Inquest
Made her dissemble her disguised Kind:
Fair Lady she him seem'd, like Lady dress'd;
But fairest Knight alive, when armed was her Breast.
Thereat she sighing softly, had no power
To speak awhile, ne ready answer make,
But with heart-thrilling Throbs and bitter Stower,
As if she had a Fever-Fit, did quake,
And every dainty Limb with Horrour shake;
And ever and anon the rosy Red
Flash'd thro her Face, as it had been a Flake
Of Lightning, thro bright Heaven fulmined:
At last, the Passion pass'd, she thus him answered.
Fair Sir, I let you weet, that from the hour
I taken was from Nurse's tender Pap,
I have been trained up in warlike Stower,
To tossen Spear and Shield, and to affrap
The warlike Rider to his most Mishap;
Sithence I loathed have my Life to lead,
As Ladies wont, in Pleasure's wanton Lap,
To finger the fine Needle and nice Thred;
Me liefer were with Point of Foe-man's Spear be dead.
All my Delight on Deeds of Arms is set,
To hunt out Perils and Adventures hard,
By Sea, by Land, whereso they may be met,
Only for Honour and for high Regard,
Without Respect of Riches or Reward.
For such Intent into these Parts I came,
Withouten Compass, or withouten Card.
Far from my native Soil, that is by name
The Greater Britain, here to seek for Praise and Fame.
Fame blazed hath, that here in Fairy-Lond
Do many famous Knights and Ladies wonne,
And many strange Adventures to be fond,
Of which great Worth and Worship may be won;
Which I to prove, this Voyage have begon.
But mote I weet of you, right courteous Knight,
Tidings of one, that hath unto me done
Late foul Dishonour and reproachful Spight,
The which I seek to wreak, and Arthegall he hight.
The Word gone out, she back again would call,
As her repenting so to have missay'd,
But that he it up-taking e'er the Fall,
Her shortly answered; Fair martial Maid,
Certes ye misavised been, t' upbraid
A gentle Knight with so unknightly Blame:
For weet ye well, of all that ever play'd
At Tilt or Tourney, or like warlike Game,
The noble Arthegall hath ever borne the Name.
For-thy, great wonder were it, if such Shame
Should ever enter in his bounteous Thought,
Or ever do that mote deserven Blame:
The noble Courage never weeneth ought,
That may unworthy of it self be thought.
Therefore, fair Damzel, be ye well aware,
Led that too far ye have your Sorrow sought:
You and your Country both I wish Welfare,
And honour both; for each of other worthy are.
The Royal Maid wox inly wondrous glad,
To hear her Love so highly magnify'd,
And joy'd that ever she affixed had
Her Heart on Knight so goodly glorify'd,
However finely she it feign'd to hide:
The loving Mother, that nine Months did bear,
In me dear Closet of her painful Side,
Her tender Babe, it seeing safe appear,
Doth not so much rejoice, as she rejoiced there.
But to occasion him to further talk,
To feed her Humour with his pleasing Stile,
Her list in strife-full Terms with him to balk,
And thus reply'd: However, Sir, ye file
Your courteous Tongue his Praises to compile,
It ill beseems a Knight of gentle sort,
Such as ye have him boasted, to beguile
A simple Maid, and work so heinous Tort,
In shame of Knighthood, as I largely can report.
Let be therefore my Vengeance to dissuade,
And read, where I that Faytour false may find.
Ah! but if Reason fair might you persuade,
To slake your Wrath, and mollify your Mind,
Said he, perhaps ye should it better find;
For hardy thing it is, to ween by Might,
That Man to hard Conditions to bind,
Or ever hope to match in equal Fight;
Whose Prowess paragon saw never living Wight.
Ne soothlich is it easy for to read,
Where now on Earth, or how he may be found;
For he ne wonneth in one certain Stead,
But restless walketh all the World around,
Ay doing things, that to his Fame redound,
Defending Ladies Cause, and Orphans Right,
Whereso he hears, that any doth confound
Them comfortless, thro Tyranny or Might;
So is his sovereign Honour rais'd to Heaven's height.
His feeling Words her feeble Sense much pleas'd,
And softly sunk into her molten Heart;
Heart, that is inly hurt, is greatly eas'd
With hope of thing, that may allay his Smart;
For pleasing Words are like to magick Art,
That doth the charmed Snake in Slumber lay:
Such secret Ease felt gentle Britomart,
Yet list the same efforce with feign'd Gainsay;
(So Discord oft in Musick makes the sweeter Lay.)
And said, Sir Knight, these idle Terms forbear,
And sith it is uneath to find his Haunt,
Tell me some Marks, by which he may appear,
If chaunce I him encounter paravaunt;
For, perdy one shall other slay, or daunt:
What Shape, what Shield, what arms, what Steed, what Sted,
And whatso else his Person most may vaunt?
All which the Redcross Knight to point ared,
And him in every point before her fashioned.
Yet him in every part before she knew,
However list her now her Knowledge feign,
Sith him whilome in Britain she did view,
To her revealed in a Mirrour plain;
Whereof did grow her first engraffed Pain:
Whose Root and Stalk so bitter yet did taste,
That but the Fruit more Sweetness did contain,
Her wretched Days in Dolour she mote waste,
And yield the Prey of Love to loathsom Death at last.
By strange Occasion she did him behold,
And much more strangely 'gan to love his Sight,
As it in Books hath written been of old.
In Deheubarth that now South-Wales is hight,
What time King Ryence reign'd, and dealed right,
The great Magician Merlin had deviz'd,
By his deep Science, and hell-dreaded Might,
A Looking-Glass right wondrously aguiz'd,
Whose Vertues thro the wide World soon were solemniz'd.
It Vertue had, to shew in perfect Sight,
Whatever thing was in the World contain'd,
Betwixt the lowest Earth and Heavens height,
So that it to the Looker appertain'd:
Whatever Foe had wrought or Friend had feign'd,
Therein discover'd was, ne ought mote pass,
Ne ought in secret from the same remain'd;
For-thy it round and hollow shaped was,
Like to the World it self and seem'd a World of Glass.
Who wonders not, that reads so wondrous Work?
But who does wonder that has read the Tower;
Wherein th' Aegyptian Phao long did lurk
From all Mens view, that none might her discover,
Yet she might all Men view out of her Bower?
Great Ptolomy it for his Leman's sake
Ybuilded all of Glass, by Magick Power,
And also it impregnable did make;
Yet when his Love was false, he with a Peaze it break.
Such was the glassy Globe that Merlin made,
And gave unto King Ryence for his Guard,
That never Foes his Kingdom might invade,
But he it knew at home before he heard
Tidings thereof, and so them still debar'd.
It was a famous Present for a Prince,
And worthy Work of infinite Reward,
That Treasons could bewray, and Foes convince:
Happy this Realm, had it remained ever since.
One day it fortuned fair Britomart
Into her Father's Closet to repair;
For, nothing he from her reserv'd apart,
Being his only Daughter and his Heir:
Where when she had espy'd that Mirrour fair,
Her self awhile therein she view'd in vain;
Tho, her avizing of the Virtues rare,
Which thereof spoken were, she 'gan again
Her to bethink of that mote to her self pertain.
But as it falleth in the gentlest Hearts
Imperious Love hath highest set his Throne,
And tyrannizeth in the bitter Smarts
Of them, that to him buxom are and prone:
So thought this Maid (as Maidens use to done)
Whom Fortune for her Husband would allot;
Not that she lusted after any one,
For she was pure from Blame of sinful Blot,
Yet wist her Life at last must link in that same Knot.
Eftsoons there was presented to her Eye
A comely Knight, all arm'd in compleat wise,
Through whose bright Ventail lifted up on high
His manly Face, that did his Foes agrise,
And Friends to Terms of gentle Truce entice,
Look'd forth, as Phoebus' Face out of the East
Betwixt two shady Mountains doth arise;
Portly his Person was, and much increas'd
Through his heroick Grace, and honourable Gest.
His Crest was cover'd with a couchant Hound,
And all his Armour seem'd of antique Mould,
But wondrous many and assured sound,
And round about yfretted all with Gold,
In which there written was with Cyphers old,
Achilles Arms, which Arthegal did win.
And on his Shield enveloped sevenfold
He bore a crowned little Ermilin,
That deck'd the azure Field with her fair pouldred Skin.
The Damzel well did view his Personage,
And liked well, ne further fastned not,
But went her way; ne her unguilty Age
Did ween, unwares that her unlucky Lot
Lay hidden in the bottom of the Pot:
Of Hurt unwist most Danger doth redound;
But the false Archer, which that Arrow shot
So slily, that she did not feel the Wound,
Did smile full smoothly at her weetless woful Stound.
Thenceforth the Feather in her lofty Crest,
Ruffed of Love, 'gan lowly to avail;
And her proud Portance, and her princely Gest,
With which the earst triumphed, now did quail:
Sad, solemn, sour, and full of Fancies frail
She wox; yet wist she neither how, nor why;
She wist not, silly Maid, what she did ail;
Yet wist, she was not well at ease perdy,
Yet thought it was not Love, but some Melancholy.
So soon as Night had with her pallid Hue
Defac'd the Beauty of the shining Sky,
And reft from Men the World's desired view,
She with her Nourse adown to sleep did lie.
But Sleep full far away from her did fly;
Instead thereof sad Sighs and Sorrows deep
Kept watch and ward about her warily:
That nought she did but wail, and often steep
Her dainty Couch with Tears, which closely she did weep.
And if that any Drop of slombring Rest
Did chaunce to still into her weary Spright,
When feeble Nature felt her self oppress'd;
Straight-way with Dreams, and with fantastick sight
Of dreadful things the same was put to flight,
That oft out of her Bed she did astart,
As one with view of ghastly Fiends affright:
Tho, 'gan she to renew her former Smart,
And think of that fair Visage written in her Heart.
One Night, when she was tost with such unrest,
Her aged Nurse, whose Name was Glauce hight,
Feeling her leap out of her loathed Nest,
Betwixt her feeble Arms her quickly height,
And down again in her warm Bed her dight:
Ah! my dear Daughter, ah! my dearest Dread,
What uncouth Fit, said she, what evil Plight
Hath thee opprest, and with sad drearyhead
Chaunged thy living Chear and living made thee dead?
For, not of nought these suddain ghastly Fears
All Night afflict thy natural Repose;
And all the Day, when as thine equal Peers
Their fit Disports with fair Delight do chose,
Thou in dull Corners dost thy self inclose,
Ne tastest Princes Pleasures, ne doest spred
Abroad thy fresh Youth's fairest Flower, but lose
Both Leaf and Fruit, both too untimely shed,
As one in wilful Bale for ever buried.
The time, that mortal Men their weary Cares
Do lay away, and all wild Beasts do rest,
And every River eke his Course forbears,
Then doth this wicked Evil thee infest,
And rive with thousand Throbs thy thrilled Breast:
Like an huge Aetn' of deep engulfed Grief,
Sorrow is heaped in thy hollow Chest,
Whence forth it breaks in Sighs and Anguish rife,
As Smoke and Sulphur mingled with confused Strife.
Ay me, how much I fear, lest Love it be;
But if that Love it be, as sure I read
By knowen Signs and Passions, which I see,
Be it worthy of thy Race and Royal Seed;
Then I avow by this most sacred Head:
Of my dear foster Child, to ease thy Grief,
And win thy Will: Therefore away do Dread;
For, Death nor Danger from thy due Relief
Shall me debar; tell me therefore my liefest Lief.
So having said, her 'twixt her Armes twain
She straightly strain'd, and colled tenderly;
And every trembling Joint, and every Vein
She softly felt, and rubbed busily,
To do the frozen Cold away to fly;
And her fair dewy Eyes with Kisses dear
She oft did bathe, and oft again did dry;
And ever her importun'd, not to fear
To let the Secret of her Heart to her appear.
The Damzel paus'd, and then thus fearfully;
Ah Nurse! what needeth thee to eke my Pain?
Is not enough, that I alone do die,
But it must doubled be with death of twain?
For, nought for me but Death there doth remain.
O! Daughter dear, said she, despair no whit;
For, never Sore, but might a Salve obtain:
That blinded God, which hath ye blindly smit,
Another Arrow hath your Lover's Heart to hit.
But mine is not, quoth she, like others Wound;
For which no Reason can find Remedy.
Was never such, but mote the like be found,
Said she; and though no Reason may apply
Salve to your Sore, yet Love can higher stie
Than Reason's reach, and oft hath Wonders done.
But neither God of Love, nor God of Sky
Can do (said she) that, which cannot be done:
Things oft impossible (quoth she) seem e'er begun.
These idle words, said she, do not asswage
My stubborn Smart, but more annoyance breed;
For, no, no usual Fire, no usual Rage
It is, O Nurse, which on my Life doth feed,
And sucks the Blood, which from my Heart doth bleed.
But since thy faithful Zeal lets me not hide
My Crime (if Crime it be) I will it read:
Nor Prince, nor Peer it is, whose Love hath gride
My feeble Breast of late, and launced this Wound wide:
Nor Man it is, nor other living Wight,
For then some hope I might unto me draw;
But th' only Shade and Semblant of a Knight,
Whose Shape or Person yet I never saw,
Hath me subjected to Love's cruel Law.
The same one day, as me Misfortune led,
I in my Fathers wondrous Mirrour saw,
And pleased with that seeming Goodly-hed,
Unwares the hidden Hook with Bait I swallowed.
Sithence it hath infixed faster hold
Within my bleeding Bowels, and so sore
Now rankleth in this same frail fleshly Mould,
That all mine Entrails flow with pois'nous Gore,
And th' Ulcer groweth daily more and more;
Ne can my running Sore find Remedy,
Other than my hard Fortune to deplore,
And languish as the Leaf faln from the Tree,
Till Death make one end of my Days and Misery.
Daughter, said she, what need ye be dismay'd,
Or why make ye such Monster of your Mind?
Of much more uncouth thing I was affraid;
Of filthy Lust, contrary unto Kind:
But this Affection nothing strange I find;
For, who with reason can you ay reprove,
To love the Semblant pleading most your Mind,
And yield your Heart whence ye cannot remove?
No Guilt in you, but in the Tyranny of Love.
Not so th' Arabian Myrrh' did set her Mind;
Not so did Biblis spend her pining Heart,
But lov'd their native Flesh against all kind,
And to their purpose used wicked Art:
Yet played Pasiphae a more monstrous part,
That lov'd a Bull, and learn'd a Beast to be;
Such shameful Lusts who loaths not, which depart
From course of Nature and of Modesty?
Sweet Love such Lewdness bands from his fair Company.
But thine, my Dear (well fare thy Heart, my Dear)
Though strange beginning had, yet fixed is
On one, that worthy may perhaps appear;
And certes seems bestowed not amiss:
Joy thereof have thou and eternal Bliss.
With that up-leaning on her Elbow weak,
Her Alablaster Breast she soft did kiss,
Which all that while she felt to pant and quake,
As it an Earthquake were; at last she thus bespake:
Beldame, your words do work me little ease;
For, though my Love be not so leudly bent
As those ye blame, yet may it not appease
My raging Smart, ne ought my Flame relent.
But rather doth my helpless Grief augment.
For they, however shameful and unkind,
Yet did possess their horrible intent:
Short end of Sorrows they thereby did find;
So was their Fortune good, tho wicked were their Mind.
But wicked Fortune mine, though mine be good,
Can have no End, nor hope of my Desire,
But feed on Shadows, whiles I die for Food,
And like a Shadow wex, whiles with entire
Affection I do Languish and expire.
I fonder than Cephisus' foolish Child,
Who having viewed in a Fountain shere
His Face, was with the love thereof beguil'd;
I fonder love a Shade, the Body far exil'd.
Nought like, quoth she, for that same wretched Boy
Was of himself the idle Paramour;
Both Love and Lover, without hope of Joy,
For which he faded to a watry Flower.
But better Fortune thine, and better hour,
Which lov'st the Shadow of a warlike Knight;
No Shadow, but a Body hath in Power:
That Body, wheresoever that it light,
May learned be by Cyphers, or by Magick Might.
But if thou may with reason yet repress
The growing Evil, ere it strength have got,
And thee abandon'd wholly do possess,
Against it strongly strive, and yield thee not,
Till thou in open Field adown be smot,
But if the Passion master thy frail Might,
So that needs Love or Death must be thy Lot,
Then I avow to thee, by wrong or right,
To compass thy Desire, and find that loved Knight.
Her chearful Words much chear'd the feeble Spright
Of the sick Virgin, that her down she laid
In her warm Bed to sleep, if that she might;
And the old Woman carefully display'd
The Clothes about her round with busy Aid;
So that at last a little creeping Sleep
Surpriz'd her Sense She, therewith well apaid,
The drunken Lamp down in the Oil did steep,
And set her by to watch, and set her by to weep.
Early the Morrow next, before that Day
His joyous Face did to the World reveal,
They both uprose, and took their ready way
Unto the Church their Prayers to appeal,
With great Devotion, and with little Zeal:
For, the fair Damzel from the holy Herse
Her love-sick Heart to other thoughts did steal;
And that old Dame said many an idle Verse,
Out of her Daughter's Heart fond Fancies to reverse.
Returned home, the royal Infant fell
Into her former Fit; for why, no Power
Nor Guidance of her self in her did dwell.
But th' aged Nurse, her calling to her Bower,
Had gathered Rue, and Savine, and the flower
Of Camphara, and Calamint, and Dill,
All which she in an earthen Pot did pour,
And to the Brim with Coltwood did it fill,
And many Drops of Milk and Blood through it did spill.
Then taking thrice three Hairs from off her Head,
Them trebly braided in a threefold Lace,
And round about the Pot's Mouth bound the Thread;
And after having whispered a space
Certain sad Words, with hollow Voice and Base,
She to the Virgin said, thrice said she it:
Come Daughter, come, come; spit upon my Face,
Spit thrice upon me, thrice upon me spit;
Th' uneven number for this Business is most fit.
That said, her round about she from her turn'd,
She turned her contrary to the Sun,
Thrice she her turn'd contrary, and return'd,
All contrary; for she the Right did shun,
And ever what she did, was straight undone.
So thought she to undo her Daughter's Love:
But Love, that is in gentle Breast begun,
No idle Charms so lightly may remove;
That well can witness, who by trial it does prove.
Ne ought it mote the noble Maid avail,
Ne slake the Fury of her cruel Flame,
But that she still did waste, and still did wail,
That through long Languor, and heart-burning Brame
She shortly like a pined Ghost became,
Which long hath waited by the Stygian Strond.
That when old Glauce saw, for fear lest Blame
Of her Miscarriage should in her be fond,
She wist not how t' amend, nor how it to withstond.
[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 2:384-97]