Spenser—His Last Days
HERE are so many books now published which tell the stories of
the Faery Queen, and tell them well, that you may think I hardly
need have told one here. But few of these books give the poet's
own words, and I have told the story here giving quotations from
the poem in the hope that you will read them and learn from them
to love Spenser's own words. I hope that long after you have
forgotten my words you will remember Spenser's, that they will
remain in your mind as glowing
Spenser has been called the poet's poet,
he might also be called
the painter's poet, for on every page almost we find a
That it is a fairyland and no real world which Spenser opens to
us is the great difference between Chaucer and him. Chaucer
gives us real men and women who love and hate, who sin and
sorrow. He is humorous, he is coarse, and he is real. Spenser
has humor too, but we seldom see him smile. There are, we may be
glad, few coarse lines in Spenser, but he is artificial. He took
the tone of his time—the tone of pretense. It was the fashion
Spenser invented for himself a new stanza of nine lines and made it famous, so that we call it after him, the Spenserian Stanza. It was like Chaucer's stanza of seven lines, called the Rhyme Royal, with two lines more added.
Spenser admired Chaucer above all poets. He called him "The Well
of English undefiled,"
and after many hundred years we still
feel the truth of the description. He uses many of Chaucer's
words, which even then had grown
He weaves his wonderful words in such wonderful fashion that they sound like what he describes. Is there anything more drowsy than his description of the abode of sleep:
So all through the poem we are enchanted or lulled by the glamor of words.
The Faery Queen made Spenser as a poet famous, but, as we know,
it did not bring him enough to live on in England. It did not
bring him the fame he sought nor make him great among the
statesmen of the land. Among the courtiers of Queen Elizabeth he
counted for little. So he returned to Ireland a disappointed
man. It was now he wrote Colin Clout's come home again, from
which I have already given you some quotations. He published
also another book of poems and then he fell in love. He forgot
his beautiful Rosalind, who had been so
But more famous still than the sonnets is the Epithalamion or
wedding hymn which he wrote in his lady's
honor, and which ever
since has been looked on as the most glorious
It was now, too, that Spenser wrote Astrophel, a sadly beautiful
dirge for the death of his friend and
Just before his marriage Spenser finished three more books of the Faery Queen, and the following year he took them to London to publish them. The three books were on Friendship, on Justice, and on Courtesy. They were received as joyfully as the first three. The poet remained for nearly a year in London still writing busily. Then he returned to Ireland. There he passed a few more years, and then came the end.
Ireland, which had always been unquiet, always restless, under the oppressive hand of England, now broke out into wild rebellion. The maddened Irish had no love or respect for the English poet. Kilcolman Castle was sacked and burned, and Spenser fled with his wife and children to Cork, homeless and wellnigh ruined. A little later Spenser himself went on to London, hoping perhaps to better his fortunes, and there in a Westminster inn, disappointed, ill, shattered in hopes and health, he lay down to die.
As men count years, he was still young, for he was only
Books To Read
Stories from the Faerie Queen Told to the Children by Jeanie Lang.
Una and the Red Cross Knight, by N. G. Royde Smith (has many quotations).
Tales from the Faerie Queene, by C. L. Thomson (prose).
The Faerie Queene (verse, sixteenth century spelling).
Faerie Queene, book I., by Professor W. H. Hudson.
Complete Works (Globe Edition), edited by R. Morris.
Britomart, edited by May E. Litchfield, is the story of Britomart taken from scattered portions in books III, IV, and V in original poetry, spelling modernized.