Printer Friendly

Spenser out of his stanza.

How did the poet of The Shepheardes Calender become the poet of The Faerie Queene? The most prominent formal feature of The Faerie Queene is the Spenserian stanza, so one might naturally search the Calender's varied forms for a stanza that looks similar, thinking that in such a place we might catch the epic poet in the act of becoming. In this essay I explore whether the opposite might be true, whether in fact the poet of The Faerie Queene is most visible in those parts of the Calender that bear the least formal resemblance to the Spenserian stanza. This is in keeping with my sense that these poems, "Maye" and "September" especially, have been critically undervalued and deserve more attention in anthologies and classrooms. The chief quality I suggest we can find in these poems is an approach to creating larger periods, longer trajectories of breath, sustained units of meaning larger than the line or couplet, which Spenser would need to master in order to write The Faerie Queene. Along with this quality I also suggest that the poems move less predictably--and so provide pleasing variation--taking advantage of the flexibility that the absence of stanzas provides. A corollary thesis is that Spenser in the Calender is not yet the master of stanzaic verse that is on display in The Faerie Queene. (1) The overall view I wish to test is whether the nonstanzaic poems exhibit qualities necessary to the success of The Faerie Queene, and whether we can then see Spenser's poetic development running as a synthesis of techniques spread across the spectrum of forms in The Shepheardes Calender, rather than as a selection of one kind of poetry (in stanzas) to the exclusion of another.

To test this view, I will examine each of the poetic forms in The Shepheardes Calender in turn, from the most articulated to the least. I begin with the complex nine-line stanzas of "Aprill" and "November"; then I proceed through the spectrum of stanza-forms, turn to intermediate forms ("March," "Julye"), and wind up with the couplet. The poetic quality that I am most interested in tracking is motion, how the poem moves. To throw light on this I will examine the relationship between stanza and sense-unit (the sentence, the phrase), as well as the degree of compression. Since I am less interested here in the motion of individual lines, meter will not be as relevant to my discussion as other qualities of the verse. A comparison of the dialogue in "October" and "August" should provide a good test for this, since they share a stanza form but are in accentual-syllabic and accentual meters, respectively. I also make use of Michael Drayton's The Shepheards Garland (1593), which revisits much of the material of the Calender and several of its poetic forms. (2) Drayton offers a younger contemporary poet's response to The Shepheardes Calender. Comparison with Drayton helps to define more strictly the idea of poetic motion, which can have much to do with local exigencies, as well as matters of mood, genre, and vocal characterization.

We begin, then, at the top: the nine-line stanza of the "November" elegy for Dido, E.K.'s favorite poem in the book. Other than the nine lines, however, it is clear that this stanza has little in common with the stanza of The Faerie Queene: the seventh and ninth lines are composed of a rhyming refrain in dimeters, "O heavie herse," "O carefull verse," which changes at the poem's climax to "O happy herse," "O joyfull verse." The stanza has more in common with the yet more articulated stanzas of the Epithalamion and the Prothalamion, for the motion within each stanza has constraints of repetition that are absent in the epic. (3)

The "Aprill" ode to Eliza has a comparably complex stanza and has no repeating lines, but its set variations in line length I think place it in the same category of specialized ceremonial verse as the "November" elegy. Still, it is probably the best-known section of the Calender, and it seems important to examine it as a reference point. Here is the famous flower catalog, from near the end of the ode:
 Bring hether the Pincke and purple Cullambine,
 With Gelliflowres:
 Bring Coronations, and Sops in wine,
 worne of Paramoures.
 Strowe me the ground with Daffadowndillies,
 And Cowslips, and Kingcups, and loved Lillies:
 The pretie Pawnce,
 And the Chevisance,
 Shall match with the fayre flowre Delice. (136-44)

For comparison here is Drayton, who in his fourth eclogue uses a flower catalog in an elegy for Elphin:
 Come Girles, and with Carnations decke his grave,
 With damaske Roses and the hyacynt:
 Come with sweete Williams, Marjoram and Mynt,
 with precious Balms
 with hymnes and psalmes
 His funerall deserves no lesse at all to have. (132-37)

At a much greater distance, here is Milton doing something similar in Lycidas:
 Bring the rathe primrose that forsaken dies,
 The tufted crowtoe and pale Gessamine,
 The white pink, and the pansie freakt with jet,
 The glowing violet,
 The musk rose and the well-attir'd woodbine,
 With cowslips wan that hang the pensive head,
 And every flower that sad imbroidrie wears:
 Bid Amaranthus all his beauties shed
 And daffadillies fill thir cups with tears
 To strew the laureat herse where Lycid' lies. (142-51)

The flower catalog, independent of stanza or line, would seem to rely upon motion among these three things: the names themselves, the names with well-chosen adjectives, and the names coupled with brief discussions of their uses or associations. Milton has some dazzling one-offs--it is hard to top the "pansie freakt with jet"--but his manipulation of the elements of the catalog seems comparable to Spenser's. "The glowing violet," given its own line, seems an obvious nod to Spenser. But more interesting are the striking, metrically risky phrases that the two have in common: "the fayre flowre Delice" and the "pale Gessamine"; the "loved Lillies" and the "well-attir'd woodbine." Drayton comes nowhere near the audacity of these. Drayton also, here as almost everywhere in The Shepheards Garland, takes a formal idea from Spenser and regularizes it metrically. The "Aprill" ode must be considered accentual-syllabic verse, and yet it takes liberties that would not be allowed by Spenser's contemporaries, and Milton seems to have assimilated these along with the poem's more obvious motions of line and variations of elements. What seems unsystematic in Spenser seems included in a more capacious system in Milton. (4)

The next step down from the complexity of the ode and elegy stanzas is the eight-line stanza rhyming ababbcbc that is used in the introductory dialogue and conclusion of "November" and in all of "June." The stanza contains neither repeated nor shortened lines, and it is used for pastoral dialogue, which is the basic material from which the Calender is built--it does not have the exceptional quality of the stanzas in the ode and elegy. Several more aspects of these stanzas make them an obvious choice for comparison to The Faerie Queene. They are only one line away from the scheme of the Spenserian stanza itself (they lack the final alexandrine). While "June" and "November" take place in distant seasons, summer and the wintry end of autumn, both poems are also serious in tone, and both poems include Colin Clout as a speaker, who is everywhere acknowledged as the best poet by the other shepherds. So the stanza, technically close to the Spenserian stanza, is used at the upper end of the pastoral hierarchy of poetic skill. (5)

And yet, one could read both poems without ever noticing how close Spenser comes here to the way of shaping lines and stanzas that would occupy most of his poetic energies--just one alexandrine shy. The reason can be found in the way the poems move. Spenser's favorite adversative conjunction in The Shepheardes Calender would seem to be but. For the most part, the shepherd speakers make major changes of argumentative direction using this word. It is a telling indication about how arguments are set up within stanzas that out of all the eight-line stanzas in the Calender, only one but occurs anywhere other than at the beginning of a line. Here are two stanzas from Colin and Hobbinol, respectively, the speakers in "June":
 O Happy Hobbinoll, I blesse thy state,
 That Paradise hast found, whych Adam lost.
 Here wander may thy flock early or late,
 Withouten dreade of Wolves to bene ytost:
 Thy lovely layes here mayst thou freely boste.
 But I unhappy man, whom cruell fate,
 And angry Gods pursue from coste to coste,
 Can nowhere fynd, to shroude my luckless pate. (9-16)

 I sawe Calliope wyth Muses moe,
 Soone as thy oaten pype began to sound,
 Theyr yvory Luyts and Tamburins forgoe:
 And from the fountaine, where they sat around,
 Renne after hastely thy silver sound.
 But when they came, where thou thy skill didst showe,
 They drewe abacke, as halfe with shame confound,
 Shepherd to see, them in theyr art outgoe. (57-64)

This is characteristic. Caesuras within lines tend to come before simple modifying clauses, for example, "But I unhappy man, whom cruell fate" and "But when they came, where thou thy skill didst showe." Where lines are not end-stopped, they are enjambed in the softest imaginable manner: "And from the fountaine, where they sat around, / Renne after hastely thy silver sound." There is also very little initial inversion of accent (trochaic inversion) either at the head of or within lines; the exceptions tend to be with proper names: "Colin, to heare thy rymes and roundelayes" ("June" 49), "Thenot to that I choose, thou doest me tempt" ("November" 49). Spenser is certainly consistent, but the result of all this is that motion within stanzas seems to follow the same general pattern over and over again.

Motion between stanzas also conforms to a predictable and narrow set of possible choices. The lack of rhythmic variety at the end of stanzas seems one contributing factor: especially in "June," stanzas end with cadences so similar that they begin to sound something like the end-refrain from the "November" elegy or the Epithalamion. The last two lines of four out of the first six stanzas in "June" are rhythmically nearly identical:
 The Bramble bush, where Byrds of every kynde
 To the waters fall their tunes attemper right. (7-8)

 Will pype and daunce, when Phoebe shineth bright:
 Such pierlesse pleasures have we in these places. (31-32)

 (As garments doen, which wexen old above)
 And draweth newe delightes with hoary heares. (39-40)

 And losse of her, whose love as lyfe I wayd,
 Those weary wanton toyes away dyd wype. (47-48)

The other two simply invert the order, placing a caesura after the fourth syllable in the last, rather than the penultimate line.
 And angry Gods pursue from coste to coste,
 Can nowhere fynd, to shroude my lucklesse pate. (15-16)

 Here no night Ravens lodge more black then pitche,
 Nor elvish ghosts, nor gastly owles doe flee. (23-24)

While there is nothing wrong with this, it does tend to inhibit the buildup of periods larger than a stanza, as beginning readers, not picking up on the links between sentences, end each one with an identical drop of the voice.

There is no enjambment between stanzas, and what concatenation there is consists of a simple set of logical relationships. Words do not tend to get picked up from one stanza to the next, and grammatical subjects are mostly isolated in single stanzas. As a result of this isolation and lack of concatenation, it is possible to reverse the position of stanzas at two places in "June" without significantly disrupting the progress of the poem (stanzas 7 and 8, and 9 and 10). (6) One feels in general that the supply of gestures is impoverished, as if Spenser had a small collection of masks and supposed that, starting a stanza, he had to choose one and stick with it to the end, before selecting another.

Having said this, there are moments when things briefly pick up. There is a larger period of four stanzas in "June" (11-14) in which Colin recalls the triumphs of Chaucer, fantasizes about having similar powers with which to avenge himself on his unfaithful beloved, and then despairs, realizing that he has nothing of the sort. This sequence occupies the same position at the dramatic center of "June" that the elegy to Dido occupies in "November." More locally, stanzas 5 and 6 of "June," for example, in spite of their almost identical ending rhythms, play out the same logical structure twice while varying the amount of room given to the structure's components. This is also the exceptional mid-line use of "but":
 And I, whylst youth, and course of careless yeeres
 Did let me walke withouten lincks of love,
 I such delights did joy amongst my peeres:
 But ryper age such pleasure doth reprove,
 My fancye eke from former follies move
 To stayed steps: for time in passing weares
 (As garments doen, which wexen old above)
 And draweth newe delightes with hoary heares.
 Tho couth I sing of love, and tune my pype
 Unto my plaintive pleas in verses made:
 Tho would I seeke for Queene apples unrype,
 To give my Rosalind, and in Sommer shade
 Dight gaudy Girlonds, was my comen trade,
 To crowne her golden locks, but yeeres more rype,
 And losse of her, whose love as lyfe I wayd,
 Those weary wanton toyes away did wype. (33-48)

Here for once Spenser's repetitive approach to the stanza shows its capacity as a framework for generating tension. One can hardly restrain one's interpretive excitement upon perceiving this: in the first instance Colin resolutely tramples on the memory of his youthful follies (three lines vs. five), but in the second the memories triumph for five-and-a-half lines, before being violently tugged under the carpet by his mature self. In an art with little variation or a limited expressive vocabulary, small changes can carry much weight.

This eight-line stanza is so close to the Spensersian stanza, it would be remiss not to compare them directly. The beginning of Meliboe's speech to Calidore in book 6 is, like "June" and "November," a speech in a pastoral dialogue. Here Meliboe tries to explain the happiness for which Calidore has just declared his envy:
 Surely my sonne (then answer'd he againe)
 If happie, then it is in this intent,
 That having small, yet doe I not complaine
 Of want, ne wish for more it to augment,
 But doe my selfe, with that I have, content;
 So taught of nature, which doth litle need
 Of forreine helpes to lifes due nourishment:
 The fields my food, my flocke my rayment breed;
 No better doe I weare, no better doe I feed.

 Therefore I doe not any one envy,
 Nor am envyde of any one therefore;
 They that have much, feare much to lose thereby,
 And store of cares doth follow riches store.
 The litle that I have, growes dayly more
 Without my care, but onely to attend it;
 My lambes doe every year increase their score,
 And my flockes father daily doth amend it.
 What have I, but to praise th' Almighty, that doth send it?

Within the stanzas, we can note the enjambed lines, coupled with a wider variety of caesurae. Here, for example, are a separation of a verb from its modifier and a caesura after the second syllable of the next line: "yet doe I not complaine / Of want." Mirroring that caesura, and partly echoing it, the main verb of the next clause is delayed to the very last two syllables of the next line:
 yet doe I not complaine
 Of want, ne wish for more it to augment,
 But doe my selfe, with that I have, content;

The phrase "litle need / Of forreine helpes" also seems beyond the spectrum of enjambment allowed in "June" or "November."

Between the stanzas there is an extraordinary mirroring of two two-line chiasmic structures, creating a double chiasmus as a concatenation:
 A B
The fields my food, my flocke my rayment breed; /
Therefore I doe not any one envy, /

 B A
No better do I weare, no better doe I feed.
Nor am envyde of any one therefore;

A little later in the same speech we can see two stanzas in which the second picks up the object of the last line of the previous stanza ("such vainenesse") and also delays until the fifth line the arrival of the main clause of the sentence:
 The time was once, in my first prime of yeares,
 When pride of youth forth pricked my desire,
 That I disdain'd amongst mine equall peares
 To follow sheepe, and shepheards base attire:
 For further fortune then I would inquire.
 And leaving home, to roiall court I sought;
 Where I did sell my selfe for yearely hire,
 And in the Princes gardin daily wrought:
 There I beheld such vainenesse, as I never thought.

 With sight whereof soone cloyd, and long deluded
 With idle hopes, which them doe entertaine,
 After I had ten yeares my selfe excluded
 From native home, and spent my youth in vaine,
 I gan my follies to my selfe to plaine,
 And this sweet peace, whose lacke did then appeare.
 Tho backe returning to my sheepe againe,
 I from thenceforth have learn'd to love more deare
 This lowly quiet life, which I inherite here. (24-25)

In the Calender, it would be much more likely for the object to be dropped, and for the grammatical subject of the new stanza to appear forthwith.

I have been trying to play fair with the Calender. If one leaves the arena of the pastoral conversation, the contrast becomes far more pronounced, for example, in this early description of Error:
 And as she lay upon the durtie ground,
 Her huge long taile her den all overspred,
 Yet was in knots and many boughtes upwound,
 Pointed with mortall sting. Of her there bred
 A thousand yong ones, which she dayly fed,
 Sucking upon her poisnous dugs, eachone
 Of sundrie shapes, yet all ill favored:
 Soone as that uncouth light upon them shone,
 Into her mouth they crept, and suddain all were gone. (1.1.15)

A new sentence beginning mid-line, a strong enjambment off of an eight-syllable hemistich, two violent initial inversions ("Pointed," "Sucking"), the description coming to an end in line seven, with an entirely separate action following--it's a different universe altogether.

Rather than making our way stepwise toward the opposite end of the spectrum from the eight-line stanza, it seems advisable to jump to that end now, to see whether the features that make the motion within and between the stanzas of The Faerie Queene so varied and lively have any analogs in the poetry of The Shepheardes Calender. This means turning to the poems written in couplets ("Februarie," "Maye," and "September"). It will be observed that some of the problems I identified above, of isolation among stanzas and lack of vital connections between them, are more or less solved by writing in the couplet, which is hardly roomy enough to merit the title "stanza." Indeed, couplets afford the opportunity to create some of the effects of stichic poetry, that is, poetry built on the unit of the line. Blank verse is the most notable example of this in English; here is how T. V. F. Brogan describes some of the ways it contrasts with stanzaic poetry:
 A part of our deepest sense of blank verse is that it is
 nonstanzaic: in the drama, the brevity or amplitude appropriate to
 the individual speech determines the speech's length, while in
 nondramatic blank verse the unit next larger than the line is the
 verse paragraph, its length also determined by something other than
 the metrical requirement.

One of the most unfortunate aspects of the stanzaic poetry in The Shepheardes Calender is that "metrical requirements" seem all too often to homogenize stanzas or even turn them into the sausages that Wallace Stevens ruefully called them. With the poems in couplets, all of which are dialogues consisting of two shepherd-speakers each, there is an opportunity for utterance to shape its own length, and the quality of the motion within that length, to a much greater degree than in poems constructed of larger stanzas (at least, if one constructs them the way Spenser does in The Shepheardes Calender).

In addition, while many different kinds of stanzas abounded in the English poetry of the 1570s (witness, for example, the variety in the edition of George Gascoigne's poems that appeared in 1575), the poetry in other languages that Spenser most closely follows in the Calender is either stichic or in couplets. Note the way the opening of Virgil's pastorals is arranged:
 Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi
 silvestrem tenui musam meditaris avena;
 nos patriae finis et dulcia linquimus arva.
 nos patriam fugimus; tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra
 formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas.

 O Meliboee, deus nobis haec otia fecit.
 namque erit ille mihi semper deus, illius aram
 saepe tener nostris ab ovilibus imbuet agnus.
 ille meas errare boves, ut cernis, et ipsum
 ludere quae vellem calamo permisit agresti.

 You, Tityrus, lying under the cover of the wide-spreading beech,
 meditate the woodland muse with a thin reed.
 We leave behind our country's borders and the sweet fields;
 we flee our country; you, slow in the shade,
 teach the woods to echo beautiful Amaryllis.

 O Melibee, a god made us this leisure.
 For he will always be a god to me, his altar
 often a tender lamb from the flock will stain.
 He has allowed my cattle to wander, as you see, and me
 to play what I desire on a rustic reed. (7)

This is followed by an eight-line speech by Meliboeus, a seven-line speech by Tityrus, and then a single-line question interjected by Meliboeus--"Et quae tanta fuit Romam tibi causa vivendi" (26). Baptista Mantuanus, who provides source material for several eclogues, writes Latin hexameters comparable to those of Virgil. Clement Marot, the chief source for both "November" and "December" writes in many stanza forms, but his bucolics are chiefly in couplets. It is clear that in writing in couplets, however metrically "rough," Spenser was broadly coming much closer to the forms of the poets he was closely imitating and translating into English, who wrote stichic poetry that is grouped in irregular verse paragraphs, not stanzas. (8)

And he does indeed take advantage of the opportunities the form provides. Take the opening of "Maye," which I have divided spatially according to its syntactic groups:
 Is not thilke the mery monthe of May,
 When love lads masken in fresh aray?

 How falles it then, we no merrier bene,
 Ylike as others, girt in gawdy greene?

 Our bloncket liveryes bene all to sadde,
 For thilke same season, when all is ycladd
 With pleasaunce:

 the grownd with grasse, the Wods
 With greene leaves, the bushes with bloosming Buds.

 Yougthes folke now flocken in every where,
 To gather may buskets and smelling brere:

 And home they hasten the postes to dight,
 And all the Kirke pillours eare day light,
 With Hawthorne buds, and swete Eglantine,
 And girlonds or roses and Sopps in wine.

 Such merimake holy Saints doth queme,
 But we here sytten as drownd in a dreme. (1-16)

The reply to this varied and unpredictably unfolding speech is potently curt:
 For Younkers Palinode such follies fitte,
 But we tway bene men of elder witt. (17-18)

To this Palinode replies with more groups of three superimposed on the basic two-step of the couplet, along with more audacious groupings of half-lines:
 Sicker this morrowe, ne lenger agoe,
 I sawe a shole of shepeheardes outgoe,
 With singing, and shouting, and jolly chere:

 Before them yode a lusty Tabrere,
 That to the many a Home pype playd,
 Whereto they dauncen eche one with his mayd.

 To see those folkes make such jouysaunce,
 Made my heart after the pype to daunce.

 Tho to the greene Wood they speeden hem all,
 To fetchen home May with their musicall:
 And home they bringen in a royall throne,
 Crowned as king:

 and his Queene attone
 Was Lady Flora, on whom did attend
 A fayre flocke of Faeries, and a fresh bend
 Of lovely Nymphs.

 (O that I were there,
 To helpen the Ladyes their Maybush beare)

 Ah Piers, bene not thy teeth on edge, to thinke,
 How great sport they gaynen with little swinck? (19-36)

In Piers's speech following and reproving Palinode, stricter groups of two and four lines create a structural contrast:
 Perdie so farre am I from envie,
 That their fondnesse inly I pitie.

 Those faytours little regarden their charge,
 While they letting their sheepe runne at large,
 Passen their time, that should be sparely spent,
 In lustihede and wanton meryment.
 Thilke same bene shepeheards for the Devils stedde,
 That playen, while their flockes be unfedde.

 Well it is seene, theyr sheepe bene not their owne,
 That letten them runne at randon alone.

 But they bene hyred for little pay
 Of other, that caren as little as they,
 What fallen the flocke, so they han the fleece,
 And get all the gayne, paying but a peece.

 I muse, what account both these will make,
 The one for the hire, which he doth take,
 And thither for leaving his Lords taske,
 When great Pan account of shepeheardes shall aske. (37-54)

Even while creating this broad structural contrast with Palinode's speech by using groups of two and four, Piers's speech is still more interesting, within those groups, than the average Calender stanza. Take for example the second group from the last, which attaches an asymmetrical couplet with a strong, early caesura in the second line, to a couplet strongly divided in four equal rhythmic units, a division which is amplified by alliteration.

Later in the eclogue, however, Piers also has a speech which approaches those of Palinode in its expansiveness. At one point we find one of the longer recognizable periods in the book, with a sentence (although sentence and period do not always align) that stretches thirteen lines. It begins with a grouping of three that is in fact an interpolated triplet:
 But tract of time, and long prosperitie:
 That nource of vice, this of insolencie,
 Lulled the shepheards in such securitie,
 That not content with loyall obeysaunce,
 Some gan to gape for greedie governaunce,
 And match them selfe with mighty potentates,
 Lovers of Lordship and troublers of states:
 Tho gan shepheardes swaines to looke a loft,
 And leave to live hard, and learne to ligge soft:
 Tho under color of shepeheards, somewhile
 There crept in Wolves, ful of fraude and guile,
 That often devoured their owne sheepe,
 And often the shepheards, that did hem keepe.

 This was the first sourse of shepheards sorowe,
 That now nill be quitt with baile, nor borrowe. (117-31)

To my ear, this gathers more momentum than any of the speeches in the stanzaic poems, including Colin's memory of Tityrus in "June," and the inset lyrics. So perhaps in addition to presaging in its sentiments his "reforming times," it caught Milton's ear as well when he quoted it in the Animadversions ... against Smectymnuus. (9)

In "September," Diggon Davie whose speeches are for many reasons the most interesting in the book, also begins his first speech of any length with an interpolated triplet:
 My sheepe bene wasted, (wae is me therefore)
 The jolly shepeheard that was of yore,
 Is nowe nor jollye, nor shepehearde more.

 In forrein costes, men sayd, was plentye:
 And so there is, but all of miserye.

 I dempt there much to have eeked my store,
 But such eeking hath made my hart sore.

 In tho countryes, whereas I have bene,
 No being for those, that truly mene,
 But for such, as of guile maken gayne,
 No such countrye, as there to remaine.

 They setten to sale their shops of shame
 And maken a Mart of theyr good name.
 The shepheards there robben one another,
 And layen baytes to beguile her brother.
 Or they will buy his sheepe out of the cote,
 Or they will carven the shepheards throte.

 The shepheards swayne you cannot wel ken,
 But it be by his pryde, from other men:

 They looken bigge as Bulls, that bene bate,
 And bearen the cragge so stifle and so state,
 As cocke on his dunghill, crowing cranck. (25-46)

In addition to the irregular groups, this speech actually ends on the first line of a couplet, which gets picked up by Hobbinol in the next speech and incorporated into what becomes a cross-couplet group of two, followed by another group of three that allows the contrary rhythm to resolve in the next group of four:
 Diggon I am so stiffe, and so stanck,
 That uneth may I stand any more:

 And nowe the Westerne wind bloweth sore,
 That nowe is in his chiefe sovereigntee,
 Beating the withered leafe from the tree.

 Sitte we downe here under the hill:
 Tho may we talke, and tellen our fill,
 And make a mocke at the blustring blast.
 Now say on Diggon, what ever thou hast. (47-55)

Diggon's speeches about his travels are fascinating, but the most interesting part of the poem in terms of the exploitation of structures of three and two is the wolf story. Here is the first segment, with line groups noted by spacing:
 Thilk same shepheard mought I well marke:
 He has a Dogge to byte or to barke,
 Never had shepheard so kene a kurre,
 That waketh, and if but a leafe sturre.

 Whilome there wonned a wicked Wolfe,
 That with many a Lambe had glutted his gulfe.

 And ever at night wont to repayre
 Unto the flocke, when the Welkin shone faire,
 Ycladde in clothing of seely sheepe,
 When the good old man used to sleepe.

 Tho at midnight he would barke and ball,
 (For he had eft learned a curres call.)
 As if a Woolfe were emong the sheepe.

 With that the shepheard would breake his sleepe,
 And send out Lowder (for so his dog hote)
 To raunge the fields with wide open throte.

 Tho when as Lowder was farre awaye,
 This Wolvish sheepe would catchen his prey,
 A Lambe, or a Kidde, or a weanell wast:

 With that to the wood would he speede him fast.

 Long time he used this slippery pranck,
 Ere Roffy could for his laboure him thanck.

 At end the shepheard his practise spyed,
 (For Roffy is wise, and as Argus eyed)
 And when at even he came to the flocke,
 Fast in theyr folds he did them locke,
 And tooke out the Wolfe in his counterfect cote,
 And let out the sheepes bloud at his throte. (180-207)

The second segment is just as interesting:
 Mischiefe light on him, and Gods great curse,
 Too good for him had bene a great deal worse:

 For it was a perilous beast above all,
 And eke had he cond the shepherds call.

 And oft in the night came to the shepecote,
 And called Lowder, with a hollow throte,
 As if it the old man selfe had bene.

 The dog his maisters voice did it weene,
 Yet halfe in doubt, he opened the dore,
 And ranne out, as he was wont of yore.

 No sooner was out, but swifter then thought,
 Fast by the hyde the Wolfe lowder caught:

 And had not Roffy renne to steven,
 Lowder had be slaine thilke same even. (212-25)

Diggon' s predilection for starting sentences with and can make it difficult to settle on line groups. The four couplets that I have separated off at the top and bottom of the speech could also be two groups of four lines each. And the "And oft in the night" of the first group of three has affinities with the "And eke had he cond" in the line above, which sits somewhat uncomfortably with the line above it, despite the comma and the fact that they are in the same sentence. The very difficulty in deciding on groups could be considered a sign of concatenation, that there are both groups that cut against the grain of the couplet and further connections between those groups, implying instability and flux at a higher level.

Another two stanzas from The Faerie Queene will serve to demonstrate how these features of "Maye" and "September" are incorporated into Spenser's use of stanzas. This is Despair at the beginning of his six-stanza speech to the Red Cross Knight:
 Is not his deed, what ever thing is donne,
 In heaven and earth?
 did not he all create

 To die againe?
 all ends that was begonne.

 Their times in his eternall booke of fate
 Are written sure, and have their certaine date.

 Who then can strive with strong necessitie,
 That holds the world in his still chaunging state,
 Or shunne the death ordaynd by destinie?

 When houre of death is come, let none aske whence, nor why.

 The lenger life, I wote the greater sin,
 The greater sin, the greater punishment:

 All those great battels, which thou boasts to win,
 Through strife, and bloud-shed, and auengement,
 Now praysd, hereafter deare thou shalt repent:

 For life must life, and bloud must bloud repay.

 Is not enough thy evill life forespent?

 For he, that once hath missed the right way,
 The further he doth goe, the further he doth stray. (1.9.42-43)

In the first stanza we see some of the enjambed structures that appear in Palinode's speech; in the two stanzas we see grouping of three and two and three against two (e.g., "All those" above). And of course there is constant variety. Just as important, and more difficult to demonstrate, is the sense that stanzas are never constructed in isolation, that these irregular patterns are not simply irregular for irregularity's sake but rather are responding to one another and thus building up ever larger, more complex patterns on top of those in specific stanzas. William Empson described this sense of the stanza, that it "may be broken up into a variety of metrical forms, and the ways in which it is successively broken up are fitted into enormous patterns," the sense that "every use of the stanza includes all these uses in the reader's apprehension of it" (33-34).

I have suggested that the prosodic connection between The Shepheardes Calender and The Faerie Queene is more visible in those poems that least resemble the epic, and that, in this respect, the development from The Shepheardes Calender to The Faerie Queene ought to be considered a synthesis, rather than a selection. I believe I have shown this to be the case: the poems in couplets display a poet becoming aware of the possibilities available in continuous variation and contrary motion (superimposition of groups of three and two) of structural elements, and of ways to build these into larger forms, particularly larger periods of speech. In the Calender, Spenser apparently needed the parameters of the larger stanza removed in order to write this way. By the time he was writing The Faerie Queene, he had learned to do both at the same time.

In my earlier discussion of the eight-line "June" and "November" stanza, I did not focus on groups of lines, since I was trying to discover why the poems seemed to move so differently from, and with so much less interest than the stanzas of The Faerie Queene. What I singled out as a moment of exceptional interest, when two consecutive stanzas say the same thing but vary the number of lines given to sweet memory versus mature reproof, is of course an effect of line-grouping. Outside of these stanzas, "June" is not without variation in groupings of lines (the patterns are usually symmetrical), but the poems are without the sense, as in the contrasting speech patterns of Palinode and Piers, that these patterns might have something to do with the speakers or with what is being said; "November" avoids uneven groupings of lines almost completely. While the stanza of "June" and "November" does have some of the indeterminate attributes of that larger stanza (that is, groupings of three and five, aba bbcbc, or three, two, and three, aba bb cbc, fall as comfortably in the stanza as groupings of four, abab bcbc, and two, ab ab bc bc), here, the result seems just indeterminate--no one seems to be at the helm.

Having traveled, then, to opposite ends of the spectrum of forms in The Shepheardes Calender, it remains to speak of the intermediate forms, among which there are various brief glimpses of what Spenser would later be able to do. First, on the subject of enjambment, one poem, the "August" sestina, towers over all of the others. A small sample will show the intensity of what Perigot afterwards praises as "ech turning of thy verse" (199):
 Let stremes of teares supply the place of sleepe:
 Let all that sweete is, voyd: and all that may augment
 My doole, drawe neare. More meete to wayle my woe,
 Bene the wild woddes my sorrowes to resound,
 Then bedde, or bowre, both which I fill with cryes,
 When I them see so waist, and fynd no part

 Of pleasure past. Here will I dwell apart
 In gastfull groue therefore, till my last sleepe
 Doe close mine eyes: (163-71)

In other corners of the Calender one finds other aspects of the verse construction loosened in a variety of ways. The most interesting of these loosenings is visible in Spenser's various approaches to the six-line stanza, used in five poems, and in four different configurations. These include three different rhyme schemes--ababcc, abbaba, and aabccb--and both accentual-syllabic and accentual meters. "Januarye" and "December," the twin complaints of Colin Clout for Rosalind, both use ababcc, and "October," the debate on the current state of poetry, uses abbaba; the dialogue of "August," as distinct from the singing contest and the sestina, uses the rhyme scheme of the complaints, but it uses accentual verse and also breaks up the stanza variously between speakers. "March" divides the aabccb scheme among speakers and uses accentual verse as well.

The stanzas of "Januarye" and "December" move much like those of "November" and "June." This is certainly true with respect to caesuras, which are centered mid-line, and to enjambed lines, which are mostly absent. The only exception worth noting is the penultimate stanza of "Januarye," the dramatic moment which provides the book's central conflict:
 Wherefore my pype, albee rude Pan thou please,
 Yet for thou pleasest not, where most I would:
 And thou unlucky Muse, that wontst to ease
 My musing mynd, yet canst not, when thou should:
 Both pype and Muse, shall sore the while abye.
 So broke his oaten pype, and downe did lye. (67-72)

Colin, stretched to and past the breaking point, is allowed a bit of an enjambment--"that wonst to ease / My musing mynd"--and that line continues with an exceptional double caesura. The last lines of the poem contain another two enjambed lines and a caesura after the second syllable:
 By that, the welked Phoebus gan availe,
 His weary waine, and nowe the frosty Night
 Her mantle black through heaven gan overhaile.
 Which seene, the pensife boy halfe in despight
 Arose, and homeward drove his sonned sheepe
 Whose hanging heads did seeme his carefull case to weepe. (72-78)

But the vast majority of lines in both poems completely avoids these kinds of minor disruptions.

The ababcc rhyme scheme here has an obvious affinity for the kind of ending cadence that I suggested was one of the factors isolating the eight-line stanzas from each other. In fact, almost all of the stanzas in "Januarye" and "December" treat the final couplet as a separate grammatical unit, usually a single two-clause, two-line sentence. The stanza above is one of the sole exceptions. "December" contains only this:
 How often have I scaled the craggie Oke,
 All to disloge the Raven of her neste:
 Howe have I wearied with many a stroke
 The stately Walnut tree, the while the rest
 Under the tree fell all for nuts at strife:
 For ylike to me was libertee and lyfe. (31-36)

While the last stanza of "Januarye" has the air of a flourish, or an attempt at one, this stanza in "December" almost seems an accidental variation: that there is no discernable reason why this stanza, and not any of the other 26, would break up the final couplet, indicates that Spenser simply didn't feel the need to vary it.

Although Michael Drayton eliminates what he apparently also viewed as metrical "roughness" from his imitation of the Calender, it is interesting to see how much more flexible he is with respect to enjambment, accentual inversion, caesura, and, when writing in this stanza and rhyme scheme, the integrity of the final couplet. Here is a stanza taken from mid-stream, and one from the comparable dramatic climax near the end of the eclogue:
 Oh thou strong builder of the firmament,
 Who placedst Phoebus in his fierie Carre,
 And by thy mighty Godhead didst invent,
 The planets mansions that they should not jarre,
 Ordeyning Phebe, mistresse of the night,
 From Tytans flame to steale her forked light. (1.31-36)

 My sorowes waxe, my joyes are in the wayning,
 My hope decayes, and my despayre is springing,
 My love hath losse, and my disgrace hath gayning,
 Wrong rules, desert with teares her hands sits wringing:
 Sorrow, despayre, disgrace, and wrong, doe thwart
 My Joy, my love, my hope, and my desert. (55-60)

Matters improve as we move away from the prominent beginning and ending poems of the Calender to "October" and "August." In "October," an asymmetrical rhyme scheme (abbaba) and one of the more spirited debates between shepherds seem to have propelled Spenser to try out different and more vigorous methods of stanza concatenation. We find, for example, an instance of a nearly shared rhyme sound between two different stanzas and speakers.
 Soone as thou gynst to sette thy notes in frame,
 O how the rurall routes to thee doe cleave:
 Seemeth thou dost their soul of sence bereave,
 All as the shepheard, that did fetch his dame
 From Plutoes balefull bowre withouten leave:
 His musicks might the hellish hound did tame.

 So praysen babes the Peacoks spotted traine,
 And wondren at bright Argus blazing eye:
 But who rewards him ere the more for thy?
 Or feedes him once the fuller by a graine?
 Sike prayse is smoke, that sheddeth in the skye,
 Sike words bene wynd, and wasten soone in vayne. (25-36)

The effect is made more interesting by the fact that while Cuddie picks up the sound of "tame" in "traine," he is responding much more to the sense of the first few lines of the stanza, which describe his popularity, how the "rurall routes" "cleave" to him, rather than the lines that describe Orpheus. So the stanzas are concatenated at two different points through sound and sense.

Cuddie's verb "praysen" can also be followed back farther to where it is alliteratively substituted for "price," which is involved in a shared rhyme between the previous two stanzas, as well as being a focal point of debate:
 The dapper ditties, that I wont devise,
 To feede youthes fancie, and the flocking fry,
 Delighten much: what I the bett for thy?
 They ban the pleasure, I a sclender prise.
 I beate the bush, the byrds to them doe flye:
 What good thereof to Cuddie can arise?

 Cuddie, the prayse is better, then the price,
 The glory eke much greater than the gayne:
 O what an honor is it, to restraine
 The lust of lawlesse youth with good advice:
 Or pricke them forth with pleasaunce of thy vaine,
 Whereto thou list their trayned willes entice. (13-24)

A less subtle struggle takes place over which adjective to assign to the word "love"--Piers calls it "lofty love" (96), while Cuddie insists on "lordly love" (98) in the next stanza.

The asymmetry of the rhyme scheme of the stanza also allows Spenser to avoid the monotony of the couplets at the ends of the "January" and "December" stanzas, and generally to produce a variety of stanza configurations. However, the contemplations of epic and tragedy, where Spenser seems to try to generate larger periods, don't succeed in generating much, and the stanzas seem helplessly isolated from one another. At any rate, Spenser seems to experiment with possibilities for concatenation and various relationships of sound and sense much more actively here than he does elsewhere. In "August," the monotony of the ending-couplet gets broken up by actually breaking it off the stanza and assigning it to another speaker. The effect, along with the metrical loosening gained by moving into an accentual meter, is fairly refreshing:
 Tell me Perigot, what shalbe the game,
 Wherefore with myne thou dare thy musick matche?
 Or bene thy Bagpypes renne farre out of frame?
 Or hath the Crampe thy joynts benomd with ache?

 Ah Willye, when the hart is ill assayde,
 How can Bagpipe, or joynts be well apayd?

 What the foule evill hath thee so bestadde?
 Whilom thou was peregall to the best,
 And wont to make the jolly shepeheards gladde
 With pyping and dauncing, didst passe the rest.

 Ah Willye now I have learnd a newe daunce:
 My old musick mard by a newe mischaunce. (1-12)

Unfortunately, he repeats this pattern twice more immediately afterward, by which time the effect is dulled. In the manner of the concatenation of "October," Perigot picks up the word "daunce" (11) from the previous speech, and does the same with "love" in the next set. The effects made possible by the accentual meter are more notable, especially in Perigot's heated response to Colin's sestina:
 O Colin, Colin, the shepheards joye,
 How I admire ech turning of thy verse:
 And Cuddie, fresh Cuddie the liefest boye,
 How dolefully his doole thou didst rehearse. (190-93)

If we cannot share his sentiments, we can at least appreciate the variation of rhythm in his lines.

"March," while technically written in a six-line stanza, is shortened by one beat every three lines, which gives it a ballad-like propulsion; it is more akin to "Julye," written in accentual abab stanzas alternating four and three beats. Both these poems run along just fine, but they don't seem particularly comparable either to the larger stanzas or to the Faerie Queene stanza. "Aprill" contains a brief section of abab stanzas, which are notable for the frequency of holdovers in rhyme, creating, in effect, ababbcbc stanzas both within speeches and, in one case, across separate speeches:
 Shepheards delights he dooth them all forsweare,
 Hys pleasaunt Pipe, whych made us meriment,
 He wylfully hath broke, and doth forbeare
 His wonted songs, wherein he all outwent.

 What is he for a Ladde, you so lament?
 Ys love such pinching payne to them, that prove?
 And hath he skill to make so excellent,
 Yet hath so little skill to brydle love? (13-20)

These are, as I said, no more than flashes. Spenser seems to have needed to get out of the stanza completely, or almost completely, in order to work effectively with structures that are not stanzas. I must also take issue with the praise that The Shepheardes Calender frequently gets for its formal variety, the sheer number of stanzas (fourteen by most counts). The impression one gets moving between the various stanza forms is much more one of consistency--doubtless a consistency that Spenser and his friends viewed as a virtue. It is on the opposite ends of the spectrum that the formal interest such variety promises is made manifest.

Works Cited

Addison, Catherine. "Little Boxes: The Effects of the Stanza on Poetic Narrative." Style 37 (2003): 124-43.

Berger, Harry, Jr. Revisionary Play: Studies in the Spenserian Dynamics. Berkeley: U of California P, 1988.

Blissett, William. "Stanza, Spenserian." The Spenser Encyclopedia. Ed. A. C. Hamilton. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1990. 673-75.

Brogan, T. V. F. "Blank Verse." The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Ed. Alex Preminger and Brogan. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993. 1212.

Drayton, Michael. The Works of Michael Drayton. Ed. J. William Hebel. Vol. 1. Oxford: Blackwell, 1931.

Empson, William. Seven Types of Ambiguity. 1930. Rev. ed. New York: New Directions, 1947.

Gascoigne, George. The Posies of George Gascoigne, Esquire. London: Richard Smith, 1575. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1907.

Haublein, Ernst. The Stanza. The Critical Idiom 38. London: Methuen, 1978.

Milton, John. The Complete Poetry of John Milton. Ed. John T. Shawcross. New York: Doubleday, 1971.

Milton, John. Complete Prose Works. Ed. Don M. Wolfe et. al. New Haven: Yale UP, 1953-82. 722.

Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queen. Ed. Thomas P. Roche, Jr. London: Penguin, 1978.

Spenser, Edmund. The Shorter Poems. Ed. Richard A. McCabe. London: Penguin, 1999.

Virgil. Opera. Scriptorum Clasicorum Bibliotheca Oxoniensis. Ed. R. A. B. Mynors. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1969.

Woods, Susanne. "Versification." The Spenser Encyclopedia. Ed. A. C. Hamilton. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1990. 710-13.

Paul J. Hecht

Purdue University, North Central


(1) For the most recent discussion of its merits, and more generally of the difficulties facing epic poets who chose to write in stanzas, see Addison.

(2) All quotations from The Shepherds Garland are from Hebel's edition. I have retained original spelling, except for v/u, i/j.

(3) All quotations from The Shepheardes Calender from McCabe's edition. I have retained original spelling, except for v/u, i/j. All quotations from The Faerie Queen from Roche's edition.

(4) For Drayton, the system seems more strict--perhaps because it had only recently gelled as such.

(5) If one argues that Spenser's writing in the Calender moves with less energy and breadth than it does in The Faerie Queene because it is pastoral, not epic, we are here at least using the upper end of pastoral for comparison. And of course, The Faerie Queene is not without pastoral episodes; I return to one of these below. Haublin notes "the danger of extreme stasis and monotony" in what he calls "exchangeable" stanzas (90).

(7) Translations are my own, unless otherwise noted.

(8) It is not clear to me what the effect of calling these verses "rough" is, or whether it might have an impact on how critics see the poems more broadly (Berger, for example, suggests that the speakers of the ecclesiastical eclogues are not poets at all [313]). When Woods calls the verse "rough-hewn" (711), I can certainly understand what she means (in another part of the Encyclopedia, Blissett calls them, somewhat more positively, "rough, vigorous couplets" [672]). But it seems just as important to notice that Spenser's poems in stanzas are "smooth" in a way that his classical and continental models are not.

(9) The passage is quoted in the Variorum commentary on the Calender: "Let the novice first learn to renounce the world, and so give himselfe to God, and not therefore give humselfe to God, that hee may close the better with the World, like that false Shepherd Palinode in the Eclogue of May, under whom the Poet lively personates our Prelates, whose whole life is a recantation of their pastorall vow, and whose profession to forsake the World, as they use the matter, boggs them deeper into the world: Those our admired Spenser inveighs against, not without some presage of these reforming times" (Milton Prose vol. 1,722). Milton then quotes lines 103-31.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Northern Illinois University
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Edmund Spenser
Author:Hecht, Paul J.
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Sep 22, 2005
Previous Article:Shakespeare's "still-vexed" Tempest.
Next Article:The poetics of interruption in Mark Twain's Roughing It.

Related Articles
Edmund Spenser: the boyhood of a poet.
Worldmaking Spenser: Explorations in the Early Modern Age.
Allegory and Epic in English Renaissance Literature: Heroic Form in Sidney, Spenser, and Milton and Edmund Spenser: Essays on Culture and Allegory....
Edmund Spenser: A Reception History and Jonson's Spenser: Evidence and Historical Criticism.
"The death of the 'new Poete': Virgilian ruin and Ciceronian recollection in Spenser's The Shepheardes Calender". *.
Andrew Hadfield, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Spenser.
Jon A. Quitslund. Spenser's Supreme Fiction: Platonic Natural Philosophy and the Faerie Queene.
Edmund Spencer; new and renewed directions.
Edmund Spenser: New and Renewed Directions.
Spenser studies; a Renaissance poetry annual; v.25.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |