Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Elizabethan Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Elizabethan Verse.  1907.
 
Prothalamion
By Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599)
 
CALME 1 was the day, and through the trembling ayre
Sweet-breathing Zephyrus did softly play
A gentle spirit, that lightly did delay 2
Hot Titan’s beames, which then did glyster fayre;
When I, (whom sullein care,        5
Through discontent of my long fruitlesse stay
In Princes’ Court, and expectation vayne
Of idle hopes, which still do fly away
Like empty shaddowes, did afflict my brayne)
Walked forth to ease my payne        10
Along the shoare of silver-streaming Themmes;
Whose rutty Bancke, 3 the which his River hemmes,
Was paynted all with variable flowers,
And all the meades adornd with daintie gemmes,
Fit to decke maydens bowres,        15
And crowne their Paramours
Against the Brydale day, which is not long: 4
  Sweete Themmes! runne softly, till I end my Song.
 
There, in a Meadow, by the Rivers side,
A Flocke of Nymphs I chauncèd to espy,        20
All lovely Daughters of the Flood thereby,
With goodly greenish locks, all loose untyde, 5
As each had bene a Bryde;
And each one had a little wicker basket,
Made of fine twigs, entraylèd curiously,        25
In which they gathered flowers to fill their flasket,
And with fine Fingers cropt full feateously
The tender stalkes on hye.
Of every sort, which in that Meadow grew,
They gathered some; the Violet, pallid blew,        30
The little Dazie, that at evening closes,
The virgin Lillie, and the Primrose trew,
With store of vermeil Roses,
To decke their Bridegromes posies
Against the Brydale day, which was not long:        35
  Sweete Themmes! runne softly, till I end my Song.
 
With that I saw two Swannes 6 of goodly hewe
Come softly swimming downe along the Lee;
Two fairer Birds I yet did never see;
The snow, which doth the top of Pindus strew        40
Did never whiter shew,
Nor Jove himselfe, when he a Swan would be,
For love of Leda, whiter did appeare;
Yet Leda was (they say) as white as he,
Yet not so white as these, nor nothing neare;        45
So purely white they were
That even the gentle streame, the which them bare,
Seem’d foule to them, and bad his billowes spare
To wet their silken feathers, lest they might
Soyle their fayre plumes with water not so fayre,        50
And marre their beauties bright,
That shone as Heaven’s light,
Against their Brydale day, which was not long:
  Sweete Themmes! runne softly, till I end my Song.
 
Eftsoons the Nymphes, which now had Flowers their fill,        55
Ran all in haste to see that silver brood
As they came floating on the Christal Flood;
Whom when they sawe, they stood amazèd still,
Their wondring eyes to fill;
Them seem’d they never saw a sight so fayre,        60
Of Fowles, so lovely, that they sure did deeme
Them heavenly borne, or to be that same payre
Which through the Skie draw Venus silver Teeme;
For sure they did not seeme
To be begot of any earthly Seede,        65
But rather Angels, or of Angels breede;
Yet were they bred of Somers-heat, 7 they say,
In sweetest Season, when each Flower and weede
The earth did fresh aray;
So fresh they seem’d as day,        70
Even as their Brydale day, which was not long:
  Sweete Themmes! runne softly, till I end my Song.
 
Then forth they all out of their baskets drew
Great store of Flowers, the honour of the field,
That to the sense did fragrant odours yield,        75
All which upon those goodly Birds they threw
And all the Waves did strew,
That like old Peneus Waters they did seeme,
When downe along by pleasant Tempes shore
Scattred with Flowers, through Thessaly they streeme,        80
That they appeare, through Lillies plenteous store,
Like a Brydes Chamber-flore. 8
Two of those Nymphes, meane while, two Garlands bound
Of freshest Flowres which in that Mead they found,
The which presenting all in trim Array,        85
Their snowie Foreheads therewithal they crownd,
Whil’st one did sing this Lay
Prepar’d against that Day,
Against their Brydale day, which was not long:
  Sweet Themmes! run softly, till I end my Song.        90
 
‘Ye gentle Birdes! the worlds faire ornament,
And Heavens glorie, whom this happie hower
Doth leade unto your lovers blisfull bower,
Joy may you have, and gentle hearts content
Of your loves couplement;        95
And let faire Venus, that is Queene of Love,
With her heart-quelling Sonne upon you smile,
Whose smile, they say, hath vertue to remove
All Loves dislike, and friendships faultie guile
For ever to assoile.        100
Let endlesse Peace your steadfast hearts accord,
And blessèd Plentie wait upon your bord;
And let your bed with pleasures chast abound,
That fruitfull issue may to you afford,
Which may your foes confound,        105
And make your joyes redound
Upon your Brydale day, which is not long:
  Sweete Themmes! runne softly, till I end my Song.’
 
So ended she; and all the rest around
To her redoubled that her undersong,        110
Which said their brydale daye should not be long:
And gentle Eccho from the neighbour ground
Their accents did resound.
So forth those joyous Birdes did passe along
Adowne the Lee, that to them murmurde low,        115
As he would speake, but that he lackt a tong,
Yet did by signes his glad affection show,
Making his streame run slow.
And all the foule which in his flood did dwell
Gan flock about these twaine, that did excell        120
The rest, so far as Cynthia doth shend 9
The lesser starres. So they, enrangèd well,
Did on those two attend,
And their best service lend
Against their wedding day, which was not long:        125
  Sweete Themmes! runne softly, till I end my Song.
 
At length they all to mery London came,
To mery London, my most kindly Nurse,
That to me gave this Lifes first native sourse,
Though from another place I take my name,        130
An house of ancient fame:
There when they came, whereas those bricky towres
The which on Themmes brode agèd back do ryde,
Where now the studious Lawyers have their bowers,
There whylome wont the Templar Knights to byde,        135
Till they decayd through pride;
Next whereunto there standes a stately place,
Where oft I gaynèd gifts and goodly grace
Of that great Lord, which therein wont to dwell,
Whose want too well now feeles my friendles case;        140
But ah! here fits not well
Olde woes, but joyes, to tell
Against the Brydale day, which is not long:
  Sweete Themmes! runne softly, till I end my Song.
 
Yet therein now doth lodge a noble Peer,        145
Great Englands glory, 10 and the Worlds wide wonder,
Whose dreadfull name late through all Spaine did thunder,
And Hercules two pillars standing neere
Did make to quake and feare:
Faire branch of Honour, flower of Chevalrie!        150
That fillest England with thy triumphes fame
Joy have thou of thy noble victorie,
And endlesse happinesse of thine owne name
That promiseth the same;
That through thy prowesse, and victorious armes        155
Thy country may be freed from forraine harmes,
And great Elisaes glorious name may ring
Through al the world, fil’d with thy wide Alarmes,
Which some brave Muse may sing
To ages following:        160
Upon the Brydale day, which is not long:
  Sweete Themmes! runne softly, till I end my Song.
 
From those high Towers this noble Lord issuing,
Like Radiant Hesper, when his golden hayre
In th’ Ocean billowes he hath bathèd fayre,        165
Descended to the Rivers open viewing
With a great traine ensuing.
Above the rest were goodly to bee seene
Two gentle Knights of lovely face and feature,
Beseeming well the bower of anie Queene,        170
With gifts of wit, and ornaments of nature,
Fit for so goodly stature,
That like the twins of Jove they seem’d in sight,
Which deck the Bauldricke of the Heavens 11 bright;
They two, forth pacing to the Rivers side,        175
Received those two faire Brides, their Loves delight;
Which, at th’ appointed tyde,
Each one did make his Bryde,
Against their Brydale day, which is not long:
  Sweete Themmes! runne softly, till I end my Song.        180
 
Note 1. A Spousal verse … in honour of the double marriage of the two honourable and virtuous ladiest, the Lady Elizabeth and the Lady Katherine Somerset, daughters to the right honourable the Earl of Worcester and espoused to the two worthy gentlemen, M. Henry Gilford and M. William Peter, Esquires, 1596. The poem was privately printed for the families connected with the ceremony. It is Spenser’s latest extant poem. [back]
Note 2. That lightly did delay: temper, or mitigate, as in the Faery Queene, Bk. ii. ix. 30—But to delay the heat. Hughes, however, rejects the old word, and reads allay; to which unjustifiable alteration the modern editions also conform. Delay is repeatedly used in this sense by Spenser. (Todd.) [back]
Note 3. Whose rutty Bancke: that is, whose bank full of roots; rootie is an old English adjective. See Cotgrave’s Fr. and Eng. Dict. (Todd.) “Chapman is the only poet,” says Collier, “that we are aware of, who used the adjective rooty; and so he spelled it, and not rutty as in Spenser; he is speaking of the rooty sides of a hill. Iliad, Bk. xvii. l. 654.” [back]
Note 4. Which is not long: i.e., approaching near at hand. Cf. the Faery Queene, Bk. iv. iv. 12. (Warton.) [back]
Note 5. With goodly greenish locks, all loose untyde: “This custom appears to have been usual in this country even at the beginning of the eighteenth century, for thus Nahum Tate writes (strangely enough indeed as to the comparison), in his Injured Love, etc., a tragedy, 1707. ‘Untie your folded thoughts, and let them dangle loose as a bride’s hair.’” (Todd.) [back]
Note 6. With that I saw Swannes: See Hughes’s remark on this fiction in his Essay on Allegorical Poetry, vol. ii., p. xv. It is probable, as Warton also thinks, that Spenser, in this description, had his eye sometimes on Leland’s Cygnea Cantio. (Todd.) [back]
Note 7. Yet were they bred of Somers-heat: A punning allusion to the surname of the Ladies (Somerset) whose marriages this spousal verse celebrates. [back]
Note 8. Like a brydes chamber flore: See Epithalamium, lines 8–9. [back]
Note 9. Line 121, Doth shend: put to shame, disgrace. Cf. The Faery Queene;
  Her fawning love with foule disdainfull spight
He would not shend.
And:
  Debateful strife, and cruel enmity,
The famous name of knighthood fowly shend.
Note 10. A noble peer, Great England’s glory: Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, in August, 1596, returned to England the hero of an expedition to Spain where he had captured Cadiz by great personal bravery, and left seriously crippled the Spanish navy; Lines 120–1, That did excell … The rest, so far as Cynthia. Cf. Horace Ode I. xii. 46:
            Micat inter omnes
Julium sidus, velut inter ignes
  Luna minores.
(Todd.)    
Note 11. The Bauldricke of the Heavens: a girdle or belt, formed from the base latinity baldringum, balteus. The expression is from Manilius:
  Sed nitet ingenti stellatus balteus orbe.
(Upton.)    
Cf. The Faery Queene, V. i. 2:
  The heavens bright-shining baudricke to enchace.
 
 
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