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.
 
The Bower of Bliss
By Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599)
 
From “The Faerie Queene,” Book II. Canto XII

THENCE 1 passing forth, they shortly doe arryve
Whereas the Bowre of Blisse was situate;
A place pickt out by choyce of best alyve,
That natures worke by art can imitate:
In which whatever in this worldly state        5
Is sweete and pleasing unto living sense,
Or that may dayntest fantasy aggrate, 2
Was pourèd forth with plentifull dispence,
And made there to abound with lavish affluence.
 
  Goodly it was enclosèd rownd about,        10
As well their entred guestes to keep within,
As those unruly beasts to hold without;
Yet was the fence thereof but weake and thin:
Nought feard theyr force that fortilage to win,
But wisedomes powre, and temperaunces might,        15
By which the mightiest things efforced bin:
And eke the gate 3 was wrought of substaunce light,
Rather for pleasure then for battery or fight.
 
  Yt framèd was of precious yvory,
That seemd a worke of admirable witt;        20
And therein all the famous history
Of Jason and Medæa was ywrttt;
Her mighty charmes, her furious loving fitt;
His goodly conquest of the golden fleece,
His falsèd fayth, and love too lightly flitt;        25
The wondred Argo, which in venturous peece
First through the Euxine seas bore all the flowr of Greece.
 
  Eftsoones they heard a most melodious sound,
Of all that mote delight a daintie eare,
Such as attonce might not on living ground,        30
Save in this Paradise, be heard elsewhere:
Right hard it was for wight which did it heare,
To read what manner musicke that mote bee;
For all that pleasing is to living eare
Was there consorted in one harmonee;        35
Birdes, voices, instruments, windes, waters, all agree:
 
  The joyous birdes, shrouded in chearefull shade
Their notes unto the voice attempred sweet;
Th’ Angelicall soft trembling voyces made
To th’ instruments divine respondence meet;        40
The silver sounding instruments did meet
With the base murmure of the waters fall;
The waters fall with difference discreet,
Now soft, now loud, unto the wind did call;
The gentle warbling wind low answerèd to all.        45
 
  There, whence that Musick seemèd heard to bee,
Was the faire Witch her selfe now solacing
With a new Lover, whom, through sorceree
And witchcraft, she from farre did thither bring:
There she had him now laid aslombering        50
In secret shade after long wanton joyes;
Whilst round about them pleasauntly did sing
Many faire Ladies and lascivious boyes,
That ever mixt their song with light licentious toyes.
 
  The whiles some one did chaunt this lovely lay:        55
Ah! see, whoso fayre thing doest faine to see,
In springing flowre the image of thy day.
Ah! see the Virgin Rose, how sweetly shee
Doth first peepe foorth with bashfull modestee,
That fairer seemes the lesse ye see her may.        60
Lo! see soone after how more bold and free
Her barèd bosome she doth broad display;
Lo! see soone after how she fades and falls away.
 
  So passeth, in the passing of a day,
Of mortall life the leafe, the bud, the flowre;        65
Ne more doth florish after first decay,
That earst was sought to deck both bed and bowre
Of many a lady, and many a Paramowre.
Gather therefore the Rose 4 whitest yet is prime,
For soone comes age that will her pride deflowre;        70
Gather the Rose of Love whilest yet is time,
Whilest loving thou mayst loved be with equal crime. 5
 
  He ceast; and then gan all the quire of birdes
Their diverse notes t’ attune unto his lay,
As in approvaunce of his pleasing wordes,        75
The constant payre heard all that he did say,
Yet swarved not, but kept their forward way
Through many covert groves and thickets close,
In which they creeping did at last display
That wanton Lady with her Lover lose,        80
Whose sleepee head she in her lap did soft dispose.
 
Note 1. From the Faerie Queene, Bk. II. canto xii. stan. 42. This well-known selection of Spenser’s gorgeous allegory never diminishes in charm for the lovers of what is most beautiful in imagery and music in English poetry. [back]
Note 2. Or that may dayntest fancy aggrate: In the later editions daynest has been unwarrantably changed to daintiest. [back]
Note 3. And eke the gate: If the reader will take the trouble, or pleasure, to compare this description which Tasso has given of the palace of Armida, he will see how, in many particulars, our poet borrows, and how he varies. The gates (says the Italian poet) were of silver, in which were wrought the stories of Hercules and Iole, of Anthony and Cleopatra. Spenser describes the expedition of Jason, and his amours with Medea. (Upton.) Upton gives no reference to the particular part of Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata, to which he refers, presuming, perhaps, that the readers of Spenser were well acquainted with it: it may be found near the opening of Canto xvi., Per l’entrata maggior, etc. [back]
Note 4. Gather therefore the Rose: Marston, in his copy of the Faery Queene, edit. 1590, has especially marked the excessive beauty of this portion of the poem, and opposite the words Gather therefore the Rose, he wrote in the margin, Collige virgo rosas, etc. (Collier.) [back]
Note 5. Whilst loving thou mayst loved be with equal crime: Compare Fairfax’s translation of the Gerusalemme Liberata, Bk. xvi. stan. 14, 15; and his obligations to Spenser, see the Preface to Coleridge’s Seven Lectures on Shakespeare and Milton, p. xxxiv. (Collier.) [back]
 
 
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