Edmund Spenser: A Critical Study

By Charles M. Gayley; H. K. Schilling et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V

THE FAERIE QUEENE. BOOKS IV-VI

Through the adventures of the Don Quixote of English poets as through the career of a nation, of an age, of the universe there runs a rhythm now faint, now exultant. We have found this rhythm because we have put aside the narrow conceptions of gentle Spenser, Spenser the querulous, Spenser the flattering opportunist, Spenser at heart a hedonist, on the surface an allegorist. We have found that we must consider not only the serenity, the utopianism, the court-worship, the sensuousness of our poet, but also his independence, critical acumen, nationalism, spacious moral consciousness. It was willed that his last singing moments were to be in a rhythm comparable to the triumphant accents of the last moment of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. But before the victorious hymns there came a period of profound depression, a complete unfaith to make firm and indestructible his ultimate faith.

As we approach the period of his deepest distress we must recall the long paths, the hills and the valleys of that part of his life which we now know. We must recall the youthful pastoral poem, drawing from a hundred diverse sources but strikingly original in technique and substance, full of varied metrical inventions, tentative but most ingenious in scheme, vivacious with homely fable and with something very close to popular song, afire in defense of trusted masters, Grindal, Young, bold if Parthian in its criticism of university, church, and queen, hymnlike in its hopes for poetry, for England, for Leicester, for the queen in her worthiest moments. More and more daring grew the poet, more and more uncompromisingly loyal in his hero-worship. At the moment of his highest hopes for England, his keenest interest in the great drama about him, and his legitimate desires to play an active and a noble part he

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