Edmund Spenser: A Critical Study

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

CHAPTER VI

SPENSER'S SWAN-SONGS

It is generally an ascent beyond the reach of all but the loftiest dreamers who read poetry to toil upward with the most august singers to those soaring peaks where in their last utterances they walk still restlessly but within all-hail of peace among the stars. Yet I stoutly believe that the humblest reader, if he will but woo the muses long in thoughtful perusal and severe vigil can slowly develop that strenuous devotion to song which will give him from those supreme poets' very lips the ultimate revelation. Some of the greatest poets have indeed taken pride, half austere, half grimly humorous, in their unfathomable heights and depths. Yet when Dante says

Ye that have set out in a little skiff ...
Turn back, to see once more your native land,
Venture not out to open sea; lest haply,
Unable to follow me, ye might get lost,

it should be but a challenge to even the lowliest reader with any iron in him and it should be a challenge to the critic to be an eloquent guide to all readers as Virgil was to Dante himself. 1

____________________
1
The translation from Dante is by Professor Jefferson B. Fletcher, "A Study in Renaissance Mysticism: Spenser's 'Fowre Hymnes,' " Publ. Mod. Lang. Assoc., XXVI (1911), 3. This and the same author's The Religion of Beauty in Woman, especially the chapter on "Benivieni's Ode of Love and Spenser's 'Fowre Hymnes' " are by all odds the most learned and suggestive articles yet published on Spenser's Platonic hymns. Miss Lilian Winstanley's edition of The Fowre Hymnes (Cambridge, England, 1907) contributes most valuable information in the introduetion and notes especially in the way of citing practically all the important parallel passages in Plato, Ficino, and Bruno. Her main points are succinctly and lucidly summarized by Professor Courthope, Cambridge History of English Literature, III, chap. 12, "Spenser." The most elaborate treatise is by Dr. John Smith Harrison, Platonism in English Poetry (N. Y., 1903), a pioneer work by no means rendered negligible by the later assays already cited. See passim but especially the chapters on the "Theory of Love" and "God and the Soul." Professor Frederick Morgan Padelford, in "Spenser and the Theology of Calvin," Modern Philology (May, 1914), pp. 1-18, and in "Spenser's Fowre Hymnes," Jour. Eng.

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