KENNETH GROSS


Mythologies and
Metrics in Spenser

The poet of The Faerie Queene seems to have had a preternatural dislike not only of chaotic change but of stasis and sharp closure as well. His stanza organizes the continuum of language in such a way as to resist both random succession and abrupt cessation and blurs any absolute boundaries between its unfolding, interlocked, and echoing sections. As Angus Fletcher observes, the complex rhyme scheme of the stanza has the effect of marrying the archetypal structures of quest romance, the temple and the labyrinth. From a historical point of view, Spenser seems to evade two of the most typical uses of stanzaic form in English Renaissance poetry. On the one hand, his stanza is never merely a neat, closed frame for a pictorial or emblematic content, a self-sufficient order or closed knot of ambiguities like that of a paradox or an epigram. On the other, as Paul Alpers amply shows, the stanza never accommodates itself to that "internalization" of dramatic speech, with its rapid movement of voice and attitude, which so characterizes English poetry from Wyatt to Donne. Spenser in fact subordinates any such decisive movement to the steady piling up of independent images and verbal formulas, each of which is free to counterpoint and even to refigure those that come before and after it. In this reading, Spenser's master trope becomes aporia, or dubitatio, that is, the presentation within a discourse of so many alternative perspectives that any radical choice among them becomes difficult or delayed. This sovereign multiplicity of image and

____________________
From PMLA 1, vol. 98 ( January 1983). Copyright © 1983 by Modem Language Association of America.

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