The Poetry of Edmund Spenser: A Study

The Poetry of Edmund Spenser: A Study

The Poetry of Edmund Spenser: A Study

The Poetry of Edmund Spenser: A Study

Excerpt

Skepheardes Calender is one of the few English poems with "poeticall sinnewes," and Milton calls its author "our sage and serious poet." But in a verse epistle to Charles Cowden Clarke, Keats describes the reader of Spenser's poetry as

one who had by Mulla's stream
Fondled the maidens with the breasts of cream.

Between these poles critical evaluation oscillates: for some Spenser is an elfin voluptuary, for others he is a learned moralist and an eloquent, highly sophisticated artist. I have come slowly to accept the latter characterization.

The governing principle of Spenser's poems is intellectual and thematic rather than narrative, dramatic, or symbolic. The poet himself says as much in the letter to Sir Walter Ralegh which accompanied the first publication of The Faerie Queene: he begins with the statement of an abstract "general intention" and proceeds to justify the method by which that intention is expressed. This does not mean that The Faerie Queene is a philosophical discourse in verse like Lucretius' De rerum natura, for the process of the latter is logical demonstration, that of the former exposition or "fashioning," to use the poet's own word. But it does mean that Spenser's overriding concern is with the moral nature of man rather than . . .

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