Academic journal article Spenser Studies

"Send Your Angel": Augustinian Nests and Guyon's Faint

Academic journal article Spenser Studies

"Send Your Angel": Augustinian Nests and Guyon's Faint

Article excerpt

I. AS A HEN GATHERETH HER CHICKENS

AT THE END of Canto vii of Spenser's Faerie Queene Guyon suffers a death-like faint after emerging from the Cave of Mammon. Guyon's life "did flit away out of her nest" (II.vii.66.8),1 and in the opening stanzas of the following canto, the Palmer finds a beautiful winged angel sitting protectively by the fallen knight, who assures him that "life ere long shall to her home retire" (II.viii.7.8). Guyon's life, then, leaves a "nest" in Canto vii but will return to a "home" in Canto viii. This promise is made by a winged "faire young man" (II.viii.5.1), whose beauty is compared to that of the divine Cupid. After handing on "the charge of [Guyon's] deare safety" (II.viii.8.1-2) to the Palmer, this angel displays "[h]is painted nimble wings, and vanisht quite away" (II.viii.8.9). The Palmer tremblingly tests Guyon's pulse, "Where finding life not yet dislodged quight, / He much reioyst, and courd it tenderly, / As chicken newly hatcht, from dreaded destiny" (II.viii.9.7-9).

Spenser's imagery of nests and chickens draws on a set of biblical sources and associations in Christian writing that would resonate with a readership used to hearing the Bible read and to the exegesis of biblical passages in preaching. This is the familiar imagery of God's care and spiritual protection for both the individual and the church. Less familiar is Spenser's association of a descending angel, through the Palmer, with the tendering of the maternal care by a biblical mother hen. But for this association a precedent does exist: that of a prayer in Augustine's Confessions. The effect of reading this episode in the light of this Augustinian prayer is to make its concerns both strongly ecclesiastical, and focussed, as Augustine so often was, on how to read the Scriptures. An Augustinian Guyon is, I will argue, at this point in his journey, a parvulus, a "little one" in the faith. Augustine accords such little ones a particular dispensation if they stray away from the faith through misreading and misinterpreting scriptural messages. Indeed, Augustine saw himself as such a parvulus, one who went astray by reading the nature of the world in terms of classical philosophy and the Manichean heresy.

In the Confessions Augustine recounts his discovery that to read the world with (essentially) Pauline faith and hope is to see it spiritually, and not carnally. This spiritual orientation runs counter to the underlying premise of classical philosophy (based as it is, according to Augustine, in the temporal world) that virtue is the highest good. In an Augustinian light the precepts and premises of classical philosophy introduced in the early parts of Book II of The Faerie Queene are out of tune with the Christian principles established in Book I. Like the church when it has gone astray, Guyon must be called back to faith and admonished as well as protected. Spensers reminder is also directed to the reader of his allegory who, as Guyon is regaining his proper spiritual orientation, receives the poet's homiletic address on the nature of divine grace.

While my discussion here draws primarily on Augustine, he is merely one conduit for a set of ideas and images important in Reformation exegesis and preaching deriving particularly from the Psalms, the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles. These include the imagery of divine supporting wings, chickens and nests. A. C. Hamilton's edition of The Faerie Queene cites Christ's words in Matthew 23:372 (both comforting and admonishing) as the source of the tender action by which the Palmer, replacing the angel, "courd" Guyon's life: "I have gathered thy children together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings." The New Testament metaphor of the protective mother hen in turn draws on the image of God's powerful wings in the Psalms3 and Exodus, wings whose shelter brings hope or trust in God and defence against foes. Such imagery is also directed toward the church. The German theologian Strigelius, in his commentary on the covering wings in Psalm 17-"Keepe me as the aple of thine eie, hyde me vnder the shadowe of thy winges,"-sees the divine protection as naturally belonging not to the individual but to the community of God's chosen: "Here David doth most pleasantly painte out the defence of the churche setting before his eyes the similitudes of the eye, and of a henne. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.