"From That Day Forth I Cast in Carefull Mynd, / to Seeke Her out with Labor, and Long Tyne": Spenser, Augustine, and the Places of Living Language

By Iammarino, Denna | Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

"From That Day Forth I Cast in Carefull Mynd, / to Seeke Her out with Labor, and Long Tyne": Spenser, Augustine, and the Places of Living Language


Iammarino, Denna, Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature


IN Book 1, canto 9 of Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene (FQ), Arthur, Una, and a weakened Redcrosse Knight unknowingly travel to the House of Holiness. As they travel Una questions the then-unknown Arthur about his lineage and past, hoping he will his "name and nation tell" (FQ 1.9.2). Yet, the Briton prince struggles to answer these seemingly straightforward questions as "the lignage and the certaine Sire, / From which I [Arthur] sprong, from mee are hidden yitt" (FQ 1.9.3). In this exchange, Una asks Arthur about parts of his past that should be readily seen or known; he knows his name, and his crest signals his nation, Wales. As this dialogue reveals, however, Arthur knows little of his familial past, but when asked what "hath brought you hether into Fary land [...]?" Arthur's extended reply reveals his emotional past. He speaks of "[...] that fresh bleeding wound, which day and night / Whilholme doth rankle in my riven brest," which he discloses, "[...] sithen silence lesseneth not my fire, / But told it flames, and hidden it does glow" (FQ 1.9.7-8). In this reply, before he tells of the events of his past, Arthur reveals his memory of his past by discussing his current emotional state--a memory "which troubled once, into huge flames will grow" (FQ 1.9.8). This example plays with the conception of what is known and unknown, seen and unseen, in that it starts with the effect of Arthur's emotional state, then reveals parts of the cause--the reader simultaneously knows nothing and everything of him. (1) That is, what should be the obvious, perceptible elements of his story are unknown, yet the instances of internal knowledge often contained in memory are known and can be shared. And, as Matthew Woodcock notes, the implication is that this knowledge is forthcoming--it is "somehow 'hidden yit' awaiting discovery"--suggesting that Arthur's self-knowledge is present, just unknown, or unseen (96). (2)

Importantly, this "secret wound," although hidden, burns though it is not seen or discussed, implying that just because it is unseen does not mean it does not exist (FQ 1.9.7). The interplay between the seen and the unseen is a topic Spenser addresses throughout The Faerie Queene, and he comments directly on it in the proem to Book 2. (3) Here, he asks, "What if within the Moones fayre shining spheare, / What if in every other starre unseen / Of other worlds he happily should heare?" (FQ 2.proem.3). Spenser suggests that there is always something knowable, even in the unknown or the unseen. Spenser's second question implies the existence of two worlds, one seen and the other "unseen." My aim in this essay is to examine this distinction and its relation to memory, interpretation, and Spenser's reader: Spenser's reader will use the seen places of the text as starting points for making connections between past knowledge and future understanding--connections that will allow the unseen places of the text to make impressions on the seen places.

THIS intertwined relationship between the seen and the unseen is reflected in the symbolic nature of Spenser s image of the bright moon and the unseen stars. Here, the light of the moon outshines the stars, but, importantly, they both simultaneously exist. And, as the image illustrates, the stars are many, but the moon is one, suggesting that the seen may only take one form, the moon, but the unseen possibilities--the stars--are multiple and limitless. Importantly, a reader, no matter what his/her exegetical skill level, begins interpreting by looking at the seen "moon" (or text). Yet, it is only the experienced interpreter who will seek out the unseen worlds of the "stars" (or potential meanings). In this image, Spenser suggests that the unseen is not an alternate reality, but perhaps an extended one whose boundaries depend upon the reader's willingness to look away from the single-focus of the bright moon in order to consider the vast entirety of the star-studded sky.

Spenser's treatment of the moon and the stars as unknown though potentially knowable places ties in with other places he names in proem 2--Peru, the Amazon, and Virginia (FQ 2. …

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