JOHN HOLLANDER


"The Footing of His Feet":
Spenser's Early Error

It is by now a commonplace that even ordinary errors, misstatements or misrememberings of the most uneventful sort, can be usefully construed as metaphors which correct something wrong in the representations we make to ourselves in our inner lives, even as they get something outside us palpably wrong. The mistakes made by a great imagination can enact very powerful tropes. Even though the point of error may be minute, it may be speaking for a matter of great consequence. Such is the case with a fruitful mistake made by Spenser as a very young poet. I shall discuss it shortly, but it will be instructive to approach it through a similar mistake made by Spenser's greatest follower, Milton.

Milton's mistake occurs in a line from Il Penseroso, in the passage celebrating the Imagination's nighttime at the heart of the poem. This section, running roughly from lines 75 through 122, has obsessed English and American poetry from Collins to Yeats and Stevens; from

I hear the far off Curfew sound
Over some wide-water'd shore,
Swinging low with sullen roar

—whose echoes are heard in the "sullen horn" of the may-fly in Collins' "Ode to Evening" and in the repeated "wide water, without sound" of Stevens' "Sunday Morning"—through the place

____________________
From On Poetry and Poetics, edited by Richard Waswo.Copyright © 1985 by John Hollander. Gunter Narr Verlag, Tübingen, 1984.

-251-

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Edmund Spenser
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Edmund Spenser *
  • Edmund Spenser *
  • Contents *
  • Editor's Note ix
  • Introduction 1
  • The Structure of Imagery in "The Faerie Queene" 23
  • The Structure of Allegory in Books I and II of "The Faerie Queene" 41
  • Mutability and the Theme of Process 57
  • The Marriage of the Thames and Medway 73
  • Gardens of Adonis 81
  • The Bower of Bliss 97
  • The "Mutabilitie Cantos": Archaism and Evolution in Retrospect 111
  • Allegory and Pastoral in "The Shepheardes Calender" 141
  • Imagery and Prophecy in "The Faerie Queene" 161
  • The Romance of Romance 181
  • Spenser and the City: the Minor Poems 191
  • Mythologies and Metrics in Spenser 211
  • The Image of Source in "The Faerie Queene" 219
  • "Astrophel" 239
  • "The Footing of His Feet": Spenser's Early Error 251
  • Envy in the Middest of the 1596 "Faerie Queene" 267
  • Chronology 285
  • Contributors 287
  • Bibliography 289
  • Acknowledgments 295
  • Index 297
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