the 1596 "Faerie Queene"
It is not easy to make generalizations about the overall structure of Spenser's Faerie Queene. Whether we ascribe this fact to the problems of allegory or symbolism, of epic or romance, or to Spenser's amiable mixing of various modes and genres, probably every reader of the poem has had the experience of seeming to find a pattern there which lasts long enough to quicken his pulse and kindle his ambition, but which then vanishes by the time he has gotten to the next canto or book, or to his index cards, or his typewriter, or his colleagues. Even Milton, that fittest member of Spenser's audience, may be expressing a similar experience of his great predecessor when he speaks of a belated peasant who "sees, / Or dreams he sees" the midnight revels of faerie elves, "numberless" to his ignorant eyes, intent on their dance, charming his ear with their music "while overhead the moon / Sits arbitress"; a sight which finally eludes his comprehension:
... far within
And in their own dimensions like themselves
The great seraphic lords and cherubim
In close recess and secret conclave sat
A thousand demi-gods on golden seats,
Frequent and full.
We can sense the grace and purposeful energy of Spenser's antique images; but he has not made it easy for us to take their measure, or his. Frequently we feel excluded from the inner conclave of his deliberations. Perhaps he____________________