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Edmund Spenser (1552-1599)

Epithalamion


              1Ye learned sisters which have oftentimes
              2Beene to me ayding, others to adorne:
              3Whom ye thought worthy of your gracefull rymes,
              4That even the greatest did not greatly scorne
              5To heare theyr names sung in your simple layes,
              6But joyed in theyr prayse.
              7And when ye list your owne mishaps to mourne,
              8Which death, or love, or fortunes wreck did rayse,
              9Your string could soone to sadder tenor turne,
            10And teach the woods and waters to lament
            11Your dolefull dreriment.
            12Now lay those sorrowfull complaints aside,
            13And having all your heads with girland crownd,
            14Helpe me mine owne loves prayses to resound,
            15Ne let the same of any be envide:
            16So Orpheus did for his owne bride,
            17So I unto my selfe alone will sing,
            18The woods shall to me answer and my Eccho ring.

            19Early before the worlds light giving lampe,
            20His golden beame upon the hils doth spred,
            21Having disperst the nights unchearefull dampe,
            22Doe ye awake, and with fresh lusty hed,
            23Go to the bowre of my beloved love,
            24My truest turtle dove,
            25Bid her awake; for Hymen is awake,
            26And long since ready forth his maske to move,
            27With his bright Tead that flames with many a flake,
            28And many a bachelor to waite on him,
            29In theyr fresh garments trim.
            30Bid her awake therefore and soone her dight,
            31For lo the wished day is come at last,
            32That shall for al the paynes and sorrowes past,
            33Pay to her usury of long delight:
            34And whylest she doth her dight,
            35Doe ye to her of joy and solace sing,
            36That all the woods may answer and your eccho ring.

            37Bring with you all the Nymphes that you can heare
            38Both of the rivers and the forrests greene:
            39And of the sea that neighbours to her neare,
            40Al with gay girlands goodly wel beseene.
            41And let them also with them bring in hand
            42Another gay girland
            43For my fayre love of lillyes and of roses,
            44Bound truelove wize with a blew silke riband.
            45And let them make great store of bridale poses,
            46And let them eeke bring store of other flowers
            47To deck the bridale bowers.
            48And let the ground whereas her foot shall tread,
            49For feare the stones her tender foot should wrong
            50Be strewed with fragrant flowers all along,
            51And diapred lyke the discolored mead.
            52Which done, doe at her chamber dore awayt,
            53For she will waken strayt,
            54The whiles doe ye this song unto her sing,
            55The woods shall to you answer and your Eccho ring.

            56Ye Nymphes of Mulla which with carefull heed,
            57The silver scaly trouts doe tend full well,
            58And greedy pikes which use therein to feed,
            59(Those trouts and pikes all others doo excell)
            60And ye likewise which keepe the rushy lake,
            61Where none doo fishes take,
            62Bynd up the locks the which hang scatterd light,
            63And in his waters which your mirror make,
            64Behold your faces as the christall bright,
            65That when you come whereas my love doth lie,
            66No blemish she may spie.
            67And eke ye lightfoot mayds which keepe the deere,
            68That on the hoary mountayne use to towre,
            69And the wylde wolves which seeke them to devoure,
            70With your steele darts doo chace from comming neer,
            71Be also present heere,
            72To helpe to decke her and to help to sing,
            73That all the woods may answer and your eccho ring.

            74Wake, now my love, awake; for it is time,
            75The Rosy Morne long since left Tithones bed,
            76All ready to her silver coche to clyme,
            77And Phoebus gins to shew his glorious hed.
            78Hark how the cheerefull birds do chaunt theyr laies
            79And carroll of loves praise.
            80The merry Larke hir mattins sings aloft,
            81The thrush replyes, the Mavis descant playes,
            82The Ouzell shrills, the Ruddock warbles soft,
            83So goodly all agree with sweet consent,
            84To this dayes merriment.
            85Ah my deere love why doe ye sleepe thus long,
            86When meeter were that ye should now awake,
            87T'awayt the comming of your joyous make,
            88And hearken to the birds lovelearned song,
            89The deawy leaves among.
            90For they of joy and pleasance to you sing,
            91That all the woods them answer and theyr eccho ring.

            92My love is now awake out of her dreames,
            93And her fayre eyes like stars that dimmed were
            94With darksome cloud, now shew theyr goodly beames
            95More bright then Hesperus his head doth rere.
            96Come now ye damzels, daughters of delight,
            97Helpe quickly her to dight,
            98But first come ye fayre houres which were begot
            99In Joves sweet paradice, of Day and Night,
          100Which doe the seasons of the yeare allot,
          101And al that ever in this world is fayre
          102Doe make and still repayre.
          103And ye three handmayds of the Cyprian Queene,
          104The which doe still adorne her beauties pride,
          105Helpe to addorne my beautifullest bride:
          106And as ye her array, still throw betweene
          107Some graces to be seene,
          108And as ye use to Venus, to her sing,
          109The whiles the woods shal answer and your eccho ring.

          110Now is my love all ready forth to come,
          111Let all the virgins therefore well awayt,
          112And ye fresh boyes that tend upon her groome
          113Prepare your selves; for he is comming strayt.
          114Set all your things in seemely good aray
          115Fit for so joyfull day,
          116The joyfulst day that ever sunne did see.
          117Faire Sun, shew forth thy favourable ray,
          118And let thy lifull heat not fervent be
          119For feare of burning her sunshyny face,
          120Her beauty to disgrace.
          121O fayrest Phoebus, father of the Muse,
          122If ever I did honour thee aright,
          123Or sing the thing, that mote thy mind delight,
          124Doe not thy servants simple boone refuse,
          125But let this day let this one day be myne,
          126Let all the rest be thine.
          127Then I thy soverayne prayses loud will sing,
          128That all the woods shal answer and theyr eccho ring.

          129Harke how the Minstrels gin to shrill aloud
          130Their merry Musick that resounds from far,
          131The pipe, the tabor, and the trembling Croud,
          132That well agree withouten breach or jar.
          133But most of all the Damzels doe delite,
          134When they their tymbrels smyte,
          135And thereunto doe daunce and carrol sweet,
          136That all the sences they doe ravish quite,
          137The whyles the boyes run up and downe the street,
          138Crying aloud with strong confused noyce,
          139As if it were one voyce.
          140Hymen io Hymen, Hymen they do shout,
          141That even to the heavens theyr shouting shrill
          142Doth reach, and all the firmament doth fill,
          143To which the people standing all about,
          144As in approvance doe thereto applaud
          145And loud advaunce her laud,
          146And evermore they Hymen Hymen sing,
          147That al the woods them answer and theyr eccho ring.

          148Loe where she comes along with portly pace
          149Lyke Phoebe from her chamber of the East,
          150Arysing forth to run her mighty race,
          151Clad all in white, that seemes a virgin best.
          152So well it her beseemes that ye would weene
          153Some angell she had beene.
          154Her long loose yellow locks lyke golden wyre,
          155Sprinckled with perle, and perling flowres a tweene,
          156Doe lyke a golden mantle her attyre,
          157And being crowned with a girland greene,
          158Seeme lyke some mayden Queene.
          159Her modest eyes abashed to behold
          160So many gazers, as on her do stare,
          161Upon the lowly ground affixed are.
          162Ne dare lift up her countenance too bold,
          163But blush to heare her prayses sung so loud,
          164So farre from being proud.
          165Nathlesse doe ye still loud her prayses sing,
          166That all the woods may answer and your eccho ring.

          167Tell me ye merchants daughters did ye see
          168So fayre a creature in your towne before?
          169So sweet, so lovely, and so mild as she,
          170Adornd with beautyes grace and vertues store,
          171Her goodly eyes lyke Saphyres shining bright,
          172Her forehead yvory white,
          173Her cheekes lyke apples which the sun hath rudded,
          174Her lips lyke cherryes charming men to byte,
          175Her brest like to a bowle of creame uncrudded,
          176Her paps lyke lyllies budded,
          177Her snowie necke lyke to a marble towre,
          178And all her body like a pallace fayre,
          179Ascending uppe with many a stately stayre,
          180To honors seat and chastities sweet bowre.
          181Why stand ye still ye virgins in amaze,
          182Upon her so to gaze,
          183Whiles ye forget your former lay to sing,
          184To which the woods did answer and your eccho ring.

          185But if ye saw that which no eyes can see,
          186The inward beauty of her lively spright,
          187Garnisht with heavenly guifts of high degree,
          188Much more then would ye wonder at that sight,
          189And stand astonisht lyke to those which red
          190Medusaes mazeful hed.
          191There dwels sweet love and constant chastity,
          192Unspotted fayth and comely womenhed,
          193Regard of honour and mild modesty,
          194There vertue raynes as Queene in royal throne,
          195And giveth lawes alone.
          196The which the base affections doe obay,
          197And yeeld theyr services unto her will,
          198Ne thought of thing uncomely ever may
          199Thereto approch to tempt her mind to ill.
          200Had ye once seene these her celestial threasures,
          201And unrevealed pleasures,
          202Then would ye wonder and her prayses sing,
          203That al the woods should answer and your eccho ring.

          204Open the temple gates unto my love,
          205Open them wide that she may enter in,
          206And all the postes adorne as doth behove,
          207And all the pillours deck with girlands trim,
          208For to recyve this Saynt with honour dew,
          209That commeth in to you.
          210With trembling steps and humble reverence,
          211She commeth in, before th'almighties vew:
          212Of her ye virgins learne obedience,
          213When so ye come into those holy places,
          214To humble your proud faces;
          215Bring her up to th'high altar that she may,
          216The sacred ceremonies there partake,
          217The which do endlesse matrimony make,
          218And let the roring Organs loudly play
          219The praises of the Lord in lively notes,
          220The whiles with hollow throates
          221The Choristers the joyous Antheme sing,
          222That al the woods may answere and their eccho ring.

          223Behold whiles she before the altar stands
          224Hearing the holy priest that to her speakes
          225And blesseth her with his two happy hands,
          226How the red roses flush up in her cheekes,
          227And the pure snow with goodly vermill stayne,
          228Like crimsin dyde in grayne,
          229That even th'Angels which continually,
          230About the sacred Altare doe remaine,
          231Forget their service and about her fly,
          232Ofte peeping in her face that seemes more fayre,
          233The more they on it stare.
          234But her sad eyes still fastened on the ground,
          235Are governed with goodly modesty,
          236That suffers not one looke to glaunce awry,
          237Which may let in a little thought unsownd.
          238Why blush ye love to give to me your hand,
          239The pledge of all our band?
          240Sing ye sweet Angels, Alleluya sing,
          241That all the woods may answere and your eccho ring.

          242Now al is done; bring home the bride againe,
          243Bring home the triumph of our victory,
          244Bring home with you the glory of her gaine,
          245With joyance bring her and with jollity.
          246Never had man more joyfull day then this,
          247Whom heaven would heape with blis.
          248Make feast therefore now all this live long day,
          249This day for ever to me holy is,
          250Poure out the wine without restraint or stay,
          251Poure not by cups, but by the belly full,
          252Poure out to all that wull,
          253And sprinkle all the postes and wals with wine,
          254That they may sweat, and drunken be withall.
          255Crowne ye God Bacchus with a coronall,
          256And Hymen also crowne with wreathes of vine,
          257And let the Graces daunce unto the rest;
          258For they can doo it best:
          259The whiles the maydens doe theyr carroll sing,
          260To which the woods shal answer and theyr eccho ring.

          261Ring ye the bels, ye yong men of the towne,
          262And leave your wonted labors for this day:
          263This day is holy; doe ye write it downe,
          264That ye for ever it remember may.
          265This day the sunne is in his chiefest hight,
          266With Barnaby the bright,
          267From whence declining daily by degrees,
          268He somewhat loseth of his heat and light,
          269When once the Crab behind his back he sees.
          270But for this time it ill ordained was,
          271To chose the longest day in all the yeare,
          272And shortest night, when longest fitter weare:
          273Yet never day so long, but late would passe.
          274Ring ye the bels, to make it weare away,
          275And bonefiers make all day,
          276And daunce about them, and about them sing:
          277That all the woods may answer, and your eccho ring.

          278Ah when will this long weary day have end,
          279And lende me leave to come unto my love?
          280How slowly do the houres theyr numbers spend?
          281How slowly does sad Time his feathers move?
          282Hast thee O fayrest Planet to thy home
          283Within the Westerne fome:
          284Thy tyred steedes long since have need of rest.
          285Long though it be, at last I see it gloome,
          286And the bright evening star with golden creast
          287Appeare out of the East.
          288Fayre childe of beauty, glorious lampe of love
          289That all the host of heaven in rankes doost lead,
          290And guydest lovers through the nightes dread,
          291How chearefully thou lookest from above,
          292And seemst to laugh atweene thy twinkling light
          293As joying in the sight
          294Of these glad many which for joy doe sing,
          295That all the woods them answer and their echo ring.

          296Now ceasse ye damsels your delights forepast;
          297Enough is it, that all the day was youres:
          298Now day is doen, and night is nighing fast:
          299Now bring the Bryde into the brydall boures.
          300Now night is come, now soone her disaray,
          301And in her bed her lay;
          302Lay her in lillies and in violets,
          303And silken courteins over her display,
          304And odourd sheetes, and Arras coverlets.
          305Behold how goodly my faire love does ly
          306In proud humility;
          307Like unto Maia, when as Jove her tooke,
          308In Tempe, lying on the flowry gras,
          309Twixt sleepe and wake, after she weary was,
          310With bathing in the Acidalian brooke.
          311Now it is night, ye damsels may be gon,
          312And leave my love alone,
          313And leave likewise your former lay to sing:
          314The woods no more shal answere, nor your echo ring.

          315Now welcome night, thou night so long expected,
          316That long daies labour doest at last defray,
          317And all my cares, which cruell love collected,
          318Hast sumd in one, and cancelled for aye:
          319Spread thy broad wing over my love and me,
          320That no man may us see,
          321And in thy sable mantle us enwrap,
          322From feare of perrill and foule horror free.
          323Let no false treason seeke us to entrap,
          324Nor any dread disquiet once annoy
          325The safety of our joy:
          326But let the night be calme and quietsome,
          327Without tempestuous storms or sad afray:
          328Lyke as when Jove with fayre Alcmena lay,
          329When he begot the great Tirynthian groome:
          330Or lyke as when he with thy selfe did lie,
          331And begot Majesty.
          332And let the mayds and yongmen cease to sing:
          333Ne let the woods them answer, nor theyr eccho ring.

          334Let no lamenting cryes, nor dolefull teares,
          335Be heard all night within nor yet without:
          336Ne let false whispers, breeding hidden feares,
          337Breake gentle sleepe with misconceived dout.
          338Let no deluding dreames, nor dreadful sights
          339Make sudden sad affrights;
          340Ne let housefyres, nor lightnings helpelesse harmes,
          341Ne let the Pouke, nor other evill sprights,
          342Ne let mischivous witches with theyr charmes,
          343Ne let hob Goblins, names whose sence we see not,
          344Fray us with things that be not.
          345Let not the shriech Oule, nor the Storke be heard:
          346Nor the night Raven that still deadly yels,
          347Nor damned ghosts cald up with mighty spels,
          348Nor griesly vultures make us once affeard:
          349Ne let th'unpleasant Quyre of Frogs still croking
          350Make us to wish theyr choking.
          351Let none of these theyr drery accents sing;
          352Ne let the woods them answer, nor theyr eccho ring.

          353But let stil Silence trew night watches keepe,
          354That sacred peace may in assurance rayne,
          355And tymely sleep, when it is tyme to sleepe,
          356May poure his limbs forth on your pleasant playne,
          357The whiles an hundred little winged loves,
          358Like divers fethered doves,
          359Shall fly and flutter round about your bed,
          360And in the secret darke, that none reproves,
          361Their prety stelthes shal worke, and snares shal spread
          362To filch away sweet snatches of delight,
          363Conceald through covert night.
          364Ye sonnes of Venus, play your sports at will,
          365For greedy pleasure, carelesse of your toyes,
          366Thinks more upon her paradise of joyes,
          367Then what ye do, albe it good or ill.
          368All night therefore attend your merry play,
          369For it will soone be day:
          370Now none doth hinder you, that say or sing,
          371Ne will the woods now answer, nor your Eccho ring.

          372Who is the same, which at my window peepes?
          373Or whose is that faire face, that shines so bright,
          374Is it not Cinthia, she that never sleepes,
          375But walkes about high heaven al the night?
          376O fayrest goddesse, do thou not envy
          377My love with me to spy:
          378For thou likewise didst love, though now unthought,
          379And for a fleece of woll, which privily,
          380The Latmian shephard once unto thee brought,
          381His pleasures with thee wrought.
          382Therefore to us be favorable now;
          383And sith of wemens labours thou hast charge,
          384And generation goodly dost enlarge,
          385Encline thy will t'effect our wishfull vow,
          386And the chast wombe informe with timely seed,
          387That may our comfort breed:
          388Till which we cease our hopefull hap to sing,
          389Ne let the woods us answere, nor our Eccho ring.

          390And thou great Juno, which with awful might
          391The lawes of wedlock still dost patronize,
          392And the religion of the faith first plight
          393With sacred rites hast taught to solemnize:
          394And eeke for comfort often called art
          395Of women in their smart,
          396Eternally bind thou this lovely band,
          397And all thy blessings unto us impart.
          398And thou glad Genius, in whose gentle hand,
          399The bridale bowre and geniall bed remaine,
          400Without blemish or staine,
          401And the sweet pleasures of theyr loves delight
          402With secret ayde doest succour and supply,
          403Till they bring forth the fruitfull progeny,
          404Send us the timely fruit of this same night.
          405And thou fayre Hebe, and thou Hymen free,
          406Grant that it may so be.
          407Til which we cease your further prayse to sing,
          408Ne any woods shal answer, nor your Eccho ring.

          409And ye high heavens, the temple of the gods,
          410In which a thousand torches flaming bright
          411Doe burne, that to us wretched earthly clods,
          412In dreadful darknesse lend desired light;
          413And all ye powers which in the same remayne,
          414More then we men can fayne,
          415Poure out your blessing on us plentiously,
          416And happy influence upon us raine,
          417That we may raise a large posterity,
          418Which from the earth, which they may long possesse,
          419With lasting happinesse,
          420Up to your haughty pallaces may mount,
          421And for the guerdon of theyr glorious merit
          422May heavenly tabernacles there inherit,
          423Of blessed Saints for to increase the count.
          424So let us rest, sweet love, in hope of this,
          425And cease till then our tymely joyes to sing,
          426The woods no more us answer, nor our eccho ring.

          427Song made in lieu of many ornaments,
          428With which my love should duly have bene dect,
          429Which cutting off through hasty accidents,
          430Ye would not stay your dew time to expect,
          431But promist both to recompens,
          432Be unto her a goodly ornament,
          433And for short time an endlesse moniment.

Notes

1] First published in 1595 with the sonnet sequence Amoretti. The poem commemorates Spenser's marriage, presumably on June 11, 1594, in Ireland, to Elizabeth Boyle; most scholars agree that she is the lady referred to in the sonnets. It is possible that this was the poet's second marriage; the registers of St. Margaret's Westminster record the marriage of an Edmund Spenser to "Machabyas Chylde" on October 25, 1579. Elizabeth Boyle was a kinswoman of Sir Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork, and was probably about twenty in 1594; she had by Spenser one child, a boy named Peregrine.
learned sisters: the nine Muses, daughters of Memory, "whose abode the Poets faine to be on Parnassus, a hill in Grece, for that in that countrye specially florished the honor of all excellent studies" (E.K.).

4] the greatest: Queen Elizabeth, celebrated in The Shepheardes Calender and The Faerie Queene, and perhaps Leicester also; see "October," lines 43-48.

7] your owne mishaps to mourne: as in The Teares of the Muses (1591).

16] Orpheus: his playing on the lyre held wild beasts spellbound as he rescued his wife Eurydice from Hades, but he lost her when he looked back as he had been warned by Persephone not to do. The Orphic lyre is a conventional symbol of poetic power.
22.
lusty hed: lustiness, vigour.

22] lusty hed: lustiness, vigour.

25] Hymen: god of marriage.

26] his maske. Wedding festivities among the nobility and gentry often included a masque, a formal processional entertainment.

27] Tead: torch.

51] diapred: variegated.
discolored: variously coloured.

56] Mulla: Spenser's name for the Awbeg, a stream which flowed through his Irish estate of Kilcolman, County Cork.

75] Aurora, goddess of dawn, was married to Tithonus, for whom she obtained the gift of immortality, but not immortal youth.

81] Mavis: the song-thrush, who, in the polyphony of the bird-songs, is singing a melodious accompaniment (descant) to the plainsong.

82] Ouzell: the ring- or water-ouzel, a small bird.
Ruddock: robin redbreast.

87] make: mate.

95] Hesperus: the evening star.

98-102] The Hours, goddesses of the seasons, were by Hesiod said to be the offspring of Zeus (Jupiter) and Themis (Gr. THEMIX, Justice); Spenser elsewhere (F. Q., VII, vii, xlv) calls them the daughters of Jove and Night.

103] three handmayds of the Cyprian Queene: the Graces, here attendants of Venus, are "three sisters, the daughters of Jupiter (whose names are Aglaia, Thalia, Euphrosyne . . .), otherwise called Charites, that is thanks. Whom the Poets feyned to be the Goddesses of al bountie and comelines'' (E.K.); see "Aprill," line 109, and F.Q., VI, x, ix.

118] lifull: life-giving.

121] Phoebus, father of the Muse. Spenser's authority for taking Phoebus (Apollo) as parent of the Muse(s) is Natalis Comes, Mythologiae.

131] pipe: bagpipe.
tabor: a little drum, used to accompany the pipe.
Croud: fiddle.

140] Hymen io Hymen: the ritual chant at Roman weddings.

148] portly: stately.

151] seemes: becomes.

186] spright: spirit, the "soul" which animates her body.

190] mazeful: because it turned to stone those who looked on it.

228] dyde in grayne: fast dyed.

234] sad: serious, grave.

265-71] St. Barnabas' day, June 11, was in the old reckoning the longest day of the year, on which the sun enters the sign of Cancer (the Crab).

282] fayrest Planet: the sun, a planet because according to the Ptolemaic system it revolved about the earth.

307-10] Maia was a daughter of Atlas, and by Jupiter mother of Mercury (Hermes). Spenser transfers the myth from Mount Cyllene in Arcadia to the Vale of Tempe in Thessaly, to which he also transfers Acidalia, fountain of the Graces, which was in Boeotia. The result is inaccurate but lovely.

328-29] Jupiter, taking on him the likeness of her absent husband Amphitryon, lay with Alcmena on a night to which he gave the length of three, and begot Hercules, here called Tirynthian because of his association with the citadel of Tiryns, close by Mycenae.

330-31] a bit of original mythology. Spenser may be thinking of the association of Jupiter with Day, and of the Hours (lines 98-99) who have the care of beauty.

341] the Pouke: Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, originally a folklore demon.

343] hob Goblins, names whose sence we see not: such as the names of evil spirits collected in Samuel Harsnett's Declaration of Egregious Popishe Impostures, e.g., Maho, Modu, Frato, Flibberdigibbet, Smolkin, all referred to by Edgar in King Lear, III.4.345.
the Storke: not usually a bird of ill omen.

356] your pleasant playne: the marriage bed.

378-81] Endymion, a shepherd of Mount Latmos, was the beloved of the moon-goddess. This legend is here confused with the tale of how Pan won the moon by the gift of a fleece. See Virgil, Georgics, III, 391-93.

383] of wemens labours thou hast charge. In one of her aspects, Cynthia (Artemis) was the goddess of childbirth.

390-91] Juno was the protectress of marriage.

398] Genius: in Roman religion, the spirit or power presiding over generation and the marriage bed (lectus genialis).

405] Hebe: the handmaid of the gods, and symbol of youthfulness.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Edmund Spenser, Amoretti and Epithalamion (P. S. for W. Ponsonby, 1595). STC 23076. Facs. edn.: Scolar Press, 1968. PR 2360 A5 1595E ROBA.
First publication date: 1595
RPO poem editor: Millar MacLure
RP edition: 3RP 1.42.
Recent editing: 4:2002/5/23

Rhyme: ababccbceefggffhh


Other poems by Edmund Spenser