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Short poem

Edmund Spenser (1552-1599)

Iambicum Trimetrum

              1Unhappy verse, the witness of my unhappy state,
              2    Make thy self flutt'ring wings of thy fast flying
              3    Thought, and fly forth unto my love, wheresoever she be:
              4Whether lying restless in heavy bed, or else
              5    Sitting so cheerless at the cheerful board, or else
              6    Playing alone careless on her heavenly virginals.
              7If in bed, tell her, that my eyes can take no rest:
              8    If at board, tell her, that my mouth can eat no meat:
              9    If at her virginals, tell her, I can hear no mirth.
            10Asked why? say: waking love suffereth no sleep:
            11    Say that raging love doth appal the weak stomach:
            12    Say, that lamenting love marreth the musical.
            13Tell her, that her pleasures were wont to lull me asleep:
            14    Tell her, that her beauty was wont to feed mine eyes:
            15    Tell her, that her sweet tongue was wont to make me mirth.
            16Now do I nightly waste, wanting my kindly rest:
            17    Now do I daily starve, wanting my lively food:
            18    Now do I always die, wanting thy timely mirth.
            19And if I waste, who will bewail my heavy chance?
            20    And if I starve, who will record my cursed end?
            21    And if I die, who will say: "This was Immerito"?


1] An experiment in classical metre sent to Gabriel Harvey by Spenser, in a letter dated October 5, 1579, from Leicester House, and published in the following year. Spenser says he is on familiar terms with Philip Sidney and Edward Dyer who "have proclaimed in their areiopago [Greek] a general surceasing and silence of bald rhymers ... instead whereof they have, by authority of their whole senate prescribed certain laws and rules of quantities of English syllables for English verse: having had thereof already great practice, and drawn me to their faction." The idea of substituting quantitative for accentual and rhyming verse was vigorously urged at this period by Ascham, Harvey, Webbe, Puttenham, and Campion; a very odd version of the Æneid in hexameters was brought out by Richard Stanyhurst in 1582; and Sidney included some of his quantitative poems in the Arcadia. But the new metre entirely failed of permanent adoption.

5] board. Table

6] virginals. A small harpsichord or spinet usually without legs.

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, Three proper, and wittie, familar letters (London: H. Bynneman, 1580). STC 23095
First publication date: 1580
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 2RP 1.108.
Recent editing: 4:2002/5/23

Composition date: 1579
Form note: unrhyming syllabic verse (iambic trimeter)

Other poems by Edmund Spenser