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Edmund Spenser (1552-1599)

Prothalamion


              1CALM was the day, and through the trembling air
              2Sweet-breathing Zephyrus did softly play
              3A gentle spirit, that lightly did delay
              4Hot Titan's beams, which then did glister fair;
              5When I (whom sullen care,
              6Through discontent of my long fruitless stay
              7In prince's court, and expectation vain
              8Of idle hopes, which still do fly away
              9Like empty shadows, did afflict my brain),
            10Walk'd forth to ease my pain
            11Along the shore of silver-streaming Thames;
            12Whose rutty bank, the which his river hems,
            13Was painted all with variable flowers,
            14And all the meads adorn'd with dainty gems
            15Fit to deck maidens' bowers,
            16And crown their paramours,
            17Against the bridal day, which is not long:
            18    Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

            19There, in a meadow, by the river's side,
            20A flock of nymphs I chanced to espy,
            21All lovely daughters of the flood thereby,
            22With goodly greenish locks, all loose untied,
            23As each had been a bride;
            24And each one had a little wicker basket,
            25Made of fine twigs, entrailed curiously,
            26In which they gathered flowers to fill their flasket,
            27And with fine fingers cropt full feateously
            28The tender stalks on high.
            29Of every sort, which in that meadow grew,
            30They gathered some; the violet, pallid blue,
            31The little daisy, that at evening closes,
            32The virgin lily, and the primrose true,
            33With store of vermeil roses,
            34To deck their bridegrooms' posies
            35Against the bridal day, which was not long:
            36    Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

            37With that I saw two swans of goodly hue
            38Come softly swimming down along the Lee;
            39Two fairer birds I yet did never see;
            40The snow which doth the top of Pindus strew,
            41Did never whiter shew,
            42Nor Jove himself, when he a swan would be,
            43For love of Leda, whiter did appear;
            44Yet Leda was (they say) as white as he,
            45Yet not so white as these, nor nothing near;
            46So purely white they were,
            47That even the gentle stream, the which them bare,
            48Seem'd foul to them, and bad his billows spare
            49To wet their silken feathers, lest they might
            50Soil their fair plumes with water not so fair,
            51And mar their beauties bright,
            52That shone as heaven's light,
            53Against their bridal day, which was not long:
            54    Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

            55Eftsoons the nymphs, which now had flowers their fill,
            56Ran all in haste to see that silver brood,
            57As they came floating on the crystal flood;
            58Whom when they saw, they stood amazed still,
            59Their wond'ring eyes to fill;
            60Them seem'd they never saw a sight so fair,
            61Of fowls so lovely, that they sure did deem
            62Them heavenly born, or to be that same pair
            63Which through the sky draw Venus' silver team;
            64For sure they did not seem
            65To be begot of any earthly seed,
            66But rather angels, or of angels' breed;
            67Yet were they bred of Somers-heat, they say,
            68In sweetest season, when each flower and weed
            69The earth did fresh array;
            70So fresh they seem'd as day,
            71Even as their bridal day, which was not long:
            72    Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

            73Then forth they all out of their baskets drew
            74Great store of flowers, the honour of the field,
            75That to the sense did fragrant odours yield,
            76All which upon those goodly birds they threw
            77And all the waves did strew,
            78That like old Peneus' waters they did seem,
            79When down along by pleasant Tempe's shore,
            80Scatt'red with flowers, through Thessaly they stream,
            81That they appear through lilies' plenteous store,
            82Like a bride's chamber floor.
            83Two of those nymphs, meanwhile, two garlands bound
            84Of freshest flowers which in that mead they found,
            85The which presenting all in trim array,
            86Their snowy foreheads therewithal they crown'd,
            87Whilst one did sing this lay,
            88Prepar'd against that day,
            89Against their bridal day, which was not long:
            90    Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

            91"Ye gentle birds, the world's fair ornament
            92And heaven's glory, whom this happy hour
            93Doth lead unto your lovers' blissful bower,
            94Joy may you have, and gentle heart's content
            95Of your love's complement;
            96And let fair Venus, that is Queen of Love,
            97With her heart-quelling son upon you smile,
            98Whose smile, they say, hath virtue to remove
            99All love's dislike, and friendship's faulty guile
          100For ever to assoil.
          101Let endless Peace your steadfast hearts accord,
          102And blessed Plenty wait upon your board:
          103And let your bed with pleasures chaste abound,
          104That fruitful issue may to you afford,
          105Which may your foes confound,
          106And make your joys redound
          107Upon your bridal day, which is not long:
          108    Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song."

          109So ended she; and all the rest around
          110To her redoubled that her undersong,
          111Which said their bridal day should not be long;
          112And gentle Echo from the neighbour ground
          113Their accents did resound.
          114So forth those joyous birds did pass along,
          115Adown the Lee, that to them murmur'd low,
          116As he would speak, but that he lack'd a tongue,
          117Yet did by signs his glad affection show,
          118Making his stream run slow.
          119And all the fowl which in his flood did dwell
          120Gan flock about these twain, that did excel
          121The rest, so far as Cynthia doth shend
          122The lesser stars. So they, enranged well,
          123Did on those two attend,
          124And their best service lend
          125Against their wedding day, which was not long:
          126    Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

          127At length they all to merry London came,
          128To merry London, my most kindly nurse,
          129That to me gave this life's first native source,
          130Though from another place I take my name,
          131An house of ancient fame.
          132There when they came, whereas those bricky towers
          133The which on Thames' broad aged back do ride,
          134Where now the studious lawyers have their bowers,
          135There whilom wont the Templar Knights to bide,
          136Till they decay'd through pride:
          137Next whereunto there stands a stately place,
          138Where oft I gained gifts and goodly grace
          139Of that great lord, which therein wont to dwell,
          140Whose want too well now feels my friendless case:
          141But ah! here fits not well
          142Old woes, but joys, to tell
          143Against the bridal day, which is not long:
          144    Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

          145Yet therein now doth lodge a noble peer,
          146Great England's glory, and the world's wide wonder,
          147Whose dreadful name late through all Spain did thunder,
          148And Hercules' two pillars standing near
          149Did make to quake and fear:
          150Fair branch of honour, flower of chivalry,
          151That fillest England with thy triumph's fame,
          152Joy have thou of thy noble victory,
          153And endless happiness of thine own name
          154That promiseth the same;
          155That through thy prowess, and victorious arms,
          156Thy country may be freed from foreign harms;
          157And great Eliza's glorious name may ring
          158Through all the world, fill'd with thy wide alarms,
          159Which some brave Muse may sing
          160To ages following,
          161Upon the bridal day, which is not long:
          162    Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

          163From those high towers this noble lord issuing,
          164Like radiant Hesper, when his golden hair
          165In th' ocean billows he hath bathed fair,
          166Descended to the river's open viewing,
          167With a great train ensuing.
          168Above the rest were goodly to be seen
          169Two gentle knights of lovely face and feature,
          170Beseeming well the bower of any queen,
          171With gifts of wit, and ornaments of nature,
          172Fit for so goodly stature,
          173That like the twins of Jove they seem'd in sight,
          174Which deck the baldric of the heavens bright;
          175They two, forth pacing to the river's side,
          176Receiv'd those two fair brides, their love's delight;
          177Which, at th' appointed tide,
          178Each one did make his bride
          179Against their bridal day, which is not long:
          180    Sweet Thames run softly, till I end my song.

Notes

1] First published in 1596 with the following title: Prothalamion, Or a Spousall Verse made by Edm. Spenser in Honour of the Double Mariage of the two Honourable and Virtuous Ladies, the Ladie Elizabeth and the Ladie Katherine Somerset, Daughters to the Right Honourable the Earle of Worcester and espoused to the two worthie Gentlemen M. Henry Gifford, and M. William Peter, Esquyers. The marriage took place November 8, 1596. The word "prothalamion", formed by Spenser analogically from "epithalamion", means a song preceding the marriage ceremony.

5-9] "In the autumn (of 1596) he was with the court at Greenwich, still hopeful of preferment." (Dictionary of National Biography).

25] entrailéd. Twisted.

26] flasket. Long, shallow basket.

27] feateously. Deftly.

38] Lee. Meadowland. Hence the Thames Valley.

67] Somersheat. A pun on the name Somerset.

121] shend. Put to shame.

130] another place. Spenser claimed relationship with the Spensers of Althorp.

132] those bricky towers. The Temple, a group of buildings on the north bank of the Thames in London, originally the abode of the Knights Templars (a military and religious order, founded 1118, suppressed 1312), and occupied, since 1346, by a society of lawyers.

137-40] In November, 1596 Spenser was staying with the Earl of Essex, at Essex House, where he had lived in former years, while it belonged to Leicester.

139] that great lord. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532-1588).

145] a noble peer. Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex (1567-1601), stepson of the Earl of Leicester and his successor in the Queen's favour.

147-49] An expedition led by Essex captured Cadiz, June 22, 1596.

148] Hercules' two pillars. Gibraltar and Jebel Musa (Apes' Hill); in classical geography, Calpe and Abyla, the twin rocks which guard the entrance to the Mediterranean. Several contradictory legends connect them with Hercules.

159] Muse. Poet.

164] Hesper. The planet Venus.

173] the twins of Jove. Castor and Pollux.

174] baldric. A belt crossing the shoulder and sustaining a sword or dagger. The reference here is to the zodiac.


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, Prothalamion (London: [J. Orwin] for W. Ponsonby, 1596). STC 23088
First publication date: 1596
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 2RP 1.124.
Recent editing: 4:2002/5/23

Composition date: 1596
Rhyme: abbaacdcddeefeffgg


Other poems by Edmund Spenser