Showing posts with label Edmund Spencer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edmund Spencer. Show all posts

The Faerie Queene: A Critical Note on the Structure & Allegory

In John Buxton's 'Sir Philip Sidney and The English Renaissance' Buxton says that "The Elizabethans were at once able to recognize the master for whom they had been waiting. Whatever criticisms they may have made of Spenser's poetry in detail, they never had the least doubt that he was 'England's Arch-Poet,' the man who had done for English what Virgil had done for Latin."

Very soon the anonymous New Poet would be everywhere acclaimed for his Shepheardes Calender as the man who promised a new age in English poetry. In the Shepherdes Calender, we find Spenser experimenting in much the same ways as Sidney. His metrical invention, is so remarkable in all his work, is already shown here. 

Spenser was more daring than Sidney in his attempts to widen the diction of poetry: he was also more willing to draw on the resources which he found in Chaucer, rather than to use the French and Italian models, Sidney, desiring that English poetry should take its place in the European tradition, was inclined to be cautious. 

William Webbe, in his Discourse of English Poetrie, had given Spenser much higher praise as one who "in my judgment principally deserveth the title of rightest English Poet that ever I read." Whereas, Frank Kermode, in his essay 'Spenser and The Allegorists' says that Spenser has been 'dislodged' with no fuss at all.

Spenser is a known maker of all allegories. If you believe, as many people appear to, that allegory is necessary superficial, 'The Faerie Queene' is dull in so far as it is simple, and a failure so far as it is difficult. 

Coleridge, perhaps, first specified that allegory was a mode inferior to 'symbolism', and this is now commonplace. Dauthendey and Yeats observed that 'Allegory said things which could be said as well, or better in another way.' As such views gain ground, Spenser's fortunes wilt. 

'The Faerie Queene' is, after all, an heroic poem, extremely conscious of its peculiar relation to history to 'Now and England'. 

S.L Goldberg says that the mistake is to be led away into exploring the possible significance; the myths used may be thought to possess in themselves, into infinite speculations about their archetypal patterns and analogies, instead of the realized meaning of the work itself. On this issue Kermode says: "perhaps there will always be enmity between those who believe symbols and archetypes to have value of a symbol, is finally determined by its context."

Spenser looks back on history only to achieve ways of registering the destiny of the central situation: 'The reign of Elizabeth'.  He does not convert event into myth, but myth into event. His mood is acceptance; he welcomes history, not seeking to lose his own time in some transhistorical pattern.

Although professor Northrop Frye reduced 'The Faerie Queene' to a "Biblical quest-romance" he later acted on his belief that 'myths explain the structural principles behind familiar literary facts' and provided a brief and brilliant account of 'Faerie Queene'. 

In an essay entitled "The Structure of Imagery In The Faerie Queene" Frye claims that 'The Faerie Queene' in consequence is necessarily a romance, for romance is the genre of simplified or black and white characterization. The imagery of this romance is organized on two major principles. One is that of the natural cycle, the progression of days and seasons. The other is that of the moral dialectic, in which symbols of virtue are parodied by their vicious or demonic counterparts.

Frye continues to say that the "frame" is built out of the characters and places that are clearly announced to be what they are, not out of their moral or historical shadows. Spenser prefaces the whole poem with sonnets to possible patrons, telling several of them that they are in the poem somewhere, not specifying where: the implication is that for such readers, the allegory is to be read more or less at libitum.  

Of Spenser's intellect, Frank Kermode says that "the picture of Spenser as a very learned man is not in itself absurd, since he understood that the heroic poet should be a 'curious and universal scholar' and that his mind was trained in forms of knowledge alien to us, and habituated to large symbolic systems of a kind which are likely to strike us as almost absurdly frivolous. 

In 'Studies in Spenser's Historical Allegory', a book written by Edwin Greenlaw, Greenlaw's object is broadly to subordinate historical to ethical allegory. Historical allegory, he says, has reference principally to general topics; it refers to specific persons only momentarily and with no high degree of organization. To this Kermode says 'this is now, I think, the received opinion, and it certainly makes sense to relieve Spenser of barrenly ingenious commentary relating his poem to obscure, forgotten political intrigues. 

Milton told Dryden that Spenser was his original 'the man who gave him lofty poetic ambition.' In "A Preface To The Faerie Queene," written by Graham Hough, Hough opens the first chapter with "To Milton, the poet of The Faerie Queene was our sage and serious Spenser, a better teacher than Scouts or Aquinas". To Hazlitt, it was equally clear that 'the love of beauty and not of truth is the moving principle of his mind.' Spenser's poetry, he says, is all fairyland, and if you do not meddle with the allegory it will not meddle with you.

Hough says that "Readers have been induced to believe that the Faerie Queene is uniformly allegorical and that allegory is uniformly didactic-or it has been pathless wandering through an enchanted forest. 

Modern poetic theories, tacitly or openly, have been centered on the lyric; they have notoriously had difficulties with the long poem. And the difficulties have been greatest with the long poem of relaxed and unobtrusive structure like 'The Faerie Queene.' 

In spite of incompleteness and loose ends, the Faerie Queene does arrive at an authentic form of its own. Spenser's poem is composed of parts each with a certain unity of its own. This offers the opportunity for a real sequence and development of thematic interest, for it is of course by its thematic content that each book is given its separate integrity. The internal structure of the book of 'The Faerie Queene' is capricious, sometimes continuos and sometimes interweaving. 

The Faerie Queene is more than a whole, more complete in itself than has generally been maintained. The poem can be sat as an example of the romantic epic. The essence of the romantic epic is in its material. This is the material of chivalric romance, but re-handled in an age when chivalry has become a remote legend. We should hardly call the romantic epic an artificial form, in the sense of something mechanically contrived; it has grown in response to a real taste. But the taste is not of the primary human needs; it is the result of a great deal of secondary elaboration. Spenser has the tendency to become encyclopedic in scope, to include extremes of experience and feeling to reduce to the picture-plane images drawn from very different depths and different levels. 

Structure of 'The Faerie Queene' by Graham Hough:
Incomplete as it is, The Faerie Queene has been judged very harshly from the structural point of view. Dr. Selincourt writes, "The plot was originally loose enough, and in the process of development it became looser still". 

We might be tempted to think, on reading this and similar judgements, that The Faerie Queene was a very artless production. But if there is one thing we can fairly deduce from the letter to Raleigh that it is not so. The letters show Spenser as very aware of epic decorum, of traditional structural principles, of great models, both classical and modern. 

In his letter to Raleigh Spenser says: "never trust the author, trust the tale." 
This means that much of the concern over construction that is evident in the letter to Raleigh is not fundamentally relevant. It is relevant formally and externally to the kind that Spenser believes himself to be practicing, but not to the real nature of his work. In fact, most of the critical questions about the structure of 'The Faerie Queene' becomes idle or simply disappear when it is actually read; for in fact it's all of a piece; we are always aware of being in a varied consistent world. 

The Faerie Queene is composed of many relatively small parts, each commanding our appreciation by itself and all harmonious with each other, for this is its structural principle. It displays a variety of incidents; the characters drawn from different realms; the unpredictability of narrative development which is suffused with a feeling of harmony that all belongs to the same world with all the solutions of narrative logic changes of direction and temper, yet there is a purpose. 

The organization of The Faerie Queene is like that of a dream. I don't use the word with the mere connotations of vagueness or enchantment, or in the sense in which it could be used of any romance, but in symbolist conceptions of 'le reve', and the free undetermined unlocalized setting. Spenser's scene is Fairyland; the events take place nowhere. As in dreams, the situation simply calls up its appropriate setting, which becomes vividly present for a time and then disappears. A single character represents a number of latent realities; composite characters are formed, or alternatively a single character is split up among several embodiments; the narrative sequence is used to present logical relations. These are all well-known elements of the dream process, and The Faerie Queene is full of them: the outward and obvious likeness to dream organization, the emancipation from time and space, the solutions of narrative continuity, the neglect to explain what is actually presented. 

Allegory in 'The Faerie Queene' By Graham Hough:
According to William Blake, Fable or Allegory are a totally distinct and inferior kind of poetry. Vision or Imagination is a representation of the Eternally Exists. Yet, different as they appear to be in value and direction, Blake says that there is seldom allegory without some vision. 

As to Graham Hough, "It is the contrast between allegory as kind of picture-writing, a translation into visible form of concepts that were formulated in advance, and some other process in which an object perceived is taken as a revelation of some super-sensible reality not previously apprehended. If the concept comes first and is then translated into a visible equivalent, this is allegory. If the visible object comes first and an immaterial reality is seen behind it or through it, this is symbolism. 

In the letter to Raleigh Spenser calls The Faerie Queene "a continued Allegory, or dark conceit." 'Dark' in Elizabethan literary discourse steadily means obscure, and 'conceit' in this context means conception, idea and thought. Allegory then is an obscure conception that needs explanation. And Spenser "knowing how doubtfully all allegories may be construed" sets out in the letter "to discover unto you the general intention and meaning, which in the whole course thereof I have fashioned, without expressing of any particular purposes or by-accidents therein occasioned." 

Most of the letter (To Raleigh) is far more concerned with plan and narrative structure than with allegorical intention as such-that is, more concerned with the disposition of the images than with discovering the theme hidden behind them. The conventions of romantic epic, the desire to reconcile the antique unity with modern variety, had a great deal to do with giving the poem its general shape. And this has nothing to do with allegory at all. Nor is the central idea as the letter expounds it expressively allegorical: "To fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline," and to present this "coloured with an historical fiction," is the announced "general end" of all the book; that is to portray the ideal knight in the person of Prince Arthur.

The poem is called 'The Faerie Queene', and by that Faerie Queene Spenser tells us in the Letter, he means glory in general intention, "but in my particular I conceive the most excellent and glorious person of our sovereign the Queene, and her kingdom is Faerie land." Queene Elizabeth then and her England is very near to Spenser's central intention however little she may appear in the structure as it stands.

The announced general hero is Arthur, the legendary embodiment of the glory of Britain, in love with the 'Faerie Queene', and again one of the historical Queene Elizabeth's putative forbears. 

Sonnet 75 - Edmund Spenser

 One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
 Vain man, said she, that doest in vain assay
A mortal thing so to immortalize,
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eek my name be wiped out likewise.            
  Not so (quoth I), let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name.    
 Where when as Death shall all the world subdue,
Out love shall live, and later life renew.

STANZA 1: The first quatrain describes the poet writing his lover’s name on the sand. Yet, the very next moment, the waves swallow them up and the letters vanish away. In the verse “Again I wrote it with a second hand”(line 4), we can see how the poet strives once more to leave his writing upon the beach, only to see it quickly disappear. We can understand the poet’s endless, but futile effort to immortalize something that is mortal. At the same time the writing of the lady's name, which is the central image of the poem, is transferred from earth to heaven. Here we learn that time is the destroyer of all things but even so, the poet perseveres with determination to engrave his love on the walls of time itself.

STANZA 2: In this quatrain, the poem states that the poet's lover did not have the confidence in his efforts of trying to immortalize his love towards her. She argued it is a mere waste of time and effort as love is a mortal thing as the phrase "A mortal thing so to immortalize". She will be “washed away” just like her name was washed away by the tide. The lover tell the poet that he needs to stop what he is doing and is vain for his efforts as everyone in the world will eventually have to die as time and tide waits for no man. She wanted him to know that his actions were only futile and that there is nothing he could do to control the immortality of their love because immortality itself does not exist. The lover only meant for her partner to accept the cruel and harsh realities of life that nothing can last forever.

 STANZA 3: In the third quatrain, the poet claims that he can make their love last forever despite mortality. He says he can do this by using his verse. He goes on to say that when people die, (because people do die because they are mortal) that everyone will still have knowledge of their love because it will be eternal. The line “My verse your virtues rare shall eternize". Despite the fact of the poet's beloved discouraging him, he never did give up but instead he proved his point by immortalizing his love towards his wife through his words and writing elements. And now even though both he and his wife are long gone from the phase of this earth, but the everlasting love the poet had towards his wife will always be known and remembered for more generations to come. Just as he promised, to use his verse as a tool to immortalize her virtue for as long as it will be.

Final Couplet: Shows a contrast between their immortal love and other things that will die with the passage of time. The capitalized world “Death” shows how it will brutally destroy all other things except for their love, which will be renewed by the presence of the sonnet. This couplet embraces the theme of the poem that their love will not fade away like other mortal things on earth.

In Sonnet 75 by Edmund Spenser, the speaker tells a brief tale about himself and his mistress, debating about mortality one day at the beach. As we know, love is a mortal thing when one, or both partners depart from this earth, their love will slowly fade from the consciousness of people. Through this poem, the speaker is trying to let the readers know of his efforts to immortalize his beloved. Even as time passes and when they're long gone, their love would still be known throughout the ages. The sonnet is written in the pursuit of a woman whom he loves.The poet desires to commemorate the beloved by inscription. He tries taking writing off the page to the outdoors, leads to a lover's debate about death & time. Here we know that his lover believes that everything will subdue to the power of nature and everyone will die just like everything else on the earth but the poet believes otherwise. He feels that their love will stay alive forever and she will be famous (you shall live by fame). The poet wants to immortalize their love through his writings and it will be known until the heavens.

Even though death might separate them for the time being, but the poet strongly reaffirmed that they will be together again after death because he believed in life after death and that the love he had for his wife could never tear them apart.

1. Imagery
-  “One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
       But came the waves and washed it away:”
2. Alliteration
-  “die in dust,” “verse your virtue,” “love shall live,” “later life,”
3. Repetitive
-   “decay,” “die,” “death,”
4. Symbolism
-  The sea alludes to the distance that is between the lover and his beloved which is causing pain to the lover.
-  The writing on the sand refers to the lover’s insistence on making a worldly impact on his beloved.
-  The waves are a constant reminder of the cruelty of love, haunting again and again. By washing away the name of the beloved, the waves act as torrents of torture. The waves also signify time. The erasing of the name by water signifies the transient nature of human life.
-  The sea-side or beach also symbolizes a peaceful, comfortable place where the lover unreservedly expresses himself.
-  The lover’s writing on the sand can be a reference to man’s inherent desire to eternalize his being to be remembered forever.
5. Personification
-  But came the waves and “washed” it away
-  But came the tide, and my “pains” his prey

Sonnet 75 is taken from Edmund Spenser’s poem Amoretti which was published in 1595. The poem has been fragmented into 89 short sonnets that combined make up the whole of the poem. The name Amoretti itself means “little notes” or “little cupids.” This poem is said to have been written on Spenser’s love affair and eventual marriage to Elizabeth Boyle, his second wife. Sonnet 75 centers on the immortality of spiritual love and the temporality of physical love.Poetic images can be surprisingly persistent over time. Spenser's Sonnet 75 opens with the striking image of a man writing his beloved's name in the sand, only to see the waves wash it away again. Anyone who listened to the radio in the 1950's would have heard a hit song by Pat Boone, called "Love Letters in the Sand." In a very general sense, the images are the same, as they suggest how ephemeral a gesture of love can be. If we look more closely though, we begin to see differences. The speaker in Spenser's sonnet is not a pop singer whose girl has left him. Spenser is in fact setting the speaker up for a rebuke from his beloved, who charges him with the vanity of ignoring his own human mortality. The lover in his turn is then able to raise the argument to a still higher plane, as he asserts that their love will triumph over death.

When the sonnet begins to deepen, it does so by invoking a variety of issues characteristic of the sixteenth century: the intense awareness of death, a continued sense of pride as a sin (even among protestants), the Petrarchan notion that mortal love can lead upward to divine love, the attempt to define a new kind of sacred married love. The image of writing a name in the sand doesn't have any absolute meaning of its own, certainly not one that transcends time. But like any image it is available to be used in a way that serves the needs of a particular moment in history. Sometimes it's just those images which seem to have the shock of familiarity that we need to look at twice. They might give us a way of getting inside an experience that happened 400 years ago, if it happened at all. But they may also show us that when history repeats itself, it does so differently.

Overall, Sonnet 75 is a poem about a man promising eternal love to his beloved one. He eschews his lover’s realistic worries about the loss of love due to death with enchanting words. His elaborate and detailed use of language creates a rhythm and deepens the meaning as it goes along with the tone of the verses. Thus, as the poet had anticipated, as long as people read and recite this poem, it will last eternally as a beautiful sonnet.