In his introduction to The Kindly Flame, Thomas P. Roche makes important remarks about the interplay of moral allegory and narrative in Spenser’s poetry. One of his concerns is the issue of poetic freedom: the poet is free to dare any mode of representation he pleases, even if the narrative chain of events threatens to disconnect from the allegorical sense. The idea of poetic freedom is not so much an argument of Professor Roche’s book as a leitmotif, which creates resonances with some of the finest studies of Spenser—and lively arguments about how to read Spenser—at the height of the New Criticism. I think especially of Paul Alpers and Harry Berger, Jr. (my own teachers), and Isabel MacCaffrey, who were happily in my thoughts alongside of Thomas Roche as I wrote this paper.
The idea of poetic freedom also echoes the ancient accommodation of poetic license and expressive liberties formulated in Horace’s Art of Poetry. Horace memorably begins his verse epistle with reflections on the imaginative and even fantastical representations traditionally allowed to poets as well as painters; he goes out of his way to cast the time-honored productions of imagination or fancy as logical absurdities instead of literary conventions; and he then enjoins the addressee of his epistle—Pisos, the friend he names, and all contemporary poets and readers by extension—to submit to a principle of verisimilitude consistent with the times. Poets and readers alike should embrace the aesthetic and ideological values of Augustan Rome rather than the archaic imagination of the heroic age, when poets sang of sirens and centaurs. But Horace imagines his own readers objecting, and he goes on to make an important concession to poetic freedom: the poet has an ancient right and privilege to use the representational forms that bring him or her pleasure. There are abundant translations of the Horatian phrase (quodlibet audendi potestas) in the Elizabethan period, but none more incisive than Sir John Harington’s epigram, “A Poets Priuiledge”: “Painters and Poets claime by old enroulement, / A Charter, to dare all without controulement.”
For Spenser, the most pressing poetic concern is not verisimilitude but rather the mastery of allegory over narrative possibilities: such mastery is something that Spenser resists in general and nowhere more clearly than in Books III and IV of the Faerie Queene. These are, of course, the Ovidian and Ariostan books of Spenser’s epic, which are invested in metamorphic forms and interlaced narratives. And they are also the subject of The Kindly Flame. In Professor Roche’s handling of Books III and IV, Spenser turns away from the mode of allegorical translation, held up for exploration in Book II, canto xii of The Faerie Queene, that aims to transcend and otherwise stand apart from narrative and experience. The Spenserian reader is not, in the end, like Guyon, who destroys the Bower of Bliss in a heroic and moral triumph over the sensuousness of forms: the elements of narrative action do not magically, or violently, disappear into the allegory. As Professor Roche presents him, Spenser is a poet who never loses hold of his poetic autonomy. This reading, so consonant with the vision of Spenser in the New Criticism, seems in retrospect destined to contrast with the influential account of the poet in Stephen Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self-Fashioning, in which Spenser dangerously inclines towards apology for Elizabethan colonial violence rather than commentary on it or, put differently, appears as a lavishly talented poet who submits his verse to power in the manner enjoined on him and all poets by the Augustan poet, Horace. I admire the clear-sightedness of Stephen Greenblatt’s implicit critique of the Elizabethan poets’ negotiations with the humanist rhetoric of encomium (a legacy of Petrarch, who had the devil of a time deciding what to do about his dependency on the patronage of the vicious Visconti). And I have nonetheless long been in sympathy with Professor Roche’s pleasure-loving and yet tight-fisted poet, who gave away nothing of his own convictions about the liberties of poetry. For Spenser, I suggest, the rhetoric of encomium always involves both praise and blame and, as such, it is a powerful resource by which poets may advance their own agendas and exercise a measure of the jointly poetic and political liberty of speech that is due to poets by ancient right.
Professor Roche’s view of Spenserian narrative and allegory leads him to a second observation: Spenser’s readers and critics stand in need of time and patience (i.e., the leisure to do yet more work, possibly endless), a point that every undergraduate teacher of Spenser can readily affirm. I would lay bets that for many of us, the first two weeks of teaching Spenser to any class of students at any level are devoted to wresting the poems away from a heartfelt assumption that Spenser’s poetic meanings are mysteries locked up in fixed allegory accessible only to the teacher (or teacher-sadist, a role anticipated by Spenser’s Busirane). Weeks three and following involve the ebullience of discovery: specifically, the interpretive discoveries made available to all readers by slowing the pace of reading and embracing the fact of situated allegory, by which I mean allegory situated in a narrative of action—and often many actions—without a master teleology.
The concerns of this paper may be understood as extensions of Professor Roche’s remarks on narrative and allegory to a privileged type of Spenserian verse, which is at once non-narrative and non-allegorical. I refer to the many stanzas and longer passages of verse in which Spenser collects flowers with abandon and in abundance and yet refuses to surrender them to allegorical significance—refuses, even, to give them away to a deserving (or undeserving) recipient of courtly compliment. Instead, he keeps them for himself. The passages of verse I have in mind are lush, sensuous, and suggestive: they swim in potential significance, and yet are slow to deliver up the allegorical and moral goods. The best of these passages appear in Spenser’s Shepheardes Calendar (1579) and complaint poems (1591) as well as his Garden of Adonis (1590). All of these floral passages relate to the flowerbeds of the Bower of Bliss, which famously dilate the verse and suspend heroic and virtuous action. But these passages do not fall under the same shadow of moral censure: they more successfully elude the temporality of judgment associated with allegory and epic, namely, hesitant deliberation followed by abrupt and violent action. Spenser may (or not) donate the flowers of the Bower of Bliss to the projects of Elizabethan morality or colonialism, but in the complaints, the Garden of Adonis, and arguably the Shepheardes Calendar he does not give even one flower to these causes.
Two of the more elaborate examples of Spenserian flowerbeds appear in the complaint poems, Muiopotmos, or the Fate of the Butterflie and Virgils Gnat. I have a simple point to make about both passages. But in order to make it I must first invite you to wallow in Spenser’s flowerbeds long enough to get lost in the act of reading. For this is precisely what these passages of verse enjoin us to do: get lost in the act of reading. In Muiopotmos, the heroic butterfly Clarion dons his splendid wings and sets out on something like a royal progress through the “gay gardins” (161) where “lauish Nature, in her best attire, / Powres forth sweete odors, and alluring sights” (163-4). Carried along by his “unstaid desire” to “refresh his sprights” (161-2), he flies over the gardens and lustily breathes in the “riotous excesse” (168) of “euerie flowre and herb” (172). What follows is a catalogue of flowers that readers—aiming for the point or argument of the poem—might be tempted to speed read:
The wholsome Saulge, and Lauender still gray,
Ranke smelling Rue, and Cummin good for eyes,
The Roses raigning in the pride of May,
Sharpe Isope, good for greene wounds remedies,
Faire Marigoldes, and Bees alluring Thime,
Sweete Marioram, and Daysies decking prime.
Coole Violets, and Orpine growing still,
Embathed Balme, and chearfull Galingale,
Fresh Costmarie, and breathfull Camomill,
Dull Poppie, and drink-quickning Setuale,
Veyne-healing Veruen, and hed-purging Dill,
Sound Sauorie, and Bazill hartie-hale,
Fat Colworts, and comforting Perseline,
Colde Lettuce, and refreshing Rosmarine.
If we follow Clarion’s lead in our own perusal of the garden, we will observe and gather up a great many things of use. The list of plants comes very close to reading like a medicinal recipe or preparation. Yet it stops short of the organizational techniques that would direct the list of herbs and flowers to a useful and healthful purpose. They are finally gathered without thought to whether their virtues are “good or ill” (201). When Clarion first arrives at the garden, he takes a “suruey” of “euery flowre and herbe” with his “curious busie eye” (171-2) and “tasteth [them] tenderly” and not “rudely” (173-4). But by the time he is done perusing the flowers of these two stanzas, he is greedily devouring them for their sensual pleasures and paying no mind to their natural secrets. Once he “turneth to his play” in earnest, his full intent is “To spoil the pleasures of that Paradise” (185-6): he takes them “everie one,” and tastes them “at will / And on their pleasures greedily doth pray” (203-4).
The act of reading exemplified in Clarion’s flight through the garden bears a distinct if curious relation to the humanist activity of gathering rhetorical flowers and maxims for storage in commonplace books. The humanist is famously like a bee, as the commonplace derived from Seneca the Younger goes: he both samples and devours classical books for the honey of good counsel and equally good reputation. He cultivates his image as an industrious and learned man, his mind well stocked with wise sayings and examples. As Peter Beale reminds us, he is goal-oriented and reads chiefly for use. By contrast, Clarion reads wholly for pleasure. Glutting himself with the delights of the garden, he lives wholly in the here and now and stocks up nothing for the future. Spenser’s heroic and hedonistic butterfly, as every reader of Muiopotmos knows, is headed for disaster: he is about to fly directly into a web crafted by the envious spider Aragnoll, aka Lord Burleigh, and die by a wound to the heart. The poem comes to an end when Clarion is caught in Aragnoll’s web, where the hapless butterfly “strugled long, / Himself to free thereout” until “in the ende he breatheless did remain” (425-6, 430). Already spent, he dies when the “greisly tyrant” (433) stabs him in the heart, sending his “deepe groning spright” into the “aire” (438-9).
Spenser’s Clarion is certainly overconfident of his charms and blind to the darker passions of the court and Crown, namely, to envy. But I am not sure that we can draw a moralizing line between his death and the hedonism and narcissism of his reading habits. Whether he is modestly tasting or greedily devouring, he is arguably a very good reader of flowers. He dies anyway. Envy is hard on good courtiers and poets. The classical authority on this topic is Ovid, a victim of detraction in the imperial court of Augustus, whose closing remarks to his exile poetry bear directly on the topic of envy. After writing five books of elegies in the Tristia and four further books in the Ex Ponto, all of them hoping to book the return trip to Rome (as Stephen Hinds has wittily and trenchantly observed), Ovid finally throws in the towel, admitting envy, the enemy of poetry, has defeated and silenced him. He has been stabbed through so many times that he feels he is all one wound: “What pleasure to thee to drive the steel into limbs already dead?” Ovid asks at the last, “There is no space in me now for a new wound” (“quid iuvat extinctos ferrum demittere in artus? / non habet in nobis iam nova plaga locum.” [4.16.51-2]). And he wrote no more.
Classicist that I am, I feel moved note that it is the fate of Spenser’s butterfly to die in a web of allusions as well as courtly intrigue. One set, organized around epic, invokes the end of Vergil’s Aeneid, recalling the moment when Aeneas stabs Turnus and sends his soul groaning to the underworld. Another set, arising from elegy, emphasizes Aragnoll’s assault on Clarion’s breath and, by extension, the divine substance of poetic inspiration. These allusions draw on Ovid’s elegies of exile, in which the poet reflects on what it has meant for him to come into violent contact with a wrathful prince with godlike powers: in these poems, Ovid dwells on the loss of breath (a knife at the throat), the power of speech (falling into silence), and his own mortality, which stands in sharp contrast with the poetic immortality he had claimed for himself throughout his career (notably at the end of Amores 1.15 and the end of the Metamorphoses). It is too easy to privilege Spenser’s allusions to Vergil and read Clarion’s death purely in terms of mock epic. His death is really about poetic endings: what does a great poet choose to say at the end of his career, and why does he say it? Neither Vergil nor Ovid ended on a high note. The last lines of both poets deal with death and loss: they contain an implicit question about the limits on poetic freedom imposed by power and, what is more, the effect of absolute power on the rhetoric of encomium. With the constitutional shift to an empire, in which republicanism survives as a virtue but not a political right, the conditions in which poetry is composed and read change. The prince and not the poet or any other reader has ultimate power over the interpretation the poetic word.
Like Clarion’s garden in Muiopotmos, the floral gathering in Vergils Gnat is similarly devoted to abundance in number and luxury in description. In this instance, there is a deserving recipient: a humble gnat, who warned a sleeping shepherd of imminent and grave danger from a serpent—by whining in his ear—only to be swatted down for its pains. The ghost of the gnat (who is apparently part gadfly) comes back from the dead and continues to whine in the shepherd’s ear until he gets a fair hearing. Filled with regret, the shepherd buries the gnat and strews flowers on his grave, where he
taught sweete flowres to growe,
The Rose engrained in pure scarlet die,
The Lilly fresh, and Violet belowe,
The Marigolde, and cherefull Rosemarie,
The Spartan Mirtle, whence sweet gumb does flowe,
The purple Hyacinthe, and fresh Costmarie,
And Saffron sought for in Cilician soyle,
And Lawrell th’ornament of Phoebus toyle.
Fresh Rhododaphne, and the Sabine flowre
Matching the wealth of th’auncient Frankincence.
And pallid Yuie building his owne bowre,
And Box yet mindfull of his olde offence,
Red Amaranthus, lucklesse Paramour,
Oxeye still greene, and bitter Patience;
Ne wants there pale Narcisse, that in a well
Seeing his beautie, in loue with it fell,
Perhaps the most striking feature of this extended floral passage is its anxiety—for lack of a better word—to escape the literal sense of “flower” and shift the poet-reader’s thought processes to a figurative level of meaning. It is as if the literal sense of the flower placed an unbearable sense of limitation on the poet-reader, who then spends the next 15 lines escaping the paradoxical blankness and specificity of 18 flowers or, more properly, their names. The passage starts by emphasizing the vibrant colors and textures of the various flowers, before turning abruptly to their countries of origin and their desirability as commodities; and then half way through the catalogue, the plants are not just fully personified but fully become persons, each with histories of sad experience in love and loss. By the end of the passage, the flowers have entirely lost their original status as emblems-and-allegories-in-the-making and have become, instead, narratives of emotional history. The floral passage ultimately performs a series of reverse metamorphoses: flowers, such as the Amaranthus and Narcissus, lose their emblematic and referential status and become boys again. The flowers of aetiological tales in the Ovidian style have reversed their course and returned to their status as the storied youths of ancient, and pagan, fables.
The comparable verses in the Garden of Adonis of The Faerie Queene III.vi are even more haunting, because they compress the sensual exuberance of Clarion’s garden and the prolonged passage of Virgils Gnat into a single stanza of intense sadness and sweetness. I refer, of course, to the stanza that names the flowers that were once lovely and beloved youths:
And all about grew euery sort of flowre,
To which sad louers were transformd of yore;
Fresh Hyacinthus, Phoebus paramoure,
And dearest loue,
Foolish Narcisse, that likes the watrie shore,
Sad Amaranthus, made a flowre of late.
Sad Amaranthus, in whose purple gore,
Me seemes I see Amintas wretched fate,
To whom sweet Poets verse hath giuen endlesse date.
This is a much-beloved passage of The Faerie Queene, despite the fact that there is little here for the moralist to latch onto. The central line contains the stanza’s one gesture towards rebuke: it starts promisingly with a reference to “Foolish Narcisse” only to disappoint the reader even before the line—much less the stanza—has come to the end. No self-respecting moralist knocks Narcissus for liking his “waterie shore.” It is as if the poet toyed with the idea of moral bullying only to have a change of heart. Instead of dunking Narcissus in the cold waters of moral reproof, he rescues him from both death and censure by leaving him to his solitary pleasures on the banks of his pool.
Spenser’s floral passages are splendidly useless to the moralist. They have deep significance, however, if we attend to the tension between their sensuous vitality and their funereal and ceremonial settings. The flowerbeds of Muiopotmos lead to Clarion’s death in Aragnoll’s web (not as a moral cause but a political machination). The flowers in Virgils Gnat are piled on the tomb of a fragile creature, a gnat, swatted to his death before he could offer his warnings to a distracted shepherd. And the stanza in the Garden of Adonis in some sense reads as commentary on Spenser’s own poetic narcissism: it inventories the pleasures he takes in elegiac and pastoral verse and, simultaneously, enacts the tragic loss of speech even in the midst of rhetorical plenty. Inopem me fecit copia—my plenty makes me poor—is the cry uttered by Narcissus when he recognized the adored image as his own: his beauties and eloquence impoverished him. And this stanza, as all Spenserians know, is hauntingly incomplete. Its intensity is increased and not jeopardized by the half line representing the transition from mourning Hyacinthus and continuing on to the next in the long line of beautiful, dead youths in pastoral and Ovidian verse.
Spenser’s phrase for the profuse flowerbeds of Muiopotmos is “riotous excess” (line 168), and there is a productive way in which this description applies to the poetic copia in his floral verses. The idea, I think, is that the abundant eloquence at the command of the humanist poet is conventionally viewed as “good” so long as it is restrained by the bound of encomium as it is tilted towards praise and away from blame. If the interpretive bars of convention are lifted, then the poet’s learning and eloquence may come flowing forth in the genre of poetic complaints. Spenser’s flowerbeds are lovely and luxurious, sweet to all senses, and ripe for conversion to poetic compliment. But they are not all compliments. They are in fact complaints. And the complaints generally tend upon the limits placed on the poet’s freedom to speak his mind and dare any representations that please him. Beautiful as these passages are, they are fully meant as “riotous excess” in language, as “flower power” of a type that would be recognizable to Allen Ginsburg, who coined the term at the height of the free speech movement in Berkeley of the 1960s. For Spenser, the problem of poetry and for poetry is the way in which it is read: the default moralizations of the poetic language are too often supplied by the Court and Crown, which maintain too strong a hold over the interpretation of the poetic word.
I’d like to conclude my discussion of Spenser’s concerns with flowerbeds and power by turning to an early poem, which one would expect—again by default—to be the most encomiastic of all his verses: the “Aprill” eclogue of the Shepheardes Calendar. I would like to consider just two verses: the stanzas that frame Colin Clout’s praise of Eliza, Queene of Shepheardes. These floral exhibitions certainly seem to serve the encomiastic functions that critics have long associated with Spenser’s poetry. And since they precede the complaint poems in composition, their status as optimistic as well as encomiastic has long been held as settled, apart from splinter groups such as the Ovidian Spenserians, who tend to associate the Shepheardes Calendar with nothing short of anti-imperialist complaints from the perspective of exile. The first stanza of praise is designed as a modest gift and heartfelt prayer that Eliza, the “flowre of Virgins,” may “florish long / In princely plight”:
See, where she sits vpon the grassie greene,
(O seemely sight)
Yclad in Scarlot like a mayden Queene,
And Ermines white.
Vpon her head a Cremosin coronet,
With Damaske roses and Daffadillies set:
And Primroses greene
Embellish the sweet Violet.
Political authority, as this stanza presents it, emanates entirely from Eliza, who provides historical icons of royalty, from her scarlet robes with “Ermines white” to the red and white roses in her cheeks, which proclaim the Tudor heritage of York and Lancastrian lines of descent. It is the poet’s task to provide floral tributes to her royal authority: the “Damaske roses and Daffadillies” interwoven with the bay leaves due to conquerors, along with the “Primroses greene” that “Embellish the sweet Violet.”
At the end of the song of praise, the poet offers yet another floral stanza, a parting token to match the welcoming gift to the queen, as if she had come by Kilcolnon on a royal passage. This one, however, is so overstuffed that there is scarcely room for anything but flowers:
Bring hether the Pincke and purple Cullambine,And Cowslips, and Kingcups, and loued Lillies:
Bring Coronations, and Sops in wine,
worne of Paramoures.
Strowe me the ground with Daffadowndillies,
The pretie Pawnce,
And the Cheuisaunce,
Shall match with the fayre flowre Delice.
This is a showier display of poetic skill: not content with offering a handful of flowers to the queen, the singer proffers them by the armload and pastoral cartload. For me, the tremendously interesting thing about this stanza is that the poet never relaxes his tight hold on the flowers he gathers together in the stanza: for the space of this stanza, the flowers flow in the direction of Colin and deviously suggest that the poem is a less a tribute to the queen, who theoretically inspires eloquence in her subjects, than it is a tribute to the poet’s own eloquence. “Strowe me the ground with Daffadowndillies”: there is a double meaning in that central line, where the ethical dative piously struggles with a saucy imperative.
The larger frame of the “Aprill” eclogue supports the case for the poem’s considerable interest in poets and their pride: for it isn’t even Colin who is singing the song. It’s Hobbinol, who has been carrying the torch for his beloved Colin, ever since he broke his pipe in the January eclogue and went into retreat like some sulking Achilles, begrudging the honor and service demanded by his Agamemnon. The passage of four months has done nothing to alter Colin’s pique or bring him out of retirement. As sung by Hobbinol, “Aprill,” remembers the queen in the golden age of her rule but he also—and chiefly—mourns the poet’s silence. And he says it with flowers.
University of Southern California
 Thomas P. Roche, The Kindly Flame: a Study in the Third and Fourth Books of Spenser’s Faerie Queene (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1964).
 Paul Alpers, The Poetry of the Faerie Queene (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1967); Harry Berger Jr., The Allegorical Temper: Vision and Reality in Book II of Spenser’s Faerie Queene (New Haven: Yale UP, 1957) and Revisionary Play: Studies in the Spenserian Dynamic (Berkeley: U of California Press, 1988); and Isabel MacCaffrey, Spenser’s Allegory: the Anatomy of Imagination (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1976).
 Letters and Epigrams, ed. Norman Edgbert McClure (Philadephia: U of Pennsylvania Press, 1930), 168.
 Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: Chicago UP, 1980) has generated productive dissent and alternate explanations of Spenser’s project alongside of thoughtful arguments in keeping with its view of Spenser as a foil to the rebel and risk-taker of Elizabethan England, Christopher Marlowe.
 Especially influential on this topic is Patricia Parker, “Suspended Instruments: Lyric and Power in the Bower of Bliss,” in Literary Fat Ladies: Rhetoric, Gender, Property (London: Methuen, l987).
 Even Clarion’s wings are profoundly floral: they derive from his mother, Astery, who ornamented her wings with the flowers she had industriously gathered for her queen, Venus, only to be punished for her labors when her envious peers slandered her by suggesting she was having a clandestine affair with Venus’s son, Cupid. Astery then gathered the flowers for herself, placed them on her wings, and passed them on to her son, Clarion, whose wings are judged to be more beautiful than Cupid’s.
 All references to the Complaints are to Edmund Spenser: The Shorter Poems, ed. Richard A. McCabe (London and New York: Penguin Books, 1999).
 Seneca (the Younger) introduced the image that was to echo throughout late antiquity and the Renaissance:
We also, I say, ought to copy the bees, and sift whatever we have gathered from a varied course of reading, for such things are better preserved if they are kept separate; then, by applying the supervising care which our nature has endowed us … we could so blend those several flavors into one delicious compound that, even though it betrays its origin, yet it nevertheless is clearly a different thing from that whence it came. (84.3-10)
Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales, trans. Richard M. Gummere (London and New York, 1920), 279.
 For the rage to make reading genuinely useful—the antitype to Spenser’s project in his floral passages—see especially Peter Beale, “Notions in Garrison: The Seventeenth-Century Commonplace Book,” New Ways of Looking at Old Texts: Papers of the Renaissance English Text Society, 1985-1991, ed. W. Speed Hill (Binghamton, New York, 1993), 131-47. On the “goal-oriented reading” practices of professional scholars, see Lisa Jardine and Anthony Grafton, “Studied for Action: How Gabriel Harvey Read His Livy,” Past and Present 129 (1990): 30-78. See also Mary Thomas Crane, Framing Authority: Sayings, Self, and Socieity in Sixteenth-Century England (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993).
 “Booking the Return Trip: Ovid and Tristia 1,” Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 31 (1985): 13-32.
 Ovid, Tristia Ex Ponto, ed. and trans. Arthur Leslie Wheeler (Harvard UP, 1939).
 A sub-argument of this reading of Spenser’s floral passages is that they strikingly narrow, and even attempt to erase, the difference between the poet and reader. In these passages, the poet is (or poses as) first and foremost a reader.
 All references are to The Faerie Queene, ed. A.C. Hamilton (London and New York: Longman, 1977).
 Richard A. McCabe, “Edmund Spenser, Poet of Exile,” Proceedings of the British Academy 80 (1993): 73-103 sowed the kernel of Ovidian discontents in Spenser criticism; Syrithe Pugh, Spenser and Ovid (Aldershot, Hants, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2005) has provided an excellent reading of The Shepheardes Calendar in terms of Ovid’s Fasti, also a calendar poem, which has close ties to Ovid’s exilic elegies.