[By this the Northerne wagoner had set
His seuenfolde teme behind the stedfast starre
That was in Ocean waves yet neuer wet
But firme is fixt, and sendeth light from farre…
Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene Book I Canto II]
Three hills furrow saint, healer, barista.
Church closed. Pharmacy shut. Shop marbled with shadows.
Mercury-plush mirrors decant a lamp. One star pins
the café chair parade down the alley to nowhere.
When speech rattles onto memory’s boulevard we wave
a cobbled handkerchief from the window blots.
This eclogue was writ to express the great loss the shepheards nation had by the lacke of Arthur Kinney at Kalamazoo (who knows not Kalamazoo) some time since. Sadly, the woodcut for the eclogue could not be finisht in time, since the artist was busie illustrating Mr Spencers forthcoming Dreames. Yet a hurried note from him suggesteth that had it been here, the woodcut would have been so singularly set forth and purtrayed, as if Michael Angelo, that great authority on woodcuts, were there, he could not amende or reprehende it any more than Petrarch could amende or reprehende the verse (it being writ in English).
In this thirteenth Aeglogue Colin complaineth of his stald career, being still but a shepheardes boy with little hope of achieving preferment. Alsoe, hauing but newly published a volume of verse, which he had hoped would haue encreased his fame, he laments the lack of responses thereunto. And lastlye, finding him selfe in a rut, he followeth the advice of a fairie knight who appeared to him in his dreames, and so burieth the fragments of his pipes and vows to leaue shephearding and goe to Faerie lond.
Loe I who made the Calender you know,
A Calender, forsooth, for euerie yeare,
Remaine right where I was one yeare agoe:
All growth is stall’d, stall’d alsoe my career.
Still doe Eliza and her shepheardes all
Noe better then a shepheard boy me call.
High hopes I held that once in print my booke
Of lowly shepheardes rhymes, the world would see
My wondrous wit by hook or else by crook.
And yet preferment still eludeth me.
Although I trie, I cannot get pastùre,
As vnkent shepheard boy I must endure.
Old Hobbinol me often doth berate,
Telling me to ‘hang in there’, strive for more,
For shepheardships or offices of state,
Like him - he trusts he’ll soon be orator.
But when my little booke on stationers stall
Vnsold I see, all honied words turn gall.
Last night I fell asleep and had a dreame,
But not of sheep or shepheards; no, an elf
Appear’d to me, whome I did deeme
To be a knight. He introduc’d him selfe
As Arthur, who did vrge me to enquire
Of Faerie lond, my verses to inspire.
Good sir, said I, I know the place you meane.
Young Wallie, Shepheard of the Water hight,
Oft told me of it and its glorious queene
And swore of muses it o’refloweth quite.
They sit next euerie riuer, hill or bogge,
A shepheard-poet’s fancie swift to iogge.
Whilst here whene’er I mount a lofty hill
To call vpon a muse, I find the climb
Hath bene in vaine, for none of them but will
Incline her gracious eare t’inspire my rhyme.
And soe Ile wait for days ere I climb downe,
My song vnfinisht, on my browe a frowne.
Prince Arthur sagely nodded thereupon
And bade me follow in the footing of his feet:
‘Let sheep be sheep, and pack your purse; come on
And seeke out faerie lond where you shall meet
With knights and giants (allegories all)
And muses who will reconuert your gall.’
And soe our shepheard sigh’d and rais’d him selfe
The sorrie fragments of his pipe did rake
Together before following the elf.
Interr’d that broken pipe, his flock did take
To Master Wallie, who would keep them sound
And left for Faerie lond without an hound.
Colins Embleme: Semper idem.
that Calender) a little booke containing twelue Aeglogues proportionable to the twelue monethes, the which can be purchased at all good stationers shops at a verie reasonable price.
Eliza) I scarce thinke that this can signifie her Matie the Queene, or else our Poet would not be so abrupt and ouerfamiliar in his address. Howeuer it may be that there was another Elisa whom he wished to impress.
my booke) the aforementioned Calender (which also containeth the most proper and wittie glosses I euer saw in my life).
pasture) this I belieue is a rude terme shepheardes use to signifie interminable right to grase their sheep, which by them is held to be great preferment.
turn gall) hereby is meant that all the delightes of poesy wherein a young Poet walloweth following the publication of his first booke quickly turne to bitternesse vpon noticing that but few haue read it.
Arthur) a resident of faerie lond and a formidable figure, written about in manie histories and reuered by elues and shepheardes alike, but rarely seen these days wherefore his appearance here is of great significance. However, our Poet errs in calling him an elf, for all ancient authors agree that he was of woman borne (albeit in somewhat special circumstances). Either he has since been appointed an honorary elf by the inhabitaunts of faerie lond, or else the epithet was chosen for the sake of rhyme.
Wallie) a shepheards name.
muses) faerie lond aboundeth with muses, who are commonly invoked by meanes of a proeme.
lofty hill) Parnassus.
sagely) Arthur is commonly held to be exceptionally wise. However, he rarely nods.
let sheep be sheep) as the proverb goeth: sheep will be sheep.
purse) a shepheards purse, designed to hold a shepheards pie or other bits and bobs pertaining to shephearding.
reconuert) a term not found in the works of Chaucer and not commonly vsed by our modern authors, but it is nonetheless auncient in its origine.
sorrie fragments) the pieces of his pipe which still lie on the ground, Colin hauing broken it the preceding yeare.
interr’d) by this Colin showeth his desire to restore order.
without an hound) only blind and bace folk need hounds to help them trace fine footing. Therefore this signifieth that Colin (under whose name the author shadoweth himselfe) is neither one nor the other.
Hereby is meant either that in leauing his flock and going to Faerie lond Colin is but being true to his owne self, or else this is in iest & the Poet wishes to imply that the shepheard nation will be sorely chaunged and suffer a great losse by Colins lacke.
Readers of The Faerie Queene will have no difficulty recognizing that this brief lyric is an homage to Spenser’s vision of an earthly paradise in the Garden of Adonis, featuring the Spenserian motifs of circularity and temporal condensation, or ‘continuall spring, and haruest there / Continuall, both meeting at one time’.
In paradise it rains for thirty minutes
every afternoon, and mists
rise from the emerald turf in bright light
piercing leaf cover like lances
loosed incandescent from the calm
neutral blue of the distant sky.
Humor me, for paradise
is warm and moist, teeming with rot.
Ripeness is all except
for sweet germination,
unless they coincide, as they do
Merlin’s Mirror – Intimidated by the spectre of Berryman’s ‘The Ball Poem’, I couldn’t get beyond a few scraps of a poem about a boy with a tennis ball. Then I looked more closely at the object in hand, and found a way back into what I’d wanted to capture through The Faerie Queene III.ii, from which I stole some phrases.
I wonder how to catch myself in flight.
A tennis ball is bouncing down the road
and you are gamely following. It goes
too quickly off, as though responding to
a starter’s gun you hadn’t registered –
there, a second post, a dreamed report
you’re trying now to grasp along with the ball
which is slowing from its quicksilver start
towards the bend of Newlands Avenue
where you track it down at last and clasp the urgent
moment upwards in the palm of your hand
just as the shade of someone else’s father waves
a hand you do not recognize into
the bend’s decelerating sweep. You have
it now on your own terms, apart from all
the others who had disappeared at five.
With all a small boy’s disappointed longing
carefully you finger what you’re holding –
the raised seam, the bald nap –
even denuded of green pile it is
a kind of trophy – an old man’s portrait bust,
a frayed grey mirror where the surface shines
and you gaze and gaze not at the face of your
beloved, enveloped in the gauze
of tawny foresight, but there – in perfect sight –
at the image of yourself running and stooping
to catch at something always out of reach
disappearing here in the pallid night.
Faerie Queene Palimpsest – more theft: this poem takes the first word of each stanza from I.iv, the House of Pride, modernizes spelling, lineates and punctuates freely to construct a new poem. There’s no cheating – it is at one level a straight transcription of the canto, omitting everything but the first word of each stanza. I got interested in this when I was working on canto form; it’s intriguing that aspects of I.iv are still legible even in this drastic rearrangement.
Faerie Queene Palimpsest
From Book I Canto IV
Young, who great? A: it
Arrived by high exceeding,
So of and soon
With goodly sudden so.
But, and from and in,
And in? Inconstant.
And his most and all –
He, and his full?
Who therewith ah and but now?
Whom with at but thereto?
Figures of Speech – Spenserian stanzas are inordinately difficult to write: I don’t think we acknowledge that enough; to pull off a very long epic in a form as fiddly as this is a significant act of poetic legerdemain. Of course, in the context of The Faerie Queene, most stanzas are hinged to their neighbours; we experience the Spenserian relationally through a web of inter-echoing cousins. Yet the stanza has a logic and a challenge of its own which suits epigrammatic lyrics rather well. This was the first Spenserian I wrote which I felt came off as a poem its own right.
Figures of Speech
The goldfinches are little flourishes
Of speech taken between feeding and flight.
Between themselves they’re passing messages:
Which way to go, where next they might alight.
Once on the feeders, space becomes too tight;
The flourishes have changed to angry yawps –
Hop it, pal, you’re traipsing in my daylight!
Sooner or later, when the chattering stops,
The silence in between them is the penny which drops.
The wisest comment I know on Spenser is this, from C.S. Lewis:
‘The things we read about in [The Faerie Queene] are not like life, but the experience of reading it is like living.’ (The Allegory of Love (1936), p. 358)
The sequence that bears that out best, to me, is the dense, riddling end of Book III: the love-and-death struggle of Britomart and Amoret in the House of Busirane. Talking about this in class, I have felt frustrated by my own questions: why does hunting down Lust lead to Scudamour, weeping? Who is penning Amoret? Are there others in the House? Who can love the worker of her smart? The questions are urgent, and they start up again in Book IV. Why does Venus smile? What is Scudamour meant to do? The poem’s thick texture conceals the gaps which the reader has to fill in – or at least find some way of moving over.
I wrote ‘Britomartis’ as a way of thinking through the sequence. I realized that the gaps were part of why I love it so much; the only way I could respond was by recognizing them. The work of reading The Faerie Queene really is like the work of living – and that is why it matters so much to try to do it well.
The idea of approaching the poem like this was inspired by War Music, the “account” of Homer by Christopher Logue: a great poet and also a dear friend and mentor. It is dedicated to his memory.
I wrote ‘Glauce’ just because I love her – and the dedicatee.
An account of The Faerie Queene Book III cantos xi-xii.
I.M. Christopher Logue
Canto I: The Adventure (III xi 3-7)
Riding with the Satyr Man,
I saw Youth, how fast he ran:
Running so his heart might crack,
Lust and Terror at his back.
Lust and Terror met my eye;
Then he turned himself to fly,
Through the windings of a wood.
He led on and I pursued,
Aiming with my Lance to thrust
Into Terror, into Lust:
Till at last alone I found
Love and Grief upon the ground.
Canto II: The Lament (xi 8-17)
My love lies bound in Terror’s band
(O love, unkindly penned!):
Dependent on a stranger’s hand;
Abandoned by her friend.
Upon the ground,
I lie unmanned:
My flesh is burned;
I cannot stand.
Kind Heaven send
A means to mend
A mind unwound,
A wound unkenned.
Alas the wand, the stranding band,
The chain that has no end!
He writes her name. O bloody brand!
O Love, unkindly penned.
Canto III: The Fire (xi 18-27)
The Castle has no other gate.
When pity strikes it will not wait:
I thought my goal was mutual bliss,
But now I fear it must be this:
Now, O Cytherea, dear hearts’ desire –
Deny me not, thus faring through the fire.
May I invade this bloody sea?
Another’s griefs encompass me;
I throw my arm before my face,
And blindly take the blind embrace:
Now, O Cytherea, dear hearts’ desire!
Forsake me not, thus faring through the fire.
O bless the fear that takes the field;
Bless the flare that fills the shield;
Bless the flame that bows me through.
To fire, to fire all praise is due:
And to Cytherea, dear hearts’ desire;
Who failed me not, thus faring through the fire.
Canto IV: Within (I) (xi 28-xii 6)
An empty room. Just walls in fancy dress:
Luxurious tapestries, which seem to heave
With Love in ambush and his first success –
Great gods entangled in a beast’s caress.
But follow the direction of the weave:
An iron door, and over it: Be bold!
Be bold. Another room, all over-scrolled
With writhing characters: a molten scrum
Of kings and slaves and monsters fused in gold.
But listen to the drip-drip beat: behold:
Be not too bold! Another door. A drum;
And from that final room, as from the grave,
Strange figures rise. Be not too bold. Be brave.
Canto V: The Maske (xii 7-27)
Hail to Cupid’s masquerade!
To his beat they march along,
Two by two, an ordered throng,
Matched and ranked and well arrayed:
Round the room, a dozen strong,
Masking-wise they pass displayed,
Bobbing in their stiff parade,
Singing out this votive song:
Who so bound as would be free?
Love rides high, but what is he?
None so blind as will not see.
Love drinks deep, so fill the bowl.
Drain the heart and drown the soul.
Who so hurt as would be whole?
Faster now they turn and sing:
Faster, faster, till the ring
Shatters, and the sense dissolves,
And the puppets whirl themselves
just a room,
With a dull, receding drum.
Then the drum is heard no more.
Then the shutting of the door.
Canto VI: Within (II) (xii 28-36)
And should a day and half a night drag by …
And should the door fly open like an eye ..:
I see a plain whereon a man is fighting.
I see a prison with a woman bleeding.
I see a riddle somebody is writing.
I see a wound that nobody is reading.
“Blessed the man that well can use his bliss.”
“Unto the Victor of the Gods be this.”
Blink, and the two are one:
and as they blend,
The chain falls off, and Love stands forth, unpenned.
I stretch my arms out wide on Love’s behalf,
And take the blow – the Enchanter’s autograph.
Somewhere, not far, I hear the Enchanter’s laugh.
Canto VII: The Enchanter Dances (xii 37-42)
The Enchanter dances
From room to room,
Step by step,
For who knows whom?
He kicks and capers,
Bold as bold,
Till he needs no fire,
And the fire turns cold,
And the floor breaks loose,
And starts to sprout,
And the roof leaps off,
And the doors twist out,
And the walls climb over,
Stone by stone,
To watch him dance
For the dance alone.
Canto VIII: Without (xii 43 – end (both versions))
Love and I bewildered stood
At a cross-ways in a wood,
Where our path was torn in two.
Staring down, it seemed we knew
One way’s name was Dear Delight,
And the other’s New Affright:
Which was which we did not know.
I stood dumb, till Love said: Go:
Though the ways be long and wild,
And the heart again beguiled,
Go: for far ahead I hear
How the water calls the deer;
And the wood lies open wide;
And the chains are all untied;
And the spells are quite outgrown.
And our stories are our own.
Canto IX: Amoret in the House of Busirane
The old Enchanter’s house has many doors,
And many mirrors too.
They may be hers, the footsteps that she hears,
Passing and passing through.
These lordly images, what can they prove?
Only the pain is true.
Do you not fear, he asks, my love, to love?
No. And she smiles. I do.
In Praise of Glauce
I.M. Dorothy Stanley
Great Britomartis, Warrior Maid,
She-hero of The Faerie Queene,
Resolved, resolving, unafraid,
How glorious she is! It’s hard
To blink, much less to turn aside;
But squint down briefly and regard
Old Glauce, unheroified.
She has no dream, no man, no quest,
No stake, no future in the tale;
Yet on she goes, bizarrely dressed,
A nanny in a coat of mail,
Through allegoric wood and glade,
Certainly chilly, surely damp:
Glauce, the maid behind the Maid,
Without a scarf, exposed to cramp,
Shorn of her thermos, gloves, routines,
Hotwater bottles, hankies, mints,
Pills, glasses, knitting magazines:
All so her girl can land her prince.
What happened to old Glauce then
The poet doesn’t tell us. Maybe
She went back home; or then again
She might have stayed to mind the baby;
Or could she, after years astride,
Have found her former life a bore?
Perhaps she just resumed her ride
Through Faerylond, and reached the shore:
And sailed with Essex to Cadiz;
And got involved in spying work;
And tired of Cecil, and of Liz;
And went down fighting, for the Turk.
THE FAERIE BUMMES
A LOST EPISODE OF EDMUND SPENSER’S FAERIE QUEENE
I have loved many cities, but two of them I have never seen: the New York of 1955 (I’ve been to New York, of course, but it’s not the same city) and the Cleopolis of 1595. Anyone reading The Spenser Review will recognize my guide to the latter place, and that his coy refusal to describe much of Cleopolis after all corresponded allegorically to his distance from London and its Gloriana. All the same, the Redcrosse Knight could make a reader pine for Cleopolis, even if it fell short of heaven:
Till now, said then the knight, I weened well,
That great Cleopolis, where I haue beene,
In which that fairest Fary Queene doth dwell,
The fairest Citty was, that might be seene;
And that bright towre all built of christall clene,
Panthea, seemd the brightest thing, that was:
But now by proofe all otherwise I weene;
For this great Citty that does far surpas,
And this bright Angels towre quite dims that towre of glas. (1.10.58)
I can’t be the only Spenserian who has always pictured Panthea as the Empire State Building, Cleopolis as the Faerie blueprint for New York (not, at least, on this side of the Atlantic).
When my father, my guide to that other vanished city, was a boy, the ESB was a distant prospect from his window in Brooklyn. For him, Panthea was Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers (“dem Bums” to their fans), close enough that he could hear the cheers for Duke Snider’s home runs before the radio announcers reported them. So he told me again and again, amid stories of Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, and other legends of the Diamond, who became the ghost-champions of my childhood, forever warring with the Yankees of the Bronx, whom I hated like the villains of romance. Faerie knights and their saracen foes.
Even so I never saw the anagram between 1955, when the Dodgers won their only World Series over the hated “Bronx Bombers”, shortly before abandoning Brooklyn for Los Angeles, and 1595, the year of the Epithalamion and Spenser’s glory, shortly before the poet’s untimely death. Only after my father passed away in 2017, when my mother collected his baseball writings and asked me for a dedicatory sonnet, did I find myself writing Spenserian stanzas instead, and I couldn’t stop: Robinson was Redcrosse, the Yankees the Dragon, and nothing had ever been more like Cleopolis in the age of chivalry than New York City in the great decade of baseball.
The following poem, then, began as elegy, but Spenser and baseball are both too much fun for elegy. The Faerie Knights and the Brooklyn Dodgers may be ghosts, but the Red Cross and the Blue Cap are too vibrant for sorrow, are creatures instead of playful archaism and gentle nostalgia. Tears may be detected, I suppose, in the tenth stanza (where I am among the squires), but exuberance, I hope, inhabits the whole. Caps for helmets; bats for lances; heck, even the nine lines of the stanza recall the nine players on the summer grass. Imitation is the poet’s sport.
In times of yore was great Cleopolis
The site of glorious tourneys year by year,
For then resorted to that bright metropolis
All Faerie knights of name, both far and near.
There honour could be won, as all did hear,
That fame thereof did reach to distant lands,
And brought bold sarazins, who knew no fear,
And cruell paynims, and vncouth brigands,
Who brandisht clubbes, and leathern gloues wore on their hands.
One barb’rous tribe had conquerd many realmes.
Mongst all this grieslie horde the fellest crew;
An N and Y were grauen on their helmes,
Their mayle bore pinstripes of an ashen hew,
And fearsome nayles they fix’d vpon their shoe,
To do their victims prone most cruell harme,
That all the lande with blood they did imbrue,
And did lay waste to citie, towne, and farme,
Ne any could their rampage slow by force or charme.
A slye olde wyzard rul’d this paynim band,
Hight Stengal, who with spells and mystick arte
Could render strengthlesse each opposing hand,
And read his foemans minde, and quell his harte,
And to his owne bad minions strengthe imparte;
Great powre he lent to his fierce captaines four,
And each like to a beast did play his parte:
Berra the beare, foxe Rizzuto, Ford the bore,
And Micky Mantle like a lyon still did rore.
But there arose agaynst such fearsome oddes
A small heroicke bande of Faerie knights,
Who those barbarians, and their false goddes
Didst vow t’oppose, and to mayntayne the rights
Of all downetredden faeries, elues, and sprites,
That yet to honour and to faith held trew;
These happy fewe were dubb’d the Brooklyn Knights,
(After the prouince they pertained to,)
And each did on his scutcheon paynte a strype of blew.
So too their helms they topt with azure creast,
Or peacocks plumes arranged in a lyne;
They bore a B for Brooklyn on their breast,
Embrodred all in silke of blue moste fyne;
For that same hue was then, as now, the signe
Of hope, and symbol of the promist lande;
That colour yet partakes of thinges diuine,
Sith God Himselfe to Ysrael’s chosen bande
To weare a thred of blue did euermore command.
Lord Rhys their Captayne was of stature small,
Yet courteous, magnanimous, and wise,
Which virtues made him well belou’d of all,
And euer won him fauour in mens eyes,
Ne any could him finde to criticize;
In ioustes and tourneys he did bear the bell,
And euery iudge to Rhys would graunt the prize,
Yet would that gracious knight those iudges tell,
His feres as worthie were, nay, did his deedes excell.
And by his syde there strode a pere of mickle myght,
As strong as any oake, as tall as any towre,
That like vnto the Titans olde he seem’d in sight,
Which stature made his punie foes to wynce and cowre,
And often he a tree would plucke (such was his powre)
From out the grownd, and with that cudgel sweepe the ayre,
And send whate’er he hit so high and far to showre,
That none could euer tell when it would lande or where;
The Duke of Flatbussheshyre he hight, whose strength was past compare.
Behynd him rode the stout Sir Campanell,
Whose cheuisaunce no knyght could hope to match,
For he did euer firke and fence so well
That all who ranne him towards he would dispatch,
And all who ranne away he sure would catch.
(Ah Campanell how all good Faeries cride,
When Fortune foule thy happinesse did snatch,
And made thy horse to fall with thee still tide
Amongst the reins; thereafter thou couldst no more ride.)
To these there joyn’d a Prince of Affrick lond,
Whose fame in Faërie was most newfangle,
For all were there reputed to be blond,
Blue-ey’d, sno-white, a Saxon, Franck, or Angle,
Nor with no Affrickan would any tangle,
And all the listes gainst ebon knights were bard,
And many foes did Robie threat to mangle,
Yet he those recreants did ne’er regard,
But bested all; undying glory his reward.
Good burghers all swore fealty to these knights,
But moste did boys requeste to be their squyres,
And second them in any of their fights,
Aflame with ardour of ten thousand fyres;
And chaunted hymnes for them like Angels quyres,
Beyond the worship payde to lord or king.
Yet more in aftertimes when they came syres,
Their sons they taught these Faeries prayse to sing,
That boyish loues might grow as twere another spring.
Yet in that towne a lesser tribe did lurke,
Close kin to greedie Dwarfes and lustie Satyrs,
Like batts they hung in belfries of the kirke,
Or neath the streets with ratts and alligators,
And they were famed as prestidigitators,
Whom all good burghers and their dames reuilde,
For they were nought but theeues and spyes and traytors,
Who vnaccountably were Gyaunts styled,
Yet truth was they were Gnomes, no taller than a childe.
Those roguish ympes did raise full many a stoure,
As when Sir Branca, well belou’d of all,
But crost still by the starres, in euill houre,
Queene Glorianas diadem let fall;
Then creeping forth from mongst the busshes small,
The boldest of the Nomes (hee Bobbi hight),
Ere th’unlucky Elfe could turne or helpe could call,
That threasure snatcht and smuggled out of sight,
Which thefte all Faerieland lamented day and night.
Yet yeare by yeare the Brooklyn Knightes grew stronger,
And yeare by yeare renewd their sacred bond:
That those proud paynims might not any longer
Ride vp and downe at will through Faerielond,
Vnited thus these heroes tooke their stond,
And beate the barb’rous Iunkers to their boates,
And almost sent to their syde of the pond,
Yet were th’inuaders stout, in yron coates,
And fenct themselues ’hind fortresses and moates.
So yeare by yeare those destin’d foes did war,
And sundrie battles fought withouten pitie,
As when those Grecian warriors of yore
Did lay long siege to that Phrygian citie;
As Homer sung in his right famous dittie,
Vntil the saracens vnueil’d a weapon new,
Deuiz’d by Stengal, who was slye and wittie,
A tube of yron, that did hollow shew,
But fyre belched forth, and stonie missiles threw.
As when that Titan ‘neath th’Italian boote,
Where Ioue him piniond for his madde revolt,
Doth spew his fury forth in flames and soote,
And hurl whole mountaintops gainst Heavens vault,
That Ioue himselfe doth feare some new assault,
So was wars tyde turn’d by those engyns fiers,
And Faeries fall did seeme the sure result,
For through the strongest walles their balles could piers,
Thenceforth those carles did style themselues the Bombardiers.
And true I fynd in history’s sad scrolls,
That too too oft, o’er many a bloodie field,
The banner planted was by those same trolls,
Who then would boast that Brooklyns fate was seeld;
And yet her paladins would neuer yield,
But would resume their quest, and rise agayne,
And don their armour, and their wepons wield,
As they had neuer known such thyng as payne,
And maugre all repulse their glory would regayne.
For they did seeke to mend our vniuerse,
Which euer had appearde but blacke and whyte,
And still did wane from worst to worse and worse,
So all in darknesse dwelt, forgetting light;
Yet these that fate auoyding, Dodgers hight,
Did one day winne, which no day since hath past,
And did restore to eu’ry man his sight,
And paynted blew the heauens, highe and vast,
Which hue they shall remayne, from now vnto the last.
1 great Cleopolis: the capital city of Faerieland and Spenser’s allegory for 16th-c. London; here, an allegory for New York City in the 1940s and 50s. 2 glorious tourneys year by year: the jousting competitions common in medieval romance and in The Faerie Queene; here a figure for the annual World Series. 7–8 sarazins… paynims: stock romantic terms for the faithless foes of faithful knights; here representing the Dodgers’ rivals. 9 clubbes: baseball bats.
1 One barb’rous tribe: the Yankees. 2 grauen on their helmes: sewn into their baseball caps. 4 mayle: uniforms, white with black pinstripes in the Yankees’ case. 5 fearsome nayles: cleats. 9 their rampage: the Yankees’ dominant run of World Series victories in the 40s and 50s (championships in 1941, 43, 47, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, and 56, pennants in 1942, 55, 57, 58).
1 A slye olde wyzard: Casey Stengel, manager of the Yankees from 1949–60. 8–9: Berra… Rizutto… Ford… Mickey Mantle: Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto (a shortstop nicknamed “Scooter,” hence nimble like a fox), Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle were star players for the Yankees; all are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
2 small heroicke bande of Faerie knights: the Brooklyn Dodgers. 7 These happy fewe: See Shakespeare, Henry V, 4.3.61: Henry’s famous Crispin’s Day speech rousing the English troops before Agincourt. 8 prouince: borough.
1 azure creast: referring to the Dodgers’ blue caps. 4–5 For that same hue… of hope: Western tradition associates the color blue with hope, hence Spenser depicts Speranza, his allegory for hope, wearing blue. 5–9 and symbol… command: at Numbers 15:37–41, God tells Moses and the Israelites to ‘make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel’; hence, a sign of divine election.
1 Lord Rhys: the Hall of Famer Harold “Pee Wee” Reese was the shortstop for the Dodgers and served as the team’s captain after 1950. 2 courteous, magnanimous, and wise: Reese was known as a personable ‘Southern gentleman’, though unlike several Brooklyn players from the South, who in 1947 circulated a petition to block Jackie Robinson’s promotion to the team, Reese welcomed Robinson and famously embraced him during a game against Cincinnati as a rebuke to heckling Reds fans. 6 bear the bell: win. 9 fere: a Spenserian archaism meaning brother or companion.
This stanza’s added bulk is a metrical pun on the size and strength of the hero it describes. 1 a pere of mickle myght: Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider, the Dodgers’ Hall of Fame center fielder and principal power hitter; pere: with a pun on the word’s modern sense (i.e., equal to Reese). 5 tree: a baseball bat. 7 whate’er he hit so high and far: home runs. 9 the Duke of Flatbussheshyre: Snider was nicknamed “The Duke of Flatbush,” after the neighborhood in Brooklyn where Ebbets Field was located.
1 stout Sir Campanell: Roy Campanella, the Dodgers’ Hall of Fame catcher from 1948–57, paralyzed in a car accident in January 1958. 2 cheuisaunce: horsemanship and knightly bearing, roughly an allegory for a catcher’s requisite mastery of the rules and rhythms of baseball. 3 firke and fence: fencing terms for thrusting and parrying. 4–5 ranne him towards… ranne away: tried to score or tried to steal a base, respectively. 6–9 Ah Campanell…: an apostrophe to the hero in the poet’s own voice, traditional in epic poetry and here referring to the tragic end of Campanella’s career.
1 a prince of Affrick lond: Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson, first African-American Major League baseball player and Hall of Fame second-baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He broke baseball’s “colour barrier” in 1947. 5 Nor with no Affrickan: the double negative is meant to evoke the dialect of an uneducated racist (i.e., ‘I ain’t gonna play with no…’). 9 undying glory his reward: since 2004, every April 15th, every player in Major League baseball has worn the number 42 in honour of Robinson.
1 burghers: Brooklynites and Dodgers fans. 7 when they came syres: when they had children of their own. 8 Their sons they taught these Faeries prayse to sing: as the poet’s father taught him to love the Dodgers.
1 a lesser tribe: Manhattan’s New York Giants, the obvious Lepidus among New York’s triumvirate of teams in the 1940s and 50s.
2 Sir Branca: Ralph Branca, a Dodgers relief pitcher. 4 Queene Glorianas diadem let fall: the crown’s theft is an allegory for the Giants’ improbable triumph over the Dodgers at the end of the 1951 season, when Bobby Thompson hit a game-winning home run (known as ‘The Shot Heard Round the World’) off Branca in the bottom of the ninth inning of the deciding playoff game. 6 Bobbi: Bobby Thompson.
6 Iunkers: originally an honorific term for lesser nobility in Prussia and other German-speaking lands; here, a derogatory reference to the Yankees as Hun-like invaders, punning on the English ‘junk’ and faintly recalling the industrial firm that built planes for the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. 7 their syde of the pond: i.e., back over the East River to the Bronx.
3–5 As when… famous dittie: an epic simile relating the Dodgers-Yankees rivalry to the Trojan War (Phrygia is another name for Troy), as recounted by Homer in the Iliad. 8–9 A tube of yron… stonie missiles threw: admittedly a stretch, alluding to episodes in Renaissance epic (especially Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and Milton’s Paradise Lost) when diabolical characters invent and employ cannons; no real connection to baseball, but a measure of the Yankees’ satanic aspect.
1–5 that Titan… some new assault: in classical mythology, the titan Typhon (whom Hesiod describes as having one hundred serpentine heads) attempted to overthrow Zeus and seize dominion over the universe. Once Zeus defeated him with his thunder, he imprisoned Typhon underneath the island of Sicily, where he spews forth his bitterness in the form of volcanic eruptions from Mount Etna. Later poets occasionally imagine the escape of the titans and the renewal of their rebellion against the gods. 6 those engyns fiers: the cannons of the previous stanza. 8 balles: cannonballs, but also baseballs. 9 those carles did style themselues the Bombardiers: as the Yankees were nicknamed “The Bronx Bombers”
4 Brooklyns fate was seeld: so it must have seemed after World Series defeats in 1941, 47, 49, 52, 53, and 56, along with the loss of the pennant to the Giants in 1951.
2 Which euer had appearde but blacke and whyte: because the Yankees, who wore black and white, seemed always to win the World Series. 3 And still did wane from worst to worse and worse: improving upon the cataclysmic proem to Book 5 of Spenser’s Faerie Queene, according to which the world ‘being once amisse growes daily wourse and wourse.’ 6 Did one day winne: the Dodgers’ glorious World Series victory of 1955. 7 And did restore to eu’ry man his sight: recalling biblical miracles.
Autobibliographical Note. The elegy for the author’s teacher, the Graduate English Dept. Chair at the Univ. of Toronto in 1962, was written in the wake of a course in Anglo-Saxon: remedial study required by Prof. Woodhouse, when the would-be poet was a beginning graduate student – along with a similarly remedial course in nineteenth-century Thought, as taught by the Chair himself. (Prof. Woodhouse also suggested, in the most diplomatic way possible, the young student might consider attending his church, which was Anglican. The student was subsequently asked to serve as a pall-bearer at Woodhouse’s funeral.) The paired poems ‘Legion’ and ‘The Judas Tree’ were composed a few years forward: ‘Legion’ under Robert Fitzgerald at Harvard (in 1967), who mentioned it to the author about a decade later. The student’s dissertation director at Toronto, Northrop Frye, opined that it showed the influence of reading in that poet; and yes, the title persona may well have enjoyed a previous post-scriptural life in Faerie Queene I. The thematically complementary verses of ‘The Judas Tree’ were written when the author had become a Junior Professor (though an unpublished one). The Palmer who will forsake the piece’s speaker presumably has his counterpart Faerie Queene II. (Prof. Harry Berger – who had worked on that same Book in the same location – once surmised that personal encounters in New Haven were reflected in the inescapable romance of such a despondent-sounding piece.)
The Deathwatch for Arthur Woodhouse
(A.S.P. Woodhouse, Prof. of English in the Univ. of Toronto: b. 1895, d. October 31, 1964. Funeral services were conducted at Saint James the Less in the city of Toronto, where the body was cremated.)
The ancient twilight-foe found the delightful treasure … he who seeks out barrows, flies by night, the smooth malicious dragon … the hateful creature flying through the air would leave no thing with life … he had surrounded the land with flame and burning … it had an end, speedily and sorely, in the person of their bounteous lord.
— Beowulf, tr. J.R.R. Tolkien
He died on Hallowe’en.
The jack-o’-lanterns on our porch
Were living out his death.
The household gods were dead.
The benevolent bogeys had departed.
The guttered death’s-heads
Sagged to settle – each pumpkin furnace dropped.
Their garish, gap-toothed grins were ruinous
And the inner-light about to flicker out.
On the night that Woodhouse died
Sleep was hideous and the hemisphere
Dormant unto death. All created nature
Troubled through that torpor,
Unable to awake. Freight trains flashed at evening
And lonely diesels wailed and wailed
Like banished ghosts over the suburbs.
The fastness dreamed its supine dream
And unending herds of stock-cars
Rumbled like sheep through the droverless dark.
The Hart House pool had ceased to lap —
Only spectres rode its dolphin back.
Nothing surfaced from its vast blue grave.
Here Woodhouse used to bathe
Like river-dragon Pharaoh,
Frolic in his courses;
Here that largeness dove, and now his ghost
Rose to close with death —
Rivers spilled from the wallets of his flesh,
And from the girdle of his trunks
His body puffed and shook and blew.
It was the labor of Leviathan
Shipping oceans as he rolled.
The day-star dropped,
A bondsman at the mill: task-mastering
Scorpio was his goad. Disastrous,
All Hallows gathered like a lash
And the crazed, ensnarled dragon on the dark
Cracked its fallen tail.
Through sober skies
The exhausted children of the nineteenth century
Fell like yellow leaves
As thick as summer stars.
No Christian god,
Contagion of dust is much among them,
And he housels in their bones and bowels.
Here hills turn ash and headlands brown,
Cicadas sing, and the noon consumes
The deathwatch unison.
Agamemnon’s torch-alerted Furies race
And stubble-thirsty sparks, natured with a curse,
Set the whale-stoven Hronesness on fire.
Here all passages
Impasse – obedient marble tables
Forget themselves to dust.
No man fords at Adam, its river-race
Is choked with strangered planks.
All gone into valleys of Beth Peor –
Who will breach their quarantine,
Where interloping Satan stalks,
Or make a fourth within that furnace,
Faced with wrathful fire?
Here the sands of generation
Are run out, and the sands of burial
Baffled and scattered.
The lawful rent of life
Is life: how shall it profit us,
Bought with everything we have?
We are much worse than poor.
The stone encampment
Is unable to decamp.
Till Shiloh come. For which among us
Dare darken counsel, or God’s abysm search,
Depending dividers and plumb? Who beheld
The god beginning, when EL surveyed the deep
And sounded it, like to a fisher who casts out
His line? Who breathed the breath and whisper
Of appointment, loosing the oceans in troughs
And shutting the floods in the face of their doors?
The coasts emergent clapped their hands
And sloughed off straited seas. The very hills
Broke water, and ploughed their rural backs.
Then was this great frame of Nature raised
And the rooftree lofted from the joists.
The gates of the morning were swinging to open,
Where the gates of evening had idled to close.
Who was it hung them on their vasty hinges,
Against the stellar jambs? Who was it chose
Celestial signs, both for blazons
And for times? – Consider the Wright!
- Who the firmamental pinions fired,
Fastened first on high above,
And then beneath so low?
- Consider the Smith!
- And one of the two was longer in making,
Lengthy to temper. Only in the eleventh hour
Was it plucked from the coals: even so late.
Son of man, the word is very near you.
They are all gone into Arthur.
‘Death was much among us, and the grave
Has done his level best.
Our kneading was from dust,
Its longings were with dust,
How should we enquire,
What spiders wove our winding-sheets
Or gave us funeral? In our kind,
We were spinners too –
We hung upon those giddy threads and guys,
The stretching-ropes of living.
We feed this soil with scattered
Adam, and that old sod
Remembers us in green.
Our fame is with GOD,
Our silence calls upon his Name.
Do not ask for us among the men,
Delving in the noontide,
At nightfall walking into earth;
Nor among the women,
Insane with frequent tongue,
Occupied and preoccupied,
Spinning with the spinning earth.
Gone the fiction turned from clay,
And its fashion. Loosed the vesture –
Lain aside. Glory gone,
And gone its glass, the likeness unto life
Shattered on Sheol. Friend of man,
Its shows were virtual and vain.’
Here not the bright, gainrisen god,
Only here the bleachéd bone,
The toothéd gate. There is no kingdom there
Where No-Kingdom-There is king.
Legion and the Judas-Tree
Peripheral, only a rumour,
He does not appear within the walls
Until the walls are mostly sand.
He dwells in parched places
With raven and scritch: there,
Where the satyr has called to his fellow,
Brayed like an Ishmaelite beast; there,
Where the night-hag has stabled and whelped.
“The Troubled Spirit” he is called.
– Disquiet and demon, coasting the heathland
Through contagion and fog. In the tremor of one,
Another’s querulous rasp, in failures to do
And not to do, he habits and feeds.
Secret at first, we remark him at last –
In an old periodical in a decaying valise, on a damp page –
Lately unbottled, at a critic remove.
What was he doing there? someone obliviously asks,
And affects a knowing surmise – calls causes delays
In taking mesmeric effect.
Yet an anxious wilderness at evening
Drew him on: indeterminate and vestigial,
Half-banished spirit, whispering plausible credentials,
Who early spoke thee fair –
Why, oh why, would we not listen?
My name is Legion: disconsolate
And minor, yet wanting to be heard.
My palmer’s cheek was starved and spent,
His eye was passing evil;
Forty days there are in Lent
And then it’s brave the devil.
Much snow was falling, and the wind
Sang of everything we’d lost:
Inhuman cold, against our kind,
Bearded every face with frost.
I thought of England, now quite past…
Boxed privet, Father Thames with sails…
The western marches would be an evil host,
If this indeed were Wales.
The wolf on the wold was loud tonight,
Louder and nearer than before.
My palmer would leave me tonight
Alone on the desolate shore.
Yonder in the vale ahead us lay
The stricken hulk of branch and trunk;
The feeble grass was leprous gray,
’Round about the ground was sunk.
And yea, my palmer spoke and said,
’Tis a thing of mystery:
Evil sprights or wretches good as dead
Call it Judas-Tree.
The parent of a darksome wood,
It darkly breeds its spore;
No one gets of it much good,
Oft much worse, and moreover more.
Who cuts a staff from out this vale
Crooks the back that uses it;
Who ropes his mount inside its pale
Dreads the swiftly losing it.
Birds that build above this ground
Are fowl that carrion keep;
Grasses grown these roots around
Be rotting many sheep.
Confide your wealth into this bole,
Thy cache will ruin late or soon;
Pledge your love how pure and whole,
Yet meet it ashen by the tomb.
Rings of wrathful shadows dance
Across this hoar Gethsemane;
Tonight we watch our evil chance
Beside the Judas-tree.
The wolf on the wold was louder tonight,
Louder and nearer than before.
My palmer would leave me tonight
Alone on the desolate shore.
 ‘I have begun reading Spenser […] Quite extraordinary! I can hardly believe my eyes.’ (Postcard from CL, 25th June 1993).