Sunday, April 29, 2007

Five Hundred Year Old Poetry For The Moment

I'm re-reading Spenser's The Fairy Queen at the moment, and it's been too long. His spelling makes even the simplest words wonderful:

made rowme
a gentle Husher (that is, an usher!)
gently grenning
fawning wordes
kist her wearie feet
The Lyon
whot (hot)
swolne encreace

At one point, he even puts the word 'gorgeous' in a line so that you have to pronounce every syllable, 'Gor-Ge-Ous'. It has a marvellous effect.

This afternoon I came across the following description of Gluttony:

And on his head an yvie girland had,
From under which fast trickled downe the sweat,
Still as he rode he somewhat still did eat,
And in his hand did beare a bouzing can,
Of which he supt so oft, that on his seat
His dronken corse he scarse upholden can...

Bouzing can? That's not Gluttony at all -

That's Norm!


Charles Murton said...

Been too long? It's always been too long. That same leaden rhyme scheme for hundreds of pages - it's like The Chinese water torture.

Get a copy of Fifty Works of English Literature We Could Do Without. That gives The Fairie Queene a good kicking.

TimT said...

Don't believe a word of what they say. It's a glorious piece of literature. The rhyme scheme is actually one of the most technically difficult narrative forms developed in the English language, and nobody since Spenser was really able to pull it off (in my opinion, anyway - Keats couldn't do it. I'm not sure if Shelley attempted it - was his elegy to Keats written in the Spenserian stanza?) It's quite subtle the effect it has on you, like Vaughan-Williams music - the way the rhymes have turning back in on themselves, and then folding back out.

Plus, it's an immensely pleasurable story, brimming over with strange and wonderful characters and curious diversions into folk story-inspired passages, the occasional battle scene, idyllic rural poetry, glorious flights of medieval-style allegory/moralistic verse (his descriptions of the traditional Christian vices are always hilarious).

Why does the rhyme scheme bother you so much? It's not as if Milton did much to vary the pace in Paradise Lost (pages after pages of Iambic Pentameter). Reading passages from TFQ are also rather like reading passages from extended sonnet sequences. It's not that annoying, surely?

Legal Eagle said...

I like it. But then, I enjoyed Tax Law when I studied, so I'm not sure how much credibility I have.

Have you read Sir Gawain and The Green Knight (middle english poem by anonymous author)?

I love it. It's hard work because of the language, but it has a beautiful cinematic technique before the days of cinema - it paints the pictures of all the characters so beautifully and dramatically.

TimT said...

I have read parts of it - not much harder than Chaucer, really. I know the story, and it is fascinating. I will have to give it another go! Right now I have a copy of some Medieval Mystery Plays to read as well, which will be great fun, but hard going.

Karen said...

I was trying not to respond to this because Spenser does not feature in my book at all and I do not want to start distracting myself, but, since no one has answered your question, I'll say that yes, Adonais is in Spenserian stanzas. Shelley (a personal favourite) quite excelled at the form. Byron uses it in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and Tennyson's The Lotos Eaters is in it too, although you might not notice at first. I quickly checked my copy of the NPEP&P while the jug was boiling and they claim that not a lot happens as far as Spenserian stanzas are concerned until the Romantics, although there were scattered attempts to revive it in the 18th century.
(This desperately important information brought to you by the spirit of procrastination).

TimT said...

Well there you go. So there are two major narrative poems in Spenserian stanzas, TFQ and Childe Roland.

You don't rate the Amoretti? The Sheapearde's Calendar? I love it all. It's like pure gold, poured into my ear. (A strange metaphor, but this is my blog!)

I'm off now to google The Lotus Eaters...

Karen said...

Unfortunately I haven't got around to reading a lot of Spenser outside TFQ. It's one of those things that I'm very embarrassed about (everyone has something they should have read more of). It's not that I don't "rate" Him, I just work in another period and you get into this awful situation where you end up mostly reading things that you're doing something with- you have to be very calculated in your reading.

You have curiously similar taste to a friend of mine (I think you mentioned Ogden Nash at one point too), although he's American and a bit older than you (not Ogden Nash, my friend, before you start playing with my syntax).

Anyway, I think "The Lotos Eaters", being one of the finest poems about masturbation in the English language*, should defend the Spenserian stanza amply.

*If you look at it in a certain way!

PS- Sorry about igniting the Adams fire.

TimT said...

My fault, really - I went link-whoring and mailed the link to Tim Blair. I enjoy his blog, but some of the commenters there have a rather all-or-nothing approach to politics, and a fondness for online stoushes.

TimT said...

The Lotos Eaters is about masturbation if I look at it in a certain way? Golly! I always miss out on the zesty bits of these things!

TimT said...

Hmmm, after re-reading The Lotos Eaters, I have three things to say:

a) Nobody does fin de siecle melancholy like Tennyson;

b) Nobody does nonsense like Tennyson, either - including Lewis Carrol. I mean, asphodels, galingales, slow-dropping vales, and spicy downs - what was this guy on?

c) I'm effing depressed, man. Is there any lotus in the house?

Karen said...

Ok, I'll retract the apology then! I didn't quite understand how it got like that so quickly. And I have always been curious about this matter, because I would have thought that other commentators/figures (whom I shall not name) would rile people much more.

Apologies for the effing depression. The songs from The Princess are really the best for that (ahem) wearied languor Tennyson does so well (and Michel Faber has a novel named after the first one, with extremely extensive sex scenes that are very interesting if you have ever found yourself idly wondering about Victorian contraceptive practices).

Charles Murton said...

I was really just stirring the possum. Fifty Works is fun to read, but it was plainly designed to surprise and possibly outrage people (it even includes Hamlet). You can tell that they must have come up with the idea for the book after an all-night drinking session.

The description of gluttony is good. Piers Plowman has something similar, but about drinking.

Do you remember which left-leaning advertising genius was responsible for the 'Norm' campaign?

TimT said...

Bloody hell! That rounds thinks up nicely!

Legal Eagle said...

The Lotos Eaters is about masturbation? Goodness gracious. I read it when I was a naive teen, perhaps I should read it again to see if there is a meaning I missed.

I once got laughed at thoroughly in a university English tute for saying that I thought William Blake's The Tyger was about, well, tigers. Some other people thought it was about all kinds of naughty things.

TimT said...

I guess The Lotos Eaters is about masturbation in the sense that the mentality is excessively solipsistic, though who knows?

TimT said...

I can just imagine the English tute going crazy over the sexual implications in 'The Tyger'.

'But it's about the FORESTS of the NIGHT, man! And FEARFUL SYMMETRIES! It's all there, man, it's all about Blake's fear of sex, or something! Damn, write this down, I feel an essay coming on...'

Email: timhtrain - at -

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