Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"Their Mother Was a Fay..."

It has been a little while since very many people read Spenser, but The Faerie Queene is worth a second look. Spenser's poetry is unique in its enchantment and in the raw and visceral force of many of its images. For enchantment, consider this passage:

Their Mother was a Fay, and had the skill
Of secret things, and all the powers of nature
Which she by art could use unto her will,
And to her service bind each living creature....

Though I have no longing for power to bind living creatures, yet ah, for the skill of secret things! That is every scholar's wish and the wish of half the poets too.

Here is a passage for a raw and visceral velocity of sound and image (read this aloud, and you will see what I mean), one of my favorite passages on Dragons. The scaly beast has just been wounded, in battle with the Red Cross Knight:

For grief thereof, and devilish despite,
From his infernal furnace forth he threw
Huge flames, that dimmed all the heavens' light,
Enrolled in duskish smoke and brimstone blue;
As burning Aetna from his boiling stew
Doth belch out flames, and rocks in pieces broke,
And ragged ribs of mountains molten new,
Enwrapped in coalblack clouds and filthy smoke,
That all the land with stench, and heaven with horror choke.

Aetna, it is worth knowing, is the volcano that the Greeks named: "I burn."

If you haven't read Spenser in a while, look for a copy! Like every great writer of fairy tales and fantasies, he reminds us that the world in which we walk is full of hidden wonders and hidden monsters, even in the mundanity of our daily lives: he demands that we peer below the surface of our choices and our encounters. He demands - in the first lines spoken in The Faerie Queene - that we "be well aware." These are beautiful and perilous lives we live.

1 comment:

S. Fischetti said...

Spencer chronicles the duel between the good queen Una and the evil witch Duessa in his epic. Una was supposed to represent Queen Elizabeth I.