Today (Jan. 13) marks the anniversary of the death of English poet Edmund Spenser (died 1599)…
Spenser’s work, and particularly his epic poem The Fairie Queene, was deeply influential on C.S. Lewis.
Here are five of our favorite poems by him…
A Hymne of Heavenly Love
Love, lift me up upon thy golden wings
From this base world unto thy heavens hight,
Where I may see those admirable things
Which there thou workest by thy soveraine might,
Farre above feeble reach of earthly sight,
That I thereof an heavenly hymne may sing
Unto the God of Love, high heavens king.
Many lewd layes (ah! woe is me the more!)
In praise of that mad fit which fooles call Love,
I have in th’heat of youth made heretofore,
That in light wits did loose affection move;
But all those follies now I do reprove,
And turned have the tenor of my string,
The heavenly prayses of true Love to sing.
And ye that wont with greedy vaine desire
To reade my fault, and, wondring at my flame,
To warme your selves at my wide sparckling fire,
Sith now that heat is quenched, quench my blame,
And in her ashes shrowd my dying shame;
For who my passed follies now pursewes,
Beginnes his owne, and my old fault renewes.
BEFORE THIS WORLDS GREAT FRAME, in which al things
Are now containd, found any being-place,
Ere flitting Time could wag his eyas wings
About that mightie bound which doth embrace
The rolling spheres, and parts their houres by space,
That high eternall Powre, which now doth move
In all these things, mov’d in it selfe by love.
It lovd it selfe, because it selfe was faire;
(For fair is lov’d); and of it self begot
Like to it selfe his eldest Sonne and Heire,
Eternall, pure, and voide of sinfull blot,
The firstling of his ioy, in whom no iot
Of loves dislike or pride was to be found,
Whom he therefore with equall honour crownd.
With him he raignd, before all time prescribed,
In endlesse glorie and immortall might,
Together with that Third from them derived,
Most wise, most holy, most almightie Spright!
Whose kingdomes throne no thoughts of earthly wight
Can comprehend, much lesse my trembling verse
With equall words can hope it to reherse.
Yet, O most blessed Spirit! pure lampe of light,
Eternall spring of grace and wisedom trew,
Vouchsafe to shed into my barren spright
Some little drop of thy celestiall dew,
That may my rymes with sweet infuse embrew,
And give me words equall unto my thought,
To tell the marveiles by thy mercie wrought.
Yet being pregnant still with powrefull grace,
And full of fruitfull Love, that loves to get
Things like himselfe and to enlarge his race,
His second brood, though not of powre so great,
Yet full of beautie, next he did beget,
An infinite increase of angels bright,
All glistring glorious in their Makers light.
To them the heavens illimitable hight
(Not this round heaven which we from hence behold,
Adornd with thousand lamps of burning light,
And with ten thousand gemmes of shyning gold)
He gave as their inheritance to hold,
That they might serve him in eternall blis,
And be partakers of those ioyes of his.
There they in their trinall triplicities
About him wait, and on his will depend,
Either with nimble wings to cut the skies,
When he them on his messages doth send,
Or on his owne dread presence to attend,
Where they behold the glorie of his light,
And caroll hymnes of love both day and night.
Both day and night is unto them all one;
For he his beames doth unto them extend,
That darknesse there appeareth never none;
Ne hath their day, ne hath their blisse, an end,
But there their termelesse time in pleasure spend;
Ne ever should their happinesse decay,
Had not they dar’d their Lord to disobay.
But pride, impatient of long resting peace,
Did puffe them up with greedy bold ambition,
That they gan cast their state how to increase
Above the fortune of their first condition,
And sit in Gods own seat without commission:
The brightest angel, even the Child of Light,
Drew millions more against their God to fight.
Th’Almighty, seeing their so bold assay,
Kindled the flame of his consuming yre,
And with his onely breath them blew away
From heavens hight, to which they did aspyre,
To deepest hell, and lake of damned fyre,
Where they in darknesse and dread horror dwell,
Hating the happie light from which they fell.
So that next off-spring of the Makers love,
Next to himselfe in glorious degree,
Degendering to hate, fell from above
Through pride; (for pride and love may ill agree);
And now of sinne to all ensample bee:
How then can sinfull flesh it selfe assure,
Sith purest angels fell to be impure?
But that Eternall Fount of love and grace,
Still flowing forth his goodnesse unto all,
Now seeing left a waste and emptie place
In his wyde pallace through those angels fall,
Cast to supply the same, and to enstall
A new unknowen colony therein,
Whose root from earths base groundworke should begin.
Therefore of clay, base, vile, and nest to nought,
Yet form’d by wondrous skill, and by his might
According to an heavenly patterne wrought,
Which he had fashiond in his wise foresight,
He man did make, and breathd a living spright
Into his face, most beautifull and fayre,
Endewd with wisedomes riches, heavenly, rare.
Such he him made, that he resemble might
Himselfe, as mortall thing immortall could;
Him to be lord of every living wight
He made by love out of his owne like mould,
In whom he might his mightie selfe behould;
For Love doth love the thing belov’d to see,
That like it selfe in lovely shape may bee.
But man, forgetfull of his Makers grace
No lesse than angels, whom he did ensew,
Fell from the hope of promist heavenly place,
Into the mouth of Death, to sinners dew,
And all his off-spring into thraldome threw,
Where they for ever should in bonds remaine
Of never-dead, yet ever-dying paine;
Till that great Lord of Love, which him at first
Made of meere love, and after liked well,
Seeing him lie like creature long accurst
In that deep horor of despeyred hell,
Him, wretch, in doole would let no lenger dwell,
But cast out of that bondage to redeeme,
And pay the price, all@ were his debt extreeme.
Out of the bosome of eternall blisse,
In which he reigned with his glorious Syre,
He downe descended, like a most demisse
And abiect thrall, in fleshes fraile attyre,
That he for him might pay sinnes deadly hyre,
And him restore unto that happie state
In which he stood before his haplesse fate.
In flesh at first the guilt committed was,
Therefore in flesh it must be satisfyde;
Nor spirit, nor angel, though they man surpas,
Could make amends to God for mans misguyde,
But onely man himselfe, who selfe did slyde:
So, taking flesh of sacred virgins wombe,
For mans deare sake he did a man become.
And that most blessed bodie, which was borne
Without all blemish or reprochfull blame,
He freely gave to be both rent and torne
Of cruell hands, who with despightfull shame
Revyling him, (that them most vile became,)
At length him nayled on a gallow-tree,
And slew the iust by most uniust decree.
O huge and most unspeakeable impression
Of Loves deep wound, that pierst the piteous hart
Of that deare Lord with so entyre affection,
And, sharply launcing every inner part,
Dolours of death into his soule did dart,
Doing him die that never it deserved,
To free his foes, that from his heast had swerved!
What hart can feel least touch of so sore launch,
Or thought can think the depth of so deare wound?
Whose bleeding sourse their streames yet never staunch,
But stil do flow, and freshly still redownd,
To heale the sores of sinfull soules unsound,
And clense the guilt of that infected cryme,
Which was enrooted in all fleshly slyme.
O blessed Well of Love! O Floure of Grace!
O glorious Morning-Starre! O Lampe of Light!
Most lively image of thy Fathers face,
Eternal King of Glorie, Lord of Might,
Meeke Lambe of God, before all worlds behight,
How can we thee requite for all this good?
Or what can prize** that thy most precious blood?
Yet nought thou ask’st in lieu of all this love
But love of us, for guerdon of thy paine:
Ay me! what can us lesse than that behove?
Had he required life for us againe,
Had it beene wrong to ask his owne with game?
He gave us life, he it restored lost;
Then life were least, that us so little cost.
But he our life hath left unto us free,
Free that was thrall, and blessed that was band;
Ne ought demaunds but that we loving bee,
As he himselfe hath lov’d us afore-hand,
And bound therto with an eternall band;
Him first to love that was so dearely bought,
And next our brethren, to his image wrought.
Him first to love great right and reason is,
Who first to us our life and being gave,
And after, when we fared had amisse,
Us wretches from the second death did save;
And last, the food of life, which now we have,
Even he himselfe, in his dear sacrament,
To feede our hungry soules, unto us lent.
Then next, to love our brethren, that were made
Of that selfe* mould and that self Maker’s hand
That we, and to the same againe shall fade,
Where they shall have like heritage of land,
However here on higher steps we stand,
Which also were with selfe-same price redeemed
That we, however of us light esteemed.
And were they not, yet since that loving Lord
Commaunded us to love them for his sake,
Even for his sake, and for his sacred word
Which in his last bequest he to us spake,
We should them love, and with their needs partake;
Knowing that whatsoere to them we give
We give to him by whom we all doe live.
Such mercy he by his most holy reede
Unto us taught, and, to approve it trew,
Ensampled it by his most righteous deede,
Shewing us mercie, miserable crew!
That we the like should to the wretches shew,
And love our brethren; thereby to approve
How much himselfe that loved us we love.
Then rouze thy selfe, O Earth! out of thy soyle,
In which thou wallowest like to filthy swyne,
And doest thy mynd in durty pleasures moyle,
Unmindfull of that dearest Lord of thyne;
Lift up to him thy heavie clouded eyne,
That thou this soveraine bountie mayst behold,
And read, through love, his mercies manifold.
Beginne from first, where he encradled was
In simple cratch*, wrapt in a wad of hay,
Betweene the toylfull oxe and humble asse,
And in what rags, and in how base aray,
The glory of our heavenly riches lay,
When him the silly shepheards came to see,
Whom greatest princes sought on lowest knee.
From thence reade on the storie of his life,
His humble carriage, his unfaulty wayes,
His cancred foes, his fights, his toyle, his strife,
His paines, his povertie, his sharpe assayes,
Through which he past his miserable dayes,
Offending none, and doing good to all,
Yet being malist both by great and small.
And look at last, how of most wretched wights
He taken was, betrayd, and false accused;
How with most scornfull taunts and fell despights,
He was revyld, disgrast, and foule abused;
How scourgd, how crownd, how buffeted, how brused;
And, lastly, how twixt robbers crucifyde,
With bitter wounds through hands, through feet, and syde!
Then let thy flinty hart, that feeles no paine,
Empierced he with pittifull remorse,
And let thy bowels bleede in every vaine,
At sight of his most sacred heavenly corse,
So torne and mangled with malicious forse;
And let thy soule, whose sins his sorrows wrought,
Melt into teares, and grone in grieved thought.
With sence whereof whilest so thy softened spirit
Is inly toucht, and humbled with meeke zeale
Through meditation of his endlesse merit,
Lift up thy mind to th’author of thy weale,
And to his soveraine mercie doe appeale;
Learne him to love that loved thee so deare,
And in thy brest his blessed image beare.
With all thy hart, with all thy soule and mind,
Thou must him love, and his beheasts embrace;
All other loves, with which the world doth blind
Weake fancies, and stirre up affections base,
Thou must renounce and utterly displace,
And give thy self unto him full and free,
That full and freely gave himselfe to thee.
Then shalt thou feele thy spirit so possest,
And ravisht with devouring great desire
Of his dear selfe, that shall thy feeble brest
Inflame with love, and set thee all on fire
With burning zeale, through every part entire,
That in no earthly thing thou shalt delight,
But in his sweet and amiable sight.
Thenceforth all worlds desire will in thee dye,
And all earthes glorie, on which men do gaze,
Seeme durt and drosse in thy pure-sighted eye,
Compar’d to that celestiall beauties blaze,
Whose glorious beames all fleshly sense doth daze
With admiration of their passing light,
Blinding the eyes, and lumining the spright.
Then shall thy ravisht soul inspired bee
With heavenly thoughts, farre above humane skil,
And thy bright radiant eyes shall plainely see
Th’idee of his pure glorie present still
Before thy face, that all thy spirits shall fill
With sweete enragement of celestiall love,
Kindled through sight of those faire things above.