Leaving The Eagle for A Wedding

cornflr (2)
Flowers or a dream of flowers?

Before the memory of Tennyson’s eagle interrupted, I had been making a start on reading Spenser’ Prothalamion.  Carrying on with that today. Read the whole poem here, Get yourself back into it by reading it aloud but I’m picking up at this point;

CALM was the day, and through the trembling air
Sweet-breathing Zephyrus did softly play—
A gentle spirit, that lightly did delay
Hot Titan’s beams, which then did glister fair;
When I, (whom sullen care,                                                5
Through discontent of my long fruitless stay
In princes’ court, and expectation vain
Of idle hopes, which still do fly away
Like empty shadows, did afflict my brain,)
Walk’d forth to ease my pain                                             10
Along the shore of silver-streaming Thames,
Whose rutty bank, the which his river hems,
Was painted all with variable flowers,
And all the meads adorn’d with dainty gems
Fit to deck maidens’ bowers,                                                15
And crown their paramours
Against the bridal day, which is not long:
Sweet Thames! run softly, till I end my song.

The other day I’d got to ‘walk’d forth to ease my pain’ and will pick up again there.

Walk’d forth to ease my pain                                             10
Along the shore of silver-streaming Thames,
Whose rutty bank, the which his river hems,
Was painted all with variable flowers,
And all the meads adorn’d with dainty gems
Fit to deck maidens’ bowers,                                                15
And crown their paramours
Against the bridal day, which is not long:
Sweet Thames! run softly, till I end my song.

I see now (didn’t really notice before) that the lovely day bookends Spenser’s description of his own unhappy mental state, with ‘Sweet-breathing Zephyrus’ and calmness at one side, and the delightful  flowery banks of the river of the other. On a quick first reading I had nearly missed his frustrated misery. The final line, which becomes a refrain for the whole poem, is a plea for continued calm, suggesting there’s still more trouble to come perhaps. But he wants to make his song in peace.

I try now to make the situation Spenser describes real to myself, I need to translate it into my own experience. I imagine this: there’s a wedding coming but you are in the middle of loads of difficulty at work – what happens? You put the difficulty aside, mentally, as best you can , and get on with celebrating the  marriage. That’s what’s happening here.

The way he sees the river bank is very much in terms of wedding day – flowers, gems, maidens and their paramours and then the actual mention of a ‘bridal day’. Thinking of all these images and feelings of pleasure and sweetness crowding out his work worries. But the work worries are still there. I note them and move on.

Back to the poem, stanza two, read it aloud again:

There in a meadow by the river’s side
A flock of nymphs I chancèd to espy,                           20
All lovely daughters of the flood thereby,
With goodly greenish locks all loose untied
As each had been a bride;
And each one had a little wicker basket
Made of fine twigs, entrailèd curiously.                      25
In which they gather’d flowers to fill their flasket,
And with fine fingers cropt full feateously
The tender stalks on high.
Of every sort which in that meadow grew
They gather’d some—the violet, pallid blue,             30
The little daisy that at evening closes,
The virgin lily and the primrose true,
With store of vermeil roses,
To deck their bridegrooms’ posies
Against the bridal day, which was not long:            35
Sweet Thames! run softly, till I end my song.

Now I am a little perplexed. We’ve gone into fantasy or into seeing the world through the mode of classical Greece. We saw that Grecian stuff in the opening stanza but there they seems  straightforward images of god-like powers – Zephyrus and Titan. What we have here are creatures, a ‘flock of nymphs’ with ‘goodly greenish locks’. I’m going to look up nymphs. (Despite what I said about the footnote killeth). Looked it up,  and I go on knowing that – as I thought, a nymph is a sort of minor deity, often associated with water or specific places. My question is: are these real nymphs, with real ‘greenish’ hair, or  are they figments of Spenser’s imagination – have we entered a fiction?  Are they real people dressed in his imagination as nymphs? The Thames, sweet as it is, is a real river. I don’t know the answer to my question – never mind. I read on.

Each of these figures ( how many is a flock?) remind him brides:

With goodly greenish locks all loose untied
As each had been a bride;
And each one had a little wicker basket
Made of fine twigs, entrailèd curiously.                      25
In which they gather’d flowers to fill their flasket,
And with fine fingers cropt full feateously
The tender stalks on high.

I’ve decided I’m treating it as a fiction. I’m in a story.

A few weeks ago here on this blog I started to think about  different types of poem – direct, personal, thinking, story etc. I’m assuming this is story and so the part of me that loves narrative – what’s going to happen – is firing up now. I  still have some language to untangle as lots of words  seem unfamiliar and I have to keep looking up some of the Greek stuff, but I’ve stopped feeling worried. This is not beyond me. The nymphs are picking flowers for vases back at home. (Looked up flasket, nice old  word). They gathered flowers

Of every sort which in that meadow grew
They gather’d some—the violet, pallid blue,             30
The little daisy that at evening closes,
The virgin lily and the primrose true,
With store of vermeil roses,
To deck their bridegrooms’ posies
Against the bridal day, which was not long:            35
Sweet Thames! run softly, till I end my song.

Had to look up ‘vermeil’ but shouldn’t have bothered ,should have just guessed. It’s  vermillion! It’s a red, red rose. Which makes me think of a love poem. These girls are getting ready for a wedding – but why are ‘nymphs’ they turning into girls in my mind? They are fictions, and unreal, but they are also real. Why? Partly, the flowers, like the Thames, are real, here and now flowers, not parts of Greek mythology, partly perhaps the mention of their bridegrooms, and the bridal day – ‘which was not long’.

At the end,  the stanza closes with the invocation to the Thames to ‘run softly’. Is this asking for a moment of peace? After all the Thames runs through London, where the court (his workplace?) Spenser was so  frustrated in (stanza 1) is based.  Let’s have this interlude, perhaps he is saying, let’s enjoy this.

I’m racing through it now.

With that I saw two swans of goodly hue
Come softly swimming down along the Lee:
Two fairer birds I yet did never see;
The snow which doth the top of Pindus strow 40
Did never whiter show,
Nor Jove himself, when he a swan would be
For love of Leda, whiter did appear;
Yet Leda was (they say) as white as he,
Yet not so white as these, nor nothing near; 45
So purely white they were
That even the gentle stream, the which them bare?
Seem’d foul to them, and bade his billows spare
To wet their silken feathers, lest they might
Soil their fair plumes with water not so fair, 50
And mar their beauties bright
That shone as Heaven’s light
Against their bridal day, which was not long:
Sweet Thames! run softly, till I end my song.

But that third stanza takes me over the days word limit. And introduces the myth of Leda and the Swan, of which I’ll remind myself before tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “Leaving The Eagle for A Wedding

  1. WILLOWS, Helen (RIVERSIDE MED.PRACTICE) April 27, 2017 / 8:06 am

    Now that’s a cliff hanger! Looking forward to tomorrow.

    Hw

    Sent from my iPhone, Helen Willows currently reading Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky

  2. A C.M.H.P., H.V. April 27, 2017 / 10:43 am

    Hi Jane,
    Re marriage.
    ” That holy man,
    Amaz’d at what he saw,
    Made haste to sanctifie
    The bliss by law”.
    Dryden.

    Sums it up
    better than eye.

    (Struggling with the tempo tho)

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