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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Edmund Spenser

Born c.1552
London, England
Died 13 January 1599 (aged 46–47)
London, England
Occupation Poet

Edmund Spenser (c. 1552 – 13 January 1599) was an English poet best known for The Faerie Queene, an epic poem celebrating, through fantastical allegory, the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. He is recognized as one of the premier craftsmen of Modern English verse in its infancy.



Edmund Spenser was born in London around 1552. As a young boy, he was educated in London at the Merchant Taylors' School and matriculated as a sizar at Pembroke College, Cambridge.[1][2]

In July 1580 Spenser went to Ireland, in the service of the newly appointed lord deputy, Arthur Lord Grey de Wilton. Then he served with the English forces during the Second Desmond Rebellion. After the defeat of the rebels he was awarded lands in County Cork that had been confiscated in the Munster Plantation during the Elizabethan reconquest of Ireland. Among his acquaintances in the area was Walter Raleigh, a fellow colonist.

Through his poetry Spenser hoped to secure a place at court, which he visited in Raleigh's company to deliver his most famous work, the Faerie Queene. However, he boldly antagonized the queen's principal secretary, Lord Burghley, and all he received in recognition of his work was a pension in 1591. When it was proposed that he receive payment of 100 pounds for his epic poem, Burghley remarked, "What, all this for a song!"

Portrait of Edmund Spenser, artist unknown

In the early 1590s, Spenser wrote a prose pamphlet titled, A View of the Present State of Ireland. This piece remained in manuscript until its publication and print in the mid-seventeenth century. It is probable that it was kept out of print during the author's lifetime because of its inflammatory content. The pamphlet argued that Ireland would never be totally 'pacified' by the English until its indigenous language and customs had been destroyed, if necessary by violence. Spenser recommended scorched earth tactics, such as he had seen used in the Desmond Rebellions, to create famine. Although it has been highly regarded as a polemical piece of prose and valued as a historical source on 16th century Ireland, the View is seen today as genocidal in intent. Spenser did express some praise for the Gaelic poetic tradition, but also used much tendentious and bogus analysis to demonstrate that the Irish were descended from barbarian Scythian stock.

Two of Ireland's leading historians of the early modern period Ciaran Brady and Nicholas Canny exchange verbal blow on the topic of Spenser's View of the State of Ireland. Brady’s essential proposition is that Spencer wished the English government to undertake the extermination of most of the Irish population, Brady writes that Spencer preferred to write in dialogue form so that the crudity of his proposals would be masked. Canny undermines Brady conclusion that Spencer opted for “a holocaust or a “blood-bath”, because in spite of Brady claims he did not choose the sword as his preferred instrument of policy. Canny argues that Spencer indeed chose not the extermination of the Irish race but rather a policy of ‘social reform pursued by drastic means’. Canny's ultimate contadiction was that Brady was over reacting and that Spencer did not propose a policy to exterminate the Irish race. Then within one page he moves on to argue that no ‘English writer of the early modern period ever proposed such a drastic programme in social engineering for England, and it was even more dramatic than Brady allows for because all elements of the Irish population including the Old English of the towns, whom Brady seems to think were exempt were subject to some element of this scheme of dispersal, reintegration and re-education[14] This was one of the weak points in Canny's argument, maintaining that this policy was more ‘dramatic than Brady allows’, when Brady’s proposal was one of ‘bloodshed’, ‘extermination’ and ‘holocaust’ and Canny’s one of dispersal, reintegration and re-education. It doesn’t take any specifying that genocide is more dramatic than a policy of social reform pursued with drastic measures. Again he contradicts his previous comments by writing ‘substantial loss of life, including loss of civilian life, was considered by Spencer'. For more details on this tantalizing Historical debate, read Brady's "Spencer’s Irish Crisis: Humanism and Experience in the 1590s and Canny, Nicholas. "Spenser's Irish Crisis: Humanism and Experience in the 1590s, a response to the claims of Brady.

Later on, during the Nine Years War in 1598, Spenser was driven from his home by Irish rebels. His castle at Kilcolman, near Doneraile in North Cork was burned, and it is thought one of his infant children died in the blaze - though local legend has it that his wife also died. He possessed a second holding to the south, at Rennie, on a rock overlooking the river Blackwater in North Cork. The ruins of it are still visible today. A short distance away grew a tree, locally known as "Spenser's Oak" until it was destroyed in a lightning strike in the 1960s. Local legend has it that he penned some or all of The Faerie Queene under this tree. Queen Victoria is said to have visited the tree while staying in nearby Convamore House during her state visit to Ireland. In the following year Spenser traveled to London, where he died in distressed circumstances, aged forty-six. It was arranged for his coffin to be carried by other poets, upon which they threw many pens and pieces of poetry into his grave with many tears.

Spenser was called a Poet's Poet and was admired by William Wordsworth, John Keats, Lord Byron and Alfred Lord Tennyson, among others.[3] The language of his poetry is purposely archaic, reminiscent of earlier works such as The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer, whom Spenser greatly admired.

Spenser's Epithalamion is the most admired of its type in the English language. It was written for his wedding to his young bride, Elizabeth Boyle. The poem consists of 365 long lines, corresponding to the days of the year; 68 short lines, representing the sum of the 52 weeks, 12 months, and 4 seasons of the annual cycle; and 24 stanzas, corresponding to the diurnal and sidereal hours.

Structure of the Spenserian stanza and sonnet

Spenser used a distinctive verse form, called the Spenserian stanza, in several works, including The Faerie Queene. The stanza's main meter is iambic pentameter with a final line in iambic hexameter (having six feet or stresses, known as an Alexandrine), and the rhyme scheme is ababbcbcc.

The Spenserian Sonnet is based on a fusion of elements of both the Petrarchan sonnet and the Shakespearean sonnet. It is similar to the Shakespearan sonnet in the sense that its set up is based more on the 3 quatrains and a couplet,a system set up by Shakespeare; however it is more like the Petrarchan tradition in the fact that the conclusion follows from the argument or issue set up in the earlier quatrains. There is also a great use of the parody of the blason and the idealization or praise of the mistress, a literary device used by many poets. It is a way to look at a woman through the appraisal of her features in comparison to other things. In this description, the mistress's body is described part by part, i.e., much more of a scientific way of seeing one. As William Johnson states in his article "Gender Fashioning and Dynamics of Mutuality in Spenser's Amoretti," the poet-love in the scenes of Spenser's sonnets in Amoretti, is able to see his lover in an objectified manner by moving her to another, or more clearly, an item. The purpose of Spenser doing this is to bring the woman from the "transcendental ideal" to a woman in everyday life. "Through his use of metonymy and metaphor, by describing the lady not as a whole being but as bodily parts, by alluding to centuries of topoi which remove her in time as well as space, the poet transforms the woman into a text, the living 'other' into an inanimate object" (503). The opposite of this also occurs in The Faerie Queen. The counter-blason, or the opposition of appraisal, is used to describe Duessa. She is not objectified, but instead all of her flaws are highlighted.

Without A Rhyme or Reason

Spenser is also the man believed to have crafted the phrase "without reason or a rhyme". He was promised payment from the Queen of one hundred pounds, a so called, "reason for the rhyme". The Lord High Treasurer William Cecil, however, considered the sum too much. After a long while without receiving his payment, he sent her this quatrain:

I was promis'd on a time,
To have a reason for my rhyme:
But from that time unto this season,
I had neither rhyme or reason.

She immediately ordered Cecil to send Spenser his due sum.

List of works

Publication years are linked to their corresponding "[year] in poetry" articles:

  • Iambicum Trimetrum
  • 1569: Jan van der Noot's A theatre for Worldlings, including poems translated into English by Spenser from French sources, published by Henry Bynneman in London[4]
  • 1579: The Shepheardes Calender, published under the pseudonym "Immerito"[5] (entered into the Stationers' Register in December[4])
  • 1590: The Faerie Queene, Books 1–3, published in London (Books 4–6 1596, final books 1609)[4]


  • Complaints Containing sundrie small Poemes of the Worlds Vanitie (entered into the Stationer's Register in 1590[4]), includes:
    • The Ruines of Time
    • The Teares of the Muses
    • Virgil's Gnat
    • Prosopopoia, or Mother Hubberds Tale
    • Ruines of Rome: by Bellay
    • Muiopotmos, or the Fate of the Butterflie
    • Visions of the worlds vanitie
    • The Visions of Bellay
    • The Visions of Petrarch


  • Axiochus, a translation of a pseudo-Platonic dialogue from the original Ancient Greek; published by Cuthbert Burbie; attributed to "Edw: Spenser"[4] but the attribution is uncertain[6]
  • Daphnaïda. An Elegy upon the death of the noble and vertuous Douglas Howard, Daughter and heire of Henry Lord Howard, Viscount Byndon, and wife of Arthure Gorges Esquier (published in London in January, according to one source[4]; another source gives 1591 as the year[5])




  • 1609: Two Cantos of Mutabilitie published together with a reprint of The Fairie Queene[7]
  • 1611: First folio edition of Spenser's collected works[7]
  • 1633: A vewe of the present state of Irelande a prose treatise on the reformation of Ireland,[8] first published in James Ware's Ancient Irish Chronicles (Spenser's work was entered into the Stationer's Register in 1598 and circulated in manuscript but not published until it was included in this work of Ware's)[7]


  1. ^ Spenser, Edmund in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  2. ^ The Edmund Spenser Home Page: Biography
  3. ^ Schmidt,Michael;The Lives of the Poets, Phoenix ,1998 ISBN 978-0753807453
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Web page titled "Edmund Spenser Home Page/Biography", "Chronology" section (at bottom of Chronology, Web page states: "Source: adapted from Willy Maley, A Spenser Chronology."), at the website of the University of Cambridge Faculty of English website, retrieved September 24, 2009
  5. ^ a b c Cox, Michael, editor, The Concise Oxford Chronology of English Literature, Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-19-860634-6
  6. ^ Hadfield, Andrew, The Cambridge Companion to Spenser, "Chronology", Cambridge University Press, 2001, ISBN 0521641993, p xix, retrieved via Google Books, September 24, 2009
  7. ^ a b c Hadfield, Andrew, The Cambridge Companion to Spenser, "Chronology", Cambridge University Press, 2001, ISBN 0521641993, p xx, retrieved via Google Books, September 24, 2009
  8. ^ Web page titled "Edmund Spenser Home Page/Biography", at the website of the University of Cambridge Faculty of English website, retrieved September 24, 2009


  • Rust, Jennifer. "Spenser's The Faerie Queen." Saint Louis University, St. Louis. 10 October 2007.
  • Johnson, William. "The struggle between good and evil in the first book of "The Faerie Queene". English Studies, Vol. 74, No. 6. (December 1993) p. 507-519.

External links

Preceded by:
John Skelton
English Poet Laureate Succeeded by:
Samuel Daniel


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Edmund Spenser (c. 1552January 13, 1599) was an English poet, who wrote such pastorals as The Shepheardes Calendar, Astrophell and Colin Clouts Come Home Againe, but is probably best known for the multi-layered allegorical romance The Faerie Queene.



  • I trow that countenance cannot lie,
    Whose thoughts are legible in the eie.
    • An Elegie, or Friends Passion, for his Astrophill, Line 108 (1586)
  • Death slue not him, but he made death his ladder to the skies.
    • Another [Epitaph] of the Same, line 20 (1586)
  • I learned have, not to despise,
    What ever thing seemes small in common eyes.
    • Visions of the Worlds Vanitie line 69 (1591)
  • For of the soule the bodie forme doth take;
    For the soule is forme, and doth the bodie make.
    • An Hymne in Honour of Beautie, line 132 (1596)
  • For all that faire is, is by nature good;
    That is a signe to know the gentle blood.
    • An Hymne in Honour of Beautie, line 139

[http://www.bartleby.com/106/53.html Prothalamion (1596)

  • 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
    • Line 1
  • Sweete Themmes runne softly, till I end my Song.
    • The last line of each stanza
    • This is often attributed to T. S. Eliot, who does indeed quote it in The Waste Land.
  • 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
    Did never whiter show,
    Nor Jove himself, when he a swan would be
    For love of Leda, whiter did appear
    • Line 37

The Faerie Queene (1589-1596)

  • Fierce warres and faithfull loves shall moralize my song.
    • Book I, Introduction, stanza 1
  • A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine.
    • Book I, canto 1, stanza 1
  • But of his cheere did seeme too solemne sad;
    Yet nothing did he dread, but ever was ydrad.
    • Book I, canto 1, stanza 2
  • A bold bad man, that dar'd to call by name
    Great Gorgon, Prince of darknesse and dead night.
    • Book I, canto 1, stanza 37
  • Is not short paine well borne, that brings long ease,
    And layes the soul to sleepe in quiet grave?
    Sleepe after toyle, port after stormie seas,
    Ease after warre, death after life does greatly please.
    • Book I, canto 9, stanza 40
  • And all for love, and nothing for reward.
    • Book II, canto 8, stanza 2
  • Through thicke and thin, both over banke and bush
    In hope her to attaine by hooke or crooke.
    • Book III, canto 1, stanza 17
  • Into the woods thenceforth in hast she went,
    To seeke for hearbes, that mote him remedy;
    For she of hearbes had great intendiment,
    Taught of the Nymphe, which from her infancy
    Her nourced had in trew Nobility:
    There, whether it divine Tobacco were,
    Or Panachaea, or Polygony,
    She found, and brought it to her patient deare
    Who al this while lay bleeding out his hart-bloud neare.
    • Book III, canto 5, stanza 32
  • And as she lookt about, she did behold,
    How over that same dore was likewise writ,
    Be bold, be bold, and every where Be bold,
    That much she muz'd, yet could not construe it
    By any ridling skill, or commune wit.
    At last she spyde at that same roomes upper end,
    Another yron dore, on which was writ,
    Be not too bold.
    • Book III, canto 11, stanza 54
  • Dan Chaucer, well of English undefyled,
    On Fames eternall beadroll worthie to be fyled.
    • Book IV, canto 2, stanza 32
  • As withered weed through cruell winters tine,
    That feeles the warmth of sunny beames reflection,
    Liftes up his head, that did before decline
    And gins to spread his leafe before the faire sunshine.
    • Book IV, canto 12, stanza 34
  • Me seemes the world is runne quite out of square,
    From the first point of his appointed sourse,
    And being once amisse growes daily wourse and wourse.
    • Book V, Introduction, stanza 1
  • Ill can he rule the great, that cannot reach the small.
    • Book V, canto 2, stanza 43
  • A monster, which the Blatant beast men call,
    A dreadfull feend of gods and men ydrad.
    • Book V, canto 12, stanza 37
  • The gentle minde by gentle deeds is knowne.
    For a man by nothing is so well bewrayd,
    As by his manners.
    • Book VI, canto 3, stanza 1
  • And in his hand a sickle he did holde,
    To reape the ripened fruits the which the earth had yold.
    • Book VII, canto 7, stanza 30

External links

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Simple English

[[File:|thumb|Edmund Spenser]] Edmund Spenser (born around 1552 - died 13 January 1599) was an important poet from England. He is most famous for his poem The Faerie Queene, which talks about different knights who fight against evil. The poem also praises Queen Elizabeth I of England.


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