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O see ye not yon narrow road,
So thick beset wi' thorns and briers ? That is the path of righteousness,
Tho' after it but few enquires.
* And see not ye that braid braid road,
That lies across yon lillie leven? That is the path of wickedness,
Tho' some call it the road to heaven.
And see ye not that bonny road,
Which winds about the fernie brae ? That is the road to fair Elfand,
Where you and I this night maun gae.
• But Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue, 65
Whatever ye may hear or see,
You will ne'er get back to your ain countrie.'
He has gotten a coat of the even cloth,
And a pair of shoes of velvet green, And till seven years were past and gone
True Thomas on earth was never seen.
70 EDMUND SPENSER
SPENSER, like so many other English poets, was a Londoner born and bred. He was educated at the Merchant Taylors' School and at Cambridge University. Here he studied the classics and read with enthusiasm the works of modern poets, particularly the great Italians and Chaucer. Soon after leaving the university he was recommended to the notice of Queen Elizabeth's splendid favorite, the Earl of Leicester, who took him into his service. Here he met Sir Philip Sidney, Leicester's nephew, the flower of English chivalry, and the two young men became fast friends.
Spenser's first book of verse, the Shepheardes Calendar, was published anonymously; but the literary world soon discovered the author, and Spenser was greeted on all sides as the new poet whose coming had been looked for since Chaucer's death. But Spenser knew better than to trust to poetry for his support, and in 1580 he accepted a position as secretary to Lord Grey, the lord deputy of Ireland. In that unhappy country, torn to pieces by Irish revolts, Spanish invasions, and English martial law, Spenser spent, with the exception of a few months in England, the remaining years of his life. He filled various offices in Ireland and at last received a grant of a large estate near Cork. Here he was visited by Sir Walter Raleigh, who found him engaged on his famous poem, The Faerie Queene. Raleigh was so delighted with the work that he carried the author off to the English court, where Spenser dedicated so much of it as he had finished to “ the most magnificent Empress Elizabeth.” He received a small pension from the queen, but was disappointed in not securing any permanent position in England.
Some time after his return to Ireland Spenser married a charming lady whom he had wooed in a series of beautiful sonnets. For his own wedding he wrote his Epithalamion, the noblest marriage song in English verse. Four children were born to him, and in spite of an occasional quarrel with his Irish neighbors he was living happily at his home, Kilcolman Castle, when a fresh rebel lion broke out. Spenser as the English sheriff of the county was especially obnoxious to the rebels. His castle was burned over his head, and he barely escaped with his life. He was sent to England with dispatches, but overcome by anxiety and hardship he collapsed, and died in London a month after his arrival. He was buried in Westminster Abbey near the tomb of his great predecessor, Chaucer. There is a pretty story that his hearse was followed by poets who threw into his open grave mournful elegies and the pens that wrote them. Over his tomb a marble monument was erected describing him as the Prince of Poets.
Spenser's life covers the greater part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and he represents better perhaps than any other poet the chivalric adventurous spirit of those days. Like his friends Raleigh and Sidney, he was himself a soldier and a diplomat as well as a poet; but while their names are remembered rather for their achievements in the world of deeds, Spenser's would be forgotten except for his poetry. But this will keep it alive so long as English poetry is read. He will never be again, it is true, what he was in his own day, a popular poet; but he will always be read by those who love beautiful pictures and musical harmonies in
Few English poets have exerted so wide and long continued an influence as Spenser. From his own day down to that of Tennyson he has continued to be what he has well been called, “ the poets' poet.”
THE FAERIE QUEENE
THE RED CROSS KNIGHT AND UNA
A GENTLE Knight was pricking on the plaine,
Full jolly knight he seemd, and faire did sitt,
And on his brest a bloudie crosse he bore,
But of his cheere did seeme too solemne sad;
Upon a great adventure he was bond,
And ever as he rode, his hart did earne
Upon his foe, and his new force to learne;
A lovely ladie rode him faire beside,
Seemed in heart some hidden care she had,
So pure and innocent, as that same lambe,
Forwasted all their land, and them expeld ;
Behind her farre away a dwarfe did lag,
That everie wight to shrowd it did constrain,