Edmund Spenser – The Shepheardes Calender (the end)

Cuddie complains that since the age of the great heroes is long gone, there is nobody to write epic poetry about.  Piers says that in this situation there is nothing left for poetry to do but to fly on her wings to heaven. Unfortunately, Cuddie’s poetry is too weak. The poetry written by another shepherd, Colin, could achieve it, but he is at the moment suffering from unrequited love. Piers says, possibly alluding to the Neoplatonic theories of love as described by Castiglione, that love properly treated could raise Colin’s poetry high up above the sky. Cuddie answers that love is a tyrant who drives all the poetry away from the poet’s head. Instead, the proper fuel for poetry is wine. So… love is bad for poetry, but alcoholism is good? Cuddie claims that with his temples “distaind with wine” he would be able even to write a tragedy. Unfortunately he looses with courage too soon and because of that he thinks he should stick to his pastoral poetry. Piers promises Cuddie a kid when his goats start to give birth. The poem ends with Cuddie’s emblem, which is a short quote from Ovid.  The point of the quote, as the ever helpful E. K. explains, is that poetry is “a divine instinct and unnatural rage”.

On the whole, the poem strikes me as trying to combine rather awkwardly the complaint about the lack of state support (in the 16th c. context, meaning court support), for poets and the whole Platonic thing about the poetry as divine frenzy. I am going to play here devil’s advocate and say that if poetry is madness, why should the state pay for it? The poet is going to rage on no matter whether anybody pays her or not, until she drops down from malnutrition, that is.


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