Edmund Spenser – “The Faerie Queene” (ctd.)

In the middle of the garden there is a mount overgrown with trees, whose branches are there so thick and connected with ivy that neither sun rays nor wind can penetrate through them and they create a kind of bower. In this bower grow the flowers known from mythology to be the reincarnations of the lovers whose lives were cut short: Hyacinthus, Narcissus (well, he was in love with himself, wasn’t he?) and sad Amaranthus “made of flowre but late”, the incarnation of Amintas. Amintas was the hero of a Latin poem by a Renaissance poet Thomas Watson, very popular in Spenser’s times. But it is believed that here Spenser refers to Philip Sidney, whose heroic death on the battlefield was generally mourned in England. Spenser does here also something very witty – he cuts the fourth line of the stanza short, not because he doesn’t know how to build the stanza after having written hundreds of them, but because he wants to emphasize the shortness of his characters’ lives.

In this grove lies the body of Adonis, Venus’ lover, preserved in spices and covered with flowers, hidden from the gods of death by Venus, who still apparently has sex with him. However, before it gets too yucky, Spenser explains that Adonis is probably still kept magically alive, and the boar that mauled him is kept locked up in a cave under this mountain. Adonis is presented here as some kind of eternal giver of life, always transforming, eternal in mutability, “father of all formes”. On this mount live Cupid (who somehow returned in the meantime, apparently) with his wife Psyche, who has just given birth to their daughter Pleasure. Venus gives her ward to Psyche to be brought up with Pleasure and be taught “all the lore of love and goodly womanhead”. The girl grows up and is presented at the court of the Faerie Queene, where she is universally admires, but herself falls in love with Sir Scudamore, about which love, full of trials and dangers, we are going to read in the following cantos.

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