June 11: Spenser is a fanboy

"Epithalamion," if I'm cutting and pasting that correctly, is a poem written to celebrate a marriage. So what better time to read one than in June, month of weddings? And how much cooler would that poem be if it were "comprised 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"? Way much cooler, that's how much.

So, if you haven't guessed it already, Edmund Spenser was a nerd. Who else would begin his own wedding poem with "Ye learnèd sisters"? But the big tipoff is how much Greek mythological knowledge he drops:

Like unto Maia, when as Jove her took
In Tempe, lying on the flowry gras,
Twixt sleepe and wake, after she weary was,
With bathing in the Acidalian brooke.
How nice it must have been in the pre-spelling era! And how charmed his wife must have been with all the references to Hymen and Juno and the Nymphs of Mulla! Because if there's one thing women like, it's references -- the more recondite the better, in my experience. And whereas these days, fanboys have more places to whet their expertise -- sports, soul music, what have you -- in Spenser's day I guess it was either the saints or Greek myths.

Of course, we don't know how his wife took it, or was likely to take it, because in the action of the poem, which takes place during the course of her wedding day, she doesn't say a mumbling word, or even take any action (she is brought to the altar):


Behold, whiles she before the altar stands,
Hearing the holy priest that to her speakes,
And blesseth her with his two happy hands,
How the red roses flush up in her cheekes,
...
But her sad eyes, still fastened on the ground,
Are governèd with goodly modesty,

It's nice that she's so quiet -- more oxygen for Edmund!

As to the poem as poem, I'm not so sold on it. I enjoy the alternation of long and short, but the one really striking image in the following passage (her breasts are like uncrudded cream!) doesn't float my boat:

Tell me, ye merchants daughters, did ye see
So fayre a creature in your towne before;
So sweet, so lovely, and so mild as she,
Adorned with beautyes grace and vertues store?
Her goodly eyes lyke Saphyres shining bright,
Her forehead yvory white,
Her cheeks lyke apples which the sun hath rudded,
Her lips like cherryes charming men to byte,
Her brest like to a bowle of creame uncrudded,
Her paps lyke lyllies budded,
Her snowie neck lyke to a marble towre;
And all her body like a pallace fayre,
Ascending up, with many a stately stayre,
To honours seat and chastities sweet bowre.

I do like the idea that the ultimate arbiters of taste are merchants' daughters. Some things indeed never change.

NOTE: Sorry for the formatting, by the way. It's the cutting-and-pasting-stuff-with-line-breaks issue again.

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