Prothalamion: Or, A Spousall Verse

A poem by Edmund Spenser

IN HONOUR OF THE DOUBLE MARRIAGE OF THE TWO HONORABLE AND VERTUOUS LADIES, THE LADIE ELIZABETH, AND THE LADIE KATHERINE SOMERSET, DAUGHTERS TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE THE EARLE OF WORCESTER, AND ESPOUSED TO THE TWO WORTHIE GENTLEMEN, M. HENRY GILFORD AND M. WILLIAM PETER, ESQUYERS.


(1596)



PROTHALAMION: OR, A SPOUSALL VERSE.


Calme was the day, and through the trembling ayre
Sweete-breathing Zephyrus did softly play
A gentle spirit, that lightly did delay*
Hot Titans beames, which then did glyster fayre;
When I (whom sullein care,
Through discontent of my long fruitlesse stay
In princes court, and expectation vayne
Of idle hopes, which still doe fly away
Like empty shadows, did afflict my brayne,)
Walkt forth to ease my payne
Along the shoare of silver streaming Themmes;
Whose rutty** bank, the which his river hemmes,
Was paynted all with variable flowers,
And all the meades adornd with dainty gemmes,
Fit to decke maydens bowres,
And crowne their paramours
Against the brydale day, which is not long@:
Sweet Themmes! runne softly, till I end my song.
[* Delay, allay.]
[** Rutty, rooty.]
[@ Long, distant.]

There, in a meadow by the rivers side,
A flocke of Nymphes I chaunced to espy,
All lovely daughters of the flood thereby,
With goodly greenish locks, all loose untyde,
As each had bene a bryde;
And each one had a little wicker basket,
Made of fine twigs, entrayled* curiously,
In which they gathered flowers to fill their flasket**,
And with fine fingers cropt full feateously@
The tender stalkes on hye.
Of every sort which in that meadow grew
They gathered some; the violet, pallid blew,
The little dazie, that at evening closes,
The virgin lillie, and the primrose trew,
With store of vermeil roses,
To deck their bridegroomes posies
Against the brydale day, which was not long:
Sweet Themmes! runne softly, till I end my song.
[* Entrayled, interwoven.]
[** Flasket, a long, shallow basket.]
[@ Feateously, dexterously.]

With that I saw two Swannes of goodly hewe
Come softly swimming downe along the lee*:
Two fairer birds I yet did never see;
The snow which doth the top of Pindus strew
Did never whiter shew,
Nor Jove himselfe, when he a swan would be
For love of Leda, whiter did appear;
Yet Leda was, they say, as white as he,
Yet not so white as these, nor nothing near:
So purely white they were,
That even the gentle stream, the which them bare,
Seem'd foule to them, and bad his billowes spare
To wet their silken feathers, least they might
Soyle their fayre plumes with water not so fayre,
And marre their beauties bright,
That shone as heavens light,
Against their brydale day, which was not long:
Sweet Themmes! runne softly, till I end my song.
[* Lee, stream.]

Eftsoones, the Nymphes, which now had flowers their fill,
Ran all in haste to see that silver brood,
As they came floating on the cristal flood;
Whom when they sawe, they stood amazed still,
Their wondring eyes to fill.
Them seem'd they never saw a sight so fayre
Of fowles, so lovely, that they sure did deeme
Them heavenly borne, or to be that same payre
Which through the skie draw Venus stiver teeme;
For sure they did not seeme
To be begot of any earthly seede,
But rather angels, or of angels breede;
Yet were they bred of Somers-heat, they say,
In sweetest season, when each flower and weede
The earth did fresh aray;
So fresh they seem'd as day,
Even as their brydale day, which was not long:
Sweet Themmes! runne softly, till I end my song.
[Ver. 67--Somers-heat. A pun on the name of the Ladies Somerset. C.]

Then forth they all out of their baskets drew
Great store of flowers, the honour of the field,
That to the sense did fragrant odours yeild,
All which upon those goodly birds they threw,
And all the waves did strew,
That like old Peneus waters they did seeme,
When downe along by pleasant Tempes shore,
Scattred with flowres, through Thessaly they streeme,
That they appeare, through lillies plenteous store,
Like a brydes chamber flore.
Two of those Nymphes, meane while, two garlands bound
Of freshest flowres which in that mead they found,
The which presenting all in trim array,
Their snowie foreheads therewithall they crownd,
Whilst one did sing this lay,
Prepar'd against that day,
Against their brydale day, which was not long:
Sweet Themmes! runne softly, till I end my song.

"Ye gentle Birdes! the worlds faire ornament,
And heavens glorie, whom this happie hower
Doth leade unto your lovers blissfull bower,
Ioy may you have, and gentle hearts content
Of your loves couplement;
And let faire Venus, that is Queene of Love,
With her heart-quelling sonne upon you smile,
Whose smile, they say, hath vertue to remove
All loves dislike, and friendships faultie guile
For ever to assoile*.
Let endlesse peace your steadfast hearts accord,
And blessed plentie wait upon your bord;
And let your bed with pleasures chast abound.
That fruitfull issue may to you afford,
Which may your foes confound,
And make your ioyes redound
Upon your brydale day, which is not long:
Sweet Themmes! runne softlie, till I end my song."
[* Assoile, do away with.]

So ended she; and all the rest around
To her redoubled that her undersong*,
Which said, their brydale daye should not be long:
And gentle Eccho from the neighbour ground
Their accents did resound.
So forth those ioyous birdes did passe along
Adowne the lee, that to them murmurde low,
As he would speake, but that he lackt a tong,
Yet did by signes his glad affection show,
Making his streame run slow.
And all the foule which in his flood did dwell
Gan flock about these twaine, that did excell
The rest so far as Cynthia doth shend**
The lesser stars. So they, enranged well,
Did on those two attend,
And their best service lend
Against their wedding day, which was not long:
Sweet Themmes! runne softly, till I end my song.
[* Undersong, burden.]
[** Shend, put to shame.]

At length they all to mery London came,
To mery London, my most kyndly nurse,
That to me gave this lifes first native sourse,
Though from another place I take my name,
An house of auncient fame.
There when they came whereas those bricky towres
The which on Themmes brode aged backe doe ryde,
Where now the studious lawyers have their bowers.--
There whylome wont the Templer Knights to byde,
Till they decayd through pride,--
Next whereunto there standes a stately place,
Where oft I gayned giftes and goodly grace
Of that great lord which therein wont to dwell,
Whose want too well now feels my freendles case:
But ah! here fits not well
Olde woes, but ioyes, to tell,
Against the bridale daye, which is not long:
Sweet Themmes! runne softly, till I end my song.
[Ver. 137.--A stately place Exeter House, the residence first of the
Earl of Leicester, and afterwards of Essex. C.]

Yet therein now doth lodge a noble peer,
Great Englands glory and the worlds wide wonder,
Whose dreadfull name late through all Spaine did thunder,
And Hercules two pillors standing neere
Did make to quake and feare.
Faire branch of honor, flower of chevalrie!
That fillest England with thy triumphs fame,
Ioy have thou of thy noble victorie,
And endlesse happinesse of thine owne name,
That promiseth the same;
That through thy prowesse and victorious armes
Thy country may be freed from forraine harmes,
And great Elisaes glorious name may ring
Through al the world, fil'd with thy wide alarmes.
Which some brave Muse may sing
To ages following,
Upon the brydale day, which is not long:
Sweet Themmes! runne softly, till I end my song.
[Ver. 147.--Whose dreadfull name, &c. The allusion here is to the
expedition against Cadiz, from which Essex returned in August, 1596. C.]

From those high towers this noble lord issuing,
Like radiant Hesper, when his golden hayre
In th'ocean billowes he hath bathed fayre,
Descended to the rivers open vewing,
With a great traine ensuing.
Above the rest were goodly to bee scene
Two gentle Knights of lovely face and feature,
Beseeming well the bower of any queene,
With gifts of wit and ornaments of nature
Fit for so goodly stature,
That like the twins of Iove they seem'd in sight,
Which decke the bauldricke of the heavens bright.
They two, forth pacing to the rivers side,
Receiv'd those two faire brides, their loves delight;
Which, at th'appointed tyde,
Each one did make his bryde
Against their brydale day, which is not long:
Sweet Themmes! runne softly, till I end my song.

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