Visions Of The Worlds Vanitie.

A poem by Edmund Spenser

I.

One day, whiles that my daylie cares did sleepe,
My spirit, shaking off her earthly prison,
Began to enter into meditation deepe
Of things exceeding reach of common reason;
Such as this age, in which all good is geason*,
And all that humble is and meane** debaced,
Hath brought forth in her last declining season,
Griefe of good mindes, to see goodnesse disgraced!
On which when as my thought was throghly@ placed,
Unto my eyes strange showes presented were,
Picturing that which I in minde embraced,
That yet those sights empassion$ me full nere.
Such as they were, faire Ladie%, take in worth,
That when time serves may bring things better forth.

[* Geason, rare.]
[** Meane, lowly.]
[@ Throghly, thoroughly.]
[$ Empassion, move.]
[% Faire Ladie. The names of the ladies to whom these Visions and those of Petrarch (see p. 210, VII. 9) were inscribed have not been preserved. C.]


II.

In summers day, when Phoebus fairly shone,
I saw a Bull as white as driven snowe,
With gilden homes embowed like the moone,
In a fresh flowring meadow lying lowe:
Up to his eares the verdant grasse did growe,
And the gay floures did offer to be eaten;
But he with fatnes so did overflows,
That he all wallowed in the weedes downe beaten,
Ne car'd with them his daintie lips to sweeten:
Till that a Brize*, a scorned little creature,
Through his faire hide his angrie sting did threaten,
And vext so sore, that all his goodly feature
And all his plenteous pasture nought him pleased:
So by the small the great is oft diseased**.


III.

Beside the fruitfull shore of muddie Nile,
Upon a sunnie banke outstretched lay,
In monstrous length, a mightie Crocodile,
That, cram'd with guiltles blood and greedie pray
Of wretched people travailing that way,
Thought all things lesse than his disdainfull pride.
I saw a little Bird, cal'd Tedula,
The least of thousands which on earth abide,
That forst this hideous beast to open wide
The greisly gates of his devouring hell,
And let him feede, as Nature doth provide,
Upon his iawes, that with blacke venime swell.
Why then should greatest things the least disdaine,
Sith that so small so mightie can constraine?

[* Brize, a gadfly.]
[** Diseased, deprived of ease.]

III. 7.--Tedula. Spenser appears to mean the bird Trochilos, which,
according to Aristotle, enters the mouth of the crocodile, and picks her
meat out of the monster's teeth. C.


IV.

The kingly bird that beares Ioves thunder-clap
One day did scorne the simple Scarabee*,
Proud of his highest service and good hap,
That made all other foules his thralls to bee.
The silly flie, that no redresse did see,
Spide where the Eagle built his towring nest,
And, kindling fire within the hollow tree,
Burnt up his yong ones, and himselfe distrest;
Ne suffred him in anie place to rest,
But drove in Ioves owne lap his egs to lay;
Where gathering also filth him to infest,
Forst with the filth his egs to fling away:
For which, when as the foule was wroth, said Iove,
"Lo! how the least the greatest may reprove."


V.

Toward the sea turning my troubled eye,
I saw the fish (if fish I may it cleepe**)
That makes the sea before his face to flye,
And with his flaggie finnes doth seeme to sweepe
The fomie waves out of the dreadfull deep;
The huge Leviathan, dame Natures wonder,
Making his sport, that manie makes to weep.
A Sword-fish small him from the rest did sunder
That, in his throat him pricking softly under,
His wide abysse him forced forth to spewe,
That all the sea did roare like heavens thunder,
And all the waves were stain'd with filthie hewe.
Hereby I learned have not to despise
Whatever thing seemes small in common eyes.

[* Scarabee, beetle.]
[** Cleepe, call.]


VI.

An hideous Dragon, dreadfull to behold,
Whose backe was arm'd against the dint of speare
With shields of brasse that shone like burnisht golde,
And forkhed sting that death in it did beare,
Strove with a Spider, his unequall peare,
And bad defiance to his enemie.
The subtill vermin, creeping closely* neare,
Did in his drinke shed poyson privilie;
Which, through his entrailes spredding diversly,
Made him to swell, that nigh his bowells brust,
And him enforst to yeeld the victorie,
That did so much in his owne greatnesse trust.
O, how great vainnesse is it then to scorne
The weake, that hath the strong so oft forlorne!**

[* Closely, secretly.]
[** Forlorne, ruined.]


VII.

High on a hill a goodly Cedar grewe,
Of wondrous length and straight proportion,
That farre abroad her daintie odours threwe;
Mongst all the daughters of proud Libanon,
Her match in beautie was not anie one.
Shortly within her inmost pith there bred
A litle wicked worme, perceiv'd of none,
That on her sap and vitall moysture fed:
Thenceforth her garland so much honoured
Began to die, O great ruth* for the same!
And her faire lockes fell from her loftie head,
That shortly balde and bared she became.
I, which this sight beheld, was much dismayed,
To see so goodly thing so soone decayed.

[* Ruth, pity.]


VIII.

Soone after this I saw an Elephant,
Adorn'd with bells and bosses gorgeouslie,
That on his backe did beare, as batteilant*,
A gilden towre, which shone exceedinglie;
That he himselfe through foolish vanitie,
Both for his rich attire and goodly forme,
Was puffed up with passing surquedrie**,
And shortly gan all other beasts to scorne,
Till that a little Ant, a silly worme,
Into his nosthrils creeping, so him pained,
That, casting downe his towres, he did deforme
Both borrowed pride, and native beautie stained.
Let therefore nought that great is therein glorie,
Sith so small thing his happines may varie.

[* As batteilant, as if equipped for battle.]
[** Surquedrie, presumption.]



IX.

Looking far foorth into the ocean wide,
A goodly Ship with banners bravely dight,
And flag in her top-gallant, I espide
Through the maine sea making her merry flight.
Faire blewe the wind into her bosome right,
And th'heavens looked lovely all the while,
That she did seeme to daunce, as in delight,
And at her owne felicitie did smile.
All sodainely there clove unto her keele
A little fish that men call Remora,
Which stopt her course, and held her by the heele,
That winde nor tide could move her thence away.
Straunge thing me seemeth, that so small a thing
Should able be so great an one to wring.


X.

A mighty Lyon, lord of all the wood,
Having his hunger throughly satisfide
With pray of beasts and spoyle of living blood,
Safe in his dreadles den him thought to hide:
His sternesse was his prayse, his strength his pride,
And all his glory in his cruell clawes.
I saw a Wasp, that fiercely him defide,
And bad him battaile even to his iawes;
Sore he him stong, that it the blood forth drawes,
And his proude heart is fild with fretting ire:
In vaine he threats his teeth, his tayle, his pawes,
And from his bloodie eyes doth sparkle fire;
That dead himselfe he wisheth for despight.
So weakest may anoy the most of might!



XI.

What time the Romaine Empire bore the raine
Of all the world, and florisht most in might,
The nations gan their soveraigntie disdaine,
And cast to quitt them from their bondage quight.
So, when all shrouded were in silent night,
The Galles were, by corrupting of a mayde,
Possest nigh of the Capitol through slight,
Had not a Goose the treachery bewrayde.
If then a goose great Rome from ruine stayde,
And Iove himselfe, the patron of the place,
Preservd from being to his foes betrayde,
Why do vaine men mean things so much deface*,
And in their might repose their most assurance,
Sith nought on earth can chalenge long endurance?

[* Deface, disparage, despise.]


XII.

When these sad sights were overpast and gone,
My spright was greatly moved in her rest,
With inward ruth and deare affection,
To see so great things by so small distrest.
Thenceforth I gan in my engrieved brest
To scorne all difference of great and small,
Sith that the greatest often are opprest,
And unawares doe into daunger fall.
And ye, that read these ruines tragicall,
Learne, by their losse, to love the low degree;
And if that Fortune chaunce you up to call
To honours seat, forget not what you be:
For he that of himselfe is most secure
Shall finde his state most fickle and unsure.

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