Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599). The Complete Poetical Works. 1908.






[The event celebrated in the Prothalamion must have occurred some time after the return of Essex from Cadiz in mid-August, 1596. It would seem to have been a ceremonial visit of the two prospective brides to Essex House, not long before their wedding. They evidently proceeded in barges by the river, probably upstream with the tide from the court at Greenwhich, accompanied in the latter part of their route by swarms of those smaller craft which then thronged the main highway of London.
In this poem Spenser has refined upon the stanza-form which he invented for the Epithalamion. He has brought it to virtual uniformity of structure by discarding most of those small diversities of detail between strophe and strophe which, in the earlier poem, mark his first invention. To the late Professor Palgrave this revised form seemed the more delightfully and delicately cadenced. There will probably be those, however, for whom the frank irregularities of the first ode, more felt than distinctly observed, will have the greater charm, will seem not unlike those irregularities that enrich, without disturbing, the orderliness of certain great mediæval façades.

Unlike the stanza of the Faery Queen, these strophes have not found imitators, perhaps because few later poets have united fecundity and elaborateness of art so perfectly as Spenser. One may detect their influence upon Lycidas, but hardly more at large. Other poets of the time contented themselves with shorter or easier forms; and then came the bastard Pindaric ode, which for over a hundred years remained the type specially appropriated to larger lyric themes. In the later ‘revivals’ they were passed by.]

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 shaddowes, did aflict my brayne,

Walkt forth to ease my payne

Along the shoare of silver streaming Themmes;

Whose rutty bancke, the which his river hemmes,

Was paynted all with variable flowers,

And all the meades adornd with daintie gemmes,

Fit to decke maydens bowres,

And crowne their paramours,

Against the brydale day, which is not long:

Sweete Themmes, runne softly, till I end my song.

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 decke their bridegromes posies

Against the brydale day, which was not long:

Sweete Themmes, runne, softly, till I end my song.

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 neare:

So purely white they were,

That even the gentle streame, 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:

Sweete Themmes, runne softly, till I end my song.

Eftsoones the nymphes, which now had flowers their fill,

Ran all in haste to see that silver brood,

As they came floating on the christal 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 silver 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:

Sweete Themmes, runne softly, till I end my song.

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,

Whil’st one did sing this lay,

Prepar’d against that day,

Against their brydale day, which was not long:

Sweete 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,

Joy 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 joyes redound,

Upon your brydale day, which is not long:

Sweete Themmes, run softlie, till I end my song.’

So ended she; and all the rest around

To her redoubled that her undersong,

Which said, their bridale daye should not be long.

And gentle Eccho from the neighbour ground

Their accents did resound.

So forth those joyous birdes did passe along,

Adowne the lee, that to them murmurde low,

As he would speake, but that he lackt a tong,

Yeat 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 starres. So they, enranged well,

Did on those two attend,

And their best service lend,

Against their wedding day, which was not long:

Sweete Themmes, run softly, till I end my song.

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 feeles my freendles case:

But ah! here fits not well

Olde woes, but joyes to tell,

Against the bridale daye, which is not long:

Sweete Themmes, runne softly, till I end my song.

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 triumphes fame,

Joy 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:

Sweete Themmes, runne softly, till I end my song.

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 seene

Two gentle knights of lovely face and feature,

Beseeming well the bower of anie queene,

With gifts of wit and ornaments of nature,

Fit for so goodly stature:

That like the twins of Jove they seem’d in sight,

Which decke the bauldricke of the heavens bright.

They two, forth pacing to the rivers side,

Received 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:

Sweete Themmes, runne softly, till I end my song.