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

The Faerie Queene

Book V. The Legend of Artegall. Canto X

  • Prince Arthur takes the enterprize
  • For Belgee for to fight:
  • Gerioneos seneschall
  • He slayes in Belges right.

  • I
    SOME clarkes doe doubt in their devicefull art,

    Whether this heavenly thing whereof I treat,

    To weeten Mercie, be of Justice part,

    Or drawne forth from her by divine extreate.

    This well I wote, that sure she is as great,

    And meriteth to have as high a place,

    Sith in th’ Almighties everlasting seat

    She first was bred, and borne of heavenly race;

    From thence pour’d down on men, by influence of grace.

    For if that vertue be of so great might,

    Which from just verdict will for nothing start,

    But, to preserve inviolated right,

    Oft spiles the principall, to save the part;

    So much more then is that of powre and art,

    That seekes to save the subject of her skill,

    Yet never doth from doome of right depart:

    As it is greater prayse to save then spill,

    And better to reforme then to cut off the ill.

    Who then can thee, Mercilla, throughly prayse,

    That herein doest all earthly princess pas?

    What heavenly muse shall thy great honour rayse

    Up to the skies, whence first deriv’d it was,

    And now on earth it selfe enlarged has

    From th’ utmost brinke of the Americke shore

    Unto the margent of the Molucas?

    Those nations farre thy justice doe adore:

    But thine owne people do thy mercy prayse much more.

    Much more it praysed was of those two knights,

    The noble Prince and righteous Artegall,

    When they had seene and heard her doome a rights

    Against Duessa, damned by them all;

    But by her tempred without griefe or gall,

    Till strong constraint did her thereto enforce:

    And yet even then running her wilfull fall

    With more then needfull naturall remorse,

    And yeelding the last honour to her wretched corse.

    During all which, those knights continu’d there,

    Both doing and receiving curtesies

    Of that great ladie, who with goodly chere

    Them entertayn’d, fit for their dignities,

    Approving dayly to their noble eyes

    Royall examples of her mercies rare,

    And worthie paterns of her clemencies;

    Which till this day mongst many living are,

    Who them to their posterities doe still declare.

    Amongst the rest, which in that space befell,

    There came two springals of full tender yeares,

    Farre thence from forrein land, where they did dwell,

    To seeke for succour of her and of her peares,

    With humble prayers and intreatfull teares;

    Sent by their mother, who a widow was,

    Wrapt in great dolours and in deadly feares

    By a strong tyrant, who invaded has

    Her land, and slaine her children ruefully, alas!

    Her name was Belgæ, who in former age

    A ladie of great worth and wealth had beene,

    And mother of a frutefull heritage,

    Even seventeene goodly sonnes; which who had seene

    In their first flowre, before this fatall teene

    Them overtooke, and their faire blossomes blasted,

    More happie mother would her surely weene

    Then famous Niobe, before she tasted

    Latonaes childrens wrath, that all her issue wasted.

    But this fell tyrant, through his tortious powre,

    Had left her now but five of all that brood:

    For twelve of them he did by times devoure,

    And to his idole sacrifice their blood,

    Whylest he of none was stopped, nor withstood.

    For soothly he was one of matchlesse might,

    Of horrible aspect and dreadfull mood,

    And had three bodies in one wast empight,

    And th’ armes and legs of three, to succour him in fight.

    And sooth they say that he was borne and bred

    Of gyants race, the sonne of Geryon,

    He that whylome in Spaine so sore was dred

    For his huge powre and great oppression,

    Which brought that land to his subjection

    Through his three bodies powre, in one combynd;

    And eke all strangers, in that region

    Arryving, to his kyne for food assynd;

    The fayrest kyne alive, but of the fiercest kynd.

    For they were all, they say, of purple hew,

    Kept by a cowheard, hight Eurytion,

    A cruell carle, the which all strangers slew,

    Ne day nor night did sleepe, t’ attend them on,

    But walkt about them ever and anone,

    With his two headed dogge, that Orthrus hight;

    Orthrus begotten by great Typhaon

    And foule Echidna, in the house of Night;

    But Hercules them all did overcome in fight.

    His sonne was this, Geryoneo hight;

    Who, after that his monstrous father fell

    Under Alcides club, streight tooke his flight

    From that sad land, where he his syre did quell,

    And came to this, where Belge then did dwell

    And flourish in all wealth and happinesse,

    Being then new made widow (as befell)

    After her noble husbands late decesse;

    Which gave beginning to her woe and wretchednesse.

    Then this bold tyrant, of her widowhed

    Taking advantage, and her yet fresh woes,

    Himselfe and service to her offered,

    Her to defend against all forrein foes,

    That should their powre against her right oppose.

    Whereof she glad, now needing strong defence,

    Him entertayn’d, and did her champion chose:

    Which long he usd with carefull diligence,

    The better to confirme her fearelesse confidence.

    By meanes whereof, she did at last commit

    All to his hands, and gave him soveraine powre

    To doe what ever he thought good or fit.

    Which having got, he gan forth from that howre

    To stirre up strife, and many a tragicke stowre,

    Giving her dearest children one by one

    Unto a dreadfull monster to devoure,

    And setting up an idole of his owne,

    The image of his monstrous parent Geryone.

    So tyrannizing, and oppressing all,

    The woefull widow had no meanes now left,

    But unto gratious great Mercilla call

    For ayde against that cruell tyrants theft,

    Ere all her children he from her had reft.

    Therefore these two, her eldest sonnes, she sent,

    To seeke for succour of this ladies gieft:

    To whom their sute they humbly did present,

    In th’ hearing of full many knights and ladies gent.

    Amongst the which then fortuned to bee

    The noble Briton Prince, with his brave peare;

    Who when he none of all those knights did see

    Hastily bent that enterprise to heare,

    Nor undertake the same, for cowheard feare,

    He stepped forth with courage bold and great,

    Admyr’d of all the rest in presence there,

    And humbly gan that mightie queene entreat

    To graunt him that adventure for his former feat.

    She gladly graunted it: then he straight way

    Himselfe unto his journey gan prepare,

    And all his armours readie dight that day,

    That nought the morrow next mote stay his fare.

    The morrow next appear’d, with purple hayre

    Yet dropping fresh out of the Indian fount,

    And bringing light into the heavens fayre,

    When he was readie to his steede to mount,

    Unto his way, which now was all his care and count.

    Then taking humble leave of that great queene,

    Who gave him roiall giftes and riches rare,

    As tokens of her thankefull mind beseene,

    And leaving Artegall to his owne care,

    Upon his voyage forth he gan to fare,

    With those two gentle youthes, which him did guide,

    And all his way before him still prepare.

    Ne after him did Artigall abide,

    But on his first adventure forward forth did ride.

    It was not long till that the Prince arrived

    Within the land where dwelt that ladie sad,

    Whereof that tyrant had her now deprived,

    And into moores and marshes banisht had,

    Out of the pleasant soyle and citties glad,

    In which she wont to harbour happily:

    But now his cruelty so sore she drad,

    That to those fennes for fastnesse she did fly,

    And there her selfe did hyde from his hard tyranny.

    There he her found in sorrow and dismay,

    All solitarie without living wight;

    For all her other children, through affray,

    Had hid themselves, or taken further flight:

    And eke her selfe through sudden strange affright,

    When one in armes she saw, began to fly;

    But when her owne two sonnes she had in sight,

    She gan take hart, and looke up joyfully:

    For well she wist this knight came succour to supply:

    And running unto them with greedy joyes,

    Fell straight about their neckes, as they did kneele,

    And bursting forth in teares, ‘Ah! my sweet boyes,’

    Sayd she, ‘yet now I gin new life to feele,

    And feeble spirits, that gan faint and reele,

    Now rise againe at this your joyous sight.

    Alreadie seemes that Fortunes headlong wheele

    Begins to turne, and sunne to shine more bright

    Then it was wont, through comfort of this noble knight.’

    Then turning unto him, ‘And you, sir knight,’

    Said she, ‘that taken have this toylesome paine

    For wretched woman, miserable wight,

    May you in heaven immortall guerdon gaine

    For so great travell as you doe sustaine:

    For other meede may hope for none of mee,

    To whom nought else but bare life doth remaine;

    And that so wretched one, as ye do see,

    Is liker lingring death then loathed life to bee.’

    Much was he moved with her piteous plight,

    And low dismounting from his loftie steede,

    Gan to recomfort her all that he might,

    Seeking to drive away deepe rooted dreede,

    With hope of helpe in that her greatest neede.

    So thence he wished her with him to wend,

    Unto some place where they mote rest and feede,

    And she take comfort, which God now did send:

    Good hart in evils doth the evils much amend.

    ‘Ay me!’ sayd she, ‘and whether shall I goe?

    Are not all places full of forraine powres?

    My pallaces possessed of my foe,

    My cities sackt, and their sky-threating towres

    Raced, and made smooth fields now full of flowres?

    Onely these marishes and myrie bogs,

    In which the fearefull ewftes do build their bowres,

    Yeeld me an hostry mongst the croking frogs,

    And harbour here in safety from those ravenous dogs.’

    ‘Nathlesse,’ said he, ‘deare ladie, with me goe;

    Some place shall us receive, and harbour yield;

    If not, we will it force, maugre your foe,

    And purchase it to us with speare and shield:

    And if all fayle, yet farewell open field:

    The Earth to all her creatures lodging lends.’

    With such his chearefull speaches he doth wield

    Her mind so well, that to his will she bends,

    And bynding up her locks and weeds, forth with him wends.

    They came unto a citie farre up land,

    The which whylome that ladies owne had bene;

    But now by force extort out of her hand

    By her strong foe, who had defaced cleene

    Her stately towres and buildings sunny sheene,

    Shut up her haven, mard her marchants trade,

    Robbed her people, that full rich had beene,

    And in her necke a castle huge had made,

    The which did her commaund, without needing perswade.

    That castle was the strength of all that state,

    Untill that state by strength was pulled downe,

    And that same citie, so now ruinate,

    Had bene the keye of all that kingdomes crowne;

    Both goodly castle, and both goodly towne,

    Till that th’ offended Heavens list to lowre

    Upon their blisse, and balefull Fortune frowne.

    When those gainst states and kingdomes do conjure,

    Who then can thinke their hedlong ruine to recure?

    But he had brought it now in servile bond,

    And made it beare the yoke of Inquisition,

    Stryving long time in vaine it to withstond;

    Yet glad at last to make most base submission,

    And life enjoy for any composition.

    So now he hath new lawes and orders new

    Imposd on it, with many a hard condition,

    And forced it the honour that is dew

    To God to doe unto his idole most untrew.

    To him he hath, before this castle greene,

    Built a faire chappell, and an altar framed

    Of costly ivory, full rich beseene,

    On which that cursed idole, farre proclamed,

    He hath set up, and him his god hath named,

    Offring to him in sinfull sacrifice

    The flesh of men, to Gods owne likenesse framed,

    And powring forth their bloud in brutishe wize,

    That any yron eyes to see it would agrize.

    And for more horror and more crueltie,

    Under that cursed idols altar stone

    An hideous monster doth in darknesse lie,

    Whose dreadfull shape was never seene of none

    That lives on earth, but unto those alone

    The which unto him sacrificed bee.

    Those he devoures, they say, both flesh and bone:

    What else they have is all the tyrants fee;

    So that no whit of them remayning one may see.

    There eke he placed a strong garrisone,

    And set a seneschall of dreaded might,

    That by his powre oppressed every one,

    And vanquished all ventrous knights in fight;

    To whom he wont shew all the shame he might,

    After that them in battell he had wonne.

    To which when now they gan approch in sight,

    The ladie counseld him the place to shonne,

    Whereas so many knights had fouly bene fordonne.

    Her fearefull speaches nought he did regard,

    But ryding streight under the castle wall,

    Called aloud unto the watchfull ward,

    Which there did wayte, willing them forth to call

    Into the field their tyrants seneschall.

    To whom when tydings thereof came, he streight

    Cals for his armes, and arming him withall,

    Eftsoones forth pricked proudly in his might,

    And gan with courage fierce addresse him to the fight.

    They both encounter in the middle plaine,

    And their sharpe speares doe both together smite

    Amid their shields, with so huge might and maine,

    That seem’d their soules they wold have ryven quight

    Out of their breasts, with furious despight.

    Yet could the seneschals no entrance find

    Into the Princes shield, where it empight,

    So pure the mettall was, and well refynd,

    But shivered all about, and scattered in the wynd.

    Not so the Princes, but with restlesse force

    Into his shield it readie passage found,

    Both through his haberjeon and eke his corse:

    Which tombling downe upon the senselesse ground,

    Gave leave unto his ghost from thraldome bound,

    To wander in the griesly shades of night.

    There did the Prince him leave in deadly swound,

    And thence unto the castle marched right,

    To see if entrance there as yet obtaine he might.

    But as he nigher drew, three knights he spyde,

    All arm’d to point, issuing forth a pace,

    Which towards him with all their powre did ryde,

    And meeting him right in the middle race,

    Did all their speares attonce on him enchace.

    As three great culverings for battrie bent,

    And leveld all against one certaine place,

    Doe all attonce their thunders rage forth rent,

    That makes the wals to stagger with astonishment.

    So all attonce they on the Prince did thonder;

    Who from his saddle swarved nought asyde,

    Ne to their force gave way, that was great wonder,

    But like a bulwarke firmely did abyde,

    Rebutting him which in the midst did ryde,

    With so huge rigour, that his mortall speare

    Past through his shield, and pierst through either syde,

    That downe he fell uppon his mother deare,

    And powred forth his wretched life in deadly dreare.

    Whom when his other fellowes saw, they fled

    As fast as feete could carry them away;

    And after them the Prince as swiftly sped,

    To be aveng’d of their unknightly play.

    There whilest they, entring, th’ one did th’ other stay,

    The hindmost in the gate he overhent,

    And as he pressed in, him there did slay:

    His carkasse, tumbling on the threshold, sent

    His groning soule unto her place of punishment.

    The other, which was entred, laboured fast

    To sperre the gate; but that same lumpe of clay,

    Whose grudging ghost was thereout fled and past,

    Right in the middest of the threshold lay,

    That it the posterne did from closing stay:

    The whiles the Prince hard preased in betweene,

    And entraunce wonne. Streight th’ other fled away,

    And ran into the hall, where he did weene

    Him selfe to save: but he there slew him at the skreene.

    Then all the rest which in that castle were,

    Seeing that sad ensample them before,

    Durst not abide, but fled away for feare,

    And them convayd out at a posterne dore.

    Long sought the Prince, but when he found no more

    T’ oppose against his powre, he forth issued

    Unto that lady, where he her had lore,

    And her gan cheare with what she there had vewed,

    And what she had not seene within unto her shewed.

    Who with right humble thankes him goodly greeting,

    For so great prowesse as he there had proved,

    Much greater then was ever in her weeting,

    With great admiraunce inwardly was moved,

    And honourd him with all that her behoved.

    Thenceforth into that castle he her led,

    With her two sonnes, right deare of her beloved,

    Where all that night them selves they cherished,

    And from her balefull minde all care he banished.