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Overthrow! The Demon Queen 1
8. the structure and style of spenser’s poem. the faerie queene has five books, or periods. the first book is called the proem. in it, the poet begins with the chronicle of the world, and traces the human race from the dawn of civilization, through the golden age, to the iron age of barbarism. then comes the allegory of the babylonish captivity. in the second book he shows the ideal life and the heroic life, and describes the deeds of the great and the good. in the third book, spenser tells us the story of the knight of the red cross. he shows the way of the righteous through the allegory of the four temperate virtues. in the fourth book, he begins the plot of the evil and the bad. in the fifth book, the poet finally gives us the story of the true church. at the end of the fifth book, he returns to the beginning, and shows the overthrow of the babylonish captivity, and how a new and better life is to succeed it. the faerie queene is spenser’s masterpiece. it was the beginning of an era in english literature, for the faerie queene introduced a new type of poetry. the allegory of the poem is more effective than chaucers, and its lex mercatoria, or lexicon, is richer and more varied than chaucers. spenser’s lyric poetry is the richest of all in the faerie queene. it is also the most artistic.
it is a pity that spenser, who was a charming companion and was so endeared to his friends by his rare sweetness of temper and his good-humored kindliness, was not a poet who could have attained his highest powers. he was born of a noble family, of which the head, sir richard de spenser, was, like the poet himself, an intimate friend of the queen. he was a pure-blooded irishman, who had acquired a certain knowledge of latin, but who otherwise spoke only english, with a slight brogue. nevertheless, his great and original genius enabled him to conquer the difficulties of his language, and to express the highest emotions of the heart and intellect with the rarest beauty of style. the poetical heritage of england has been irreparably tarnished by the “odes” of pope and dryden; but spenser’s exquisite lyrics, which owe their inspiration to the poetic yearnings of the elizabethan age, have never been surpassed. the faerie queene is the gem of his works, and the most vivid embodiment of the national spirit of the period. it is, perhaps, the least literal of all allegories, and yet it must not be denied that it is the most poetic of allegories.
when despair discovered that his arguments had failed to move the knight, he resolved to try some more potent means of persuasion. he brought in fear and power, two of his principal demons who are always represented as more terrible than despair. despair speaks of the knight’s sins, fear of his crimes. despair speaks of justice, justice a judge who will condemn the knight. despair speaks of the future, which is full of punishment, while justice says: “my vengeance, thou shalt know for truth.” despair speaks of the past, and says: “of old did i bear thee in my heart and thought.” despair speaks of humanity, and justice says: “remember thy creator in the days of thy youth.” despair speaks of the future, and says: “thou shalt live no longer; death shall take thee away.” despair speaks of death, and justice says: “why hast thou called up this doubt? thy part is played.” despair speaks of the past and the present, and says: “the days of thy youth and of thy manhood.” despair speaks of the future, and justice says: “the day of thy last judgment is come.” despair speaks of human weakness, and justice says: “think of thy creator; consider thy sins.” despair speaks of patience, and justice says: “i will not be so slow to punish.” despair speaks of the past and the present, and says: “the light of thy youth and youth’s deeds.” despair speaks of the future, and justice says: “the day of thy death is come.” despair speaks of death, and justice says: “thy death shall be a fearful one.” despair speaks of unchangeable love, and justice says: “thou hadst gone to thy reward.” despair speaks of the past and the present, and says: “thy days are now ended, and thy end is come.” despair speaks of the future, and justice says: “thou shalt live no longer; death shall take thee away.” despair speaks of love, justice, and eternity, and justice says: “thou hadst gone to thy reward.”