Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Bobbing in Amoretti

Ruins of Kilcolman Castle in 1885

[Image source: .]

At the bright porthole, the sea-line tilted.

Arion, when through tempests cruel wracke,
  He forth was thrown into the greedy seas :
  through the sweet musick which his harp did make
 allu'rd a Dolphin him from death to ease. (XXXVIII)

But where have I read that porthole image, only recently? Oh yes, I remember now, it was in Lola Ridge:

I wish Celia
could see the sea climb up on the sky
and slide off again…

What is it with boats, and seas...  and horses?  Such constant elements in our dreams, but so marginal in daily life, these obsolete forms of transport?

Well, but here we are once more, on the seas of Spenser's poems, specifically the Mar Menor of the Amoretti.

THEY, that in course of heauenly spheares are skild,
  To euery planet point his sundry yeare:
  in which her circles voyage is fulfild,
  as Mars in three score yeares doth run his spheare... (LX)

Sixty years? But Mars orbits the sun in just 1.9 years. ...?

Blinding salt and sun. These sunlit waves are the smooth flow of Spenser's verse; the rippling, interlinked rhymes in Spenser's sonnet form.* Maybe the flashes are also the cupids (which is what "amoretti" means). For Shakespeare, cupids were only a joke (CLIII, CLIV), but Spenser senses them everywhere.

Spenser, writing these sonnets in 1593-1594, was 41. His bride in June 1594, Elizabeth Boyle, was 18, the same age as Sidney's "Stella" (Penelope Devereux) when she married Lord Rich in 1581. It was Spenser's second marriage, he already had two children.

sweet is the firbloome, but his branches rough. (XXVI)

If Sidney wrote Astrophil and Stella in (say) 1584, that would make the author about 30. (Five years older, incidentally, than Stella's detested husband Lord Rich.)

But that rich foole, who by blind Fortunes lot
The richest gemme of loue and life enioys,
And can with foule abuse such beauties blot; ... (AS XXIV)

Samuel Daniel was about the same age when Delia started to emerge in 1591. Shakespeare wrote the bulk of his sonnets around 1592, when he was 28. Spenser's greater age, and the fact that he (unlike other sonneteers) was successful in winning his trophy wife... both these things make a difference.

And let the ground whereas her foot shall tread,
For feare the stones her tender foot should wrong
Be strewed with fragrant flowers all along,
And diapred lyke the discolored mead.

(Epithalamion, St. 3)

Diaper, a kind of fabric; Discolored, of various colours.

But Ilona Bell, tracing a courtship dialogue through the Amoretti, discerned that Spenser was compelled to modify some of his male behaviours and attitudes, and eventually to accept his beloved's strength and independence.

But like a steddy ship doth strongly part
  the raging waues and keepes her course aright :
  ne ought for tempest doth from it depart,
  ne ought for fayrer weathers false delight.

I wish I felt more convinced. But when Spenser is awed by his bride's "words so wise" (LXXXI), and, in contrast, abases himself as "your thrall, in whom is little worth" (LXXXII), it just sounds insincere. (And, if it could be taken seriously, not terribly flattering to the monarch who had rewarded his efforts.)

It didn't turn out a particularly fortunate marriage for Elizabeth Boyle. Four years later (1598), the Irish rose against the colonists and Spenser's castle in Cork was burned; Ben Jonson says a child was lost in the fire.

So that jus polliticum, though it be not of it selfe just, yet by applicacon, or rather necessitie, it is made just ....

(A View of the Present State of Ireland)

A year later (1599), Spenser died in London. Elizabeth married twice more. With her next husband she made an unsuccessful claim on Spenser's estate; instead it went to Sylvanus, his son by his first marriage. Sylvanus repaired Kilcolman, but in 1622 it was destroyed again, this time for good.

Gaynst such strong castles needeth greater might, ...


It was in this building that Spenser must have composed most of the Faerie Queene's 33,000 lines. After the little bobbing sea of the Amoretti he intended to go back to his ocean and write the other six books.

Then as a steed refreshed after toyle,
  out of my prison I will break anew :
  and stoutly will that second worke assoyle,
  with strong endeuour and attention dew.

Assoyle, discharge a duty.

It didn't happen like that. His courtship, or marriage or the state of Ireland or something else entirely had changed him too much. His only work on the Faerie Queene during these last five years was, presumably, the Mutability cantos. Their dense brilliance suggests that he had been standing back from his masterpiece too long, maybe he had theorized it too much, maybe he' couldn't be the same tireless unreflective swimmer any more.

Spenser had been granted Kilcolman Castle (and 3000 acres of North Cork) by Sir Philip Sidney, whose father Sir Henry Sidney was sometime Lord Deputy of Ireland. The castle had belonged to the Earls of Desmond until confiscated by the crown.

How Vlster likes of that same golden bit
Wherewith my father once made it half tame; ... (AS XXX)

Indeed, it was under Henry Sidney that the crown forces first began to kill civilians as well as military opponents. Lord Grey continued the policy.  Spenser (for a time his employee) lamented that Grey was "blotted with the name of a bloody man, whom, who that well knewe, knewe to be most gentle, affable, lovinge and temperate; but that the necessitie of that present state of thinges enforced him to that violence, and almost changed his verrye naturall dispostion."

In Ireland, Spenser thought, the sword was necessary.

Therefore by all meanes it must be foreseene and assured, that after once entring into this course of reformacon, there bee afterwardes no remorse or drawinge back for the sight of any suche ruefull obiect as must therupon followe, nor for compassion of their calamities, seeinge that by no other meanes it is possible to recure them, and that theis are not of will, but of verie urgent necessitie.

(A View of the Present State of Ireland)

  then know, that mercy is the mighties iewell,
  and greater glory thinks to saue, then spill.
But if it be your pleasure and proud will,
  to shew the powre of your imperious eyes :



* Spenser's ingenious rhyme-scheme in the Amoretti is:


Some typical Sidney rhyme-schemes:

ababababcdcdee;    abbaabbacdcdee;    abbaabbaccdeed

Daniel and Shakespeare:


Sidney's rhyme-schemes all enforce the structural separation between octet and sestet. The Daniel/Shakespeare rhyme-scheme admits the octet/sestet division; but whether it's manifested in any given sonnet depends on other factors. Spenser's rhyme-scheme expressly forbids it. Instead, the Amoretti-shape is like a 12-line wave, growing to a crest at the centre (lines 5-8), then gently subsiding. Only the final couplet is without dependence.


Like so much of the rest of our planet, the Mar Menor is being wrecked by economic growth; in this case agricultural run-off and eutrophication. In 2016, 85% of the vegetation was lost when sunlight could no longer penetrate the water. In October 2019 its shores wriggled with thousands of expiring fish, after September rains washed more than 150 tons of fertilizer into the lagoon.

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