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Colin Clouts Come Home Againe, Astrophel, and The Doleful Lay of Clorinda (1595)

Abstract and Keywords

The year 1595 saw the publication of the marriage volume Amoretti and Epithalamion, and a less homogenous volume that contains Spenser's second pastoral, Colin Clouts Come Home Againe, his pastoral elegy on Sir Philip Sidney, Astrophel, and six other pastoral elegies on Sidney, including one that may (or may not) be by Spenser, The Doleful Lay of Clorinda. This article suggests that the 1595 Colin Clout volume is historic as the first book in English literature to feature the national poet as the center of a national community of fellow poets and civic leaders, especially Ralegh and Queen Elizabeth, who were themselves poets. In particular, the book depicts the English poet performing two vital roles as part of a national community: first, in Colin Clout Spenser presents his persona leading the nation because he has undergone a divinely inspired vision of purified erotic desire; and second, in Astrophel and The Doleful Lay he presents himself as a funeral poet helping the nation process its grief after he has undergone a professional vision of the soul's immortality, of the place of the national poet in eternity. The two roles cohere in their wisdom about the sanctified character of poetic identity within a civic world of national achievement, as well as in their underlying project: ‘Poetry serves as a consolation for loss’.

Keywords: pastoral elegies, poetry, national community, funeral poet, poetic identity, consolation

1595 is the penultimate year of Spenser's publishing career. This year sees the publication of the marriage volume Amoretti and Epithalamion, and a less homogenous volume that contains Spenser's second pastoral, Colin Clouts Come Home Againe, his pastoral elegy on Sir Philip Sidney, Astrophel, and six other pastoral elegies on Sidney, including one that may (or may not) be by Spenser, The Doleful Lay of Clorinda.1 The next year, 1596, will see the printing of the second installment of The Faerie Queene, of Fowre Hymnes, and of his last published poem, Prothalamion. Yet before 1595, Spenser had published still other works: his first pastoral, The Shepheardes Calender (1579), the first installment of The Faerie Queene (1590), Complaints (1591), and another elegy, Daphnaïda (1592). While the flurry of publications between 1590 and 1596 is dizzying, we can identify the 1595 pastoral volume under discussion here as one of four books published between the two installments of The Faerie Queene. The Colin Clout volume (as we might call it) is best understood as (p. 238) a multifaceted pastoral work that helps to span the two parts of Spenser's national epic. The dynamic of pastoral and epic derives from the literary career of Virgil, who published his Eclogues first and concluded with his Aeneid—a pastoral and an epic that he spanned through a third poem, the Georgics, about farm labor. Although the Colin Clout volume is not a georgic work, it plays a similar bridging role in the structure of Spenser's literary career. The precise nature of this bridge will be the subject of the present chapter.

As a book, the Colin Clout volume seems today a curious printing anomaly. It opens with a formal title page for only Colin Clout, followed by Spenser's ‘Dedicatory Epistle’ to Sir Walter Ralegh, succeeded by the 955‐line poem itself. On the next leaf is a second but abbreviated title page, for Astrophel alone, which dedicates this poem to Frances Walsingham, formerly Sidney's wife, now re‐married to the earl of Essex. The 216‐line poem itself ends by announcing a ‘vearse’ (215) sung by Astrophel's sister, Clorinda, or Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. Bearing neither title nor title page, this inset poem, now known as The Doleful Lay of Clorinda, is spoken in the grieving sister's voice, and carries on for 108 lines, perhaps to recall the 108 sonnets of Sidney's Astrophil and Stella (Fowler 1970: 174–80), ending with the announcement that Thestylis will sing the next song. Then, on the same page a new poem of 195 lines begins, ‘The mourning Muse of Thestylis’, written by Lodowick Bryskett. Without transition comes ‘A pastorall Aeglogue upon the death of Sir Phillip Sidney Knight’, a 162‐line poem featuring two shepherd‐speakers, ‘Lycon’ and ‘Colin’, who represent Bryskett and Spenser. Finally, come three more elegies on Sidney, each with a title but minus title pages, and all previously published in The Phoenix Nest (1593): ‘An Elegie, or friends passion, for his Astrophill’, at 234 lines, written by Matthew Roydon; ‘An Epitaph upon the right Honourable sir Phillip Sidney knight’, at 60 lines, by Ralegh; and ‘Another of the same’, at 40 lines, by either Edward Dyer or Fulke Greville. The number of lines in the seven Sidney elegies is important to mention because it matches the 955 lines of Colin Clout. As such, the volume divides into two parts, creating a diptych, the first printing a pastoral narrative celebrating the national authority of a living poet, Spenser; the second, a collective pastoral monument to a dead poet, Sidney. What links the two parts is a singular invention: that of the pastoral figure of the English national poet, past and present, in a professional genealogy that highlights the changing of the literary guard, from Sidney to Spenser. If the complete 1595 volume does form a bridge between the two installments of The Faerie Queene, we can expect the bridge to be about the figure of the English national poet himself: the author of a poem about the nation.2

Surprisingly, little criticism exists on the 1595 volume as a book.3 Evidently, the modern penchant for individuated authorship as an oppositional principle to collaborative authorship has occluded an early modern principle that prints individuation comfortably within the space of collaboration (Cheney 2008: 142–5). More than any work in the Spenser canon, Colin Clout formalizes this principle, for it features a singular author working amicably among other authors. Yet Spenser critics attend to the two—or three—poems by Spenser himself, although they separate their analyses of individual poems. Most of the criticism focuses on Colin Clout (Burchmore 1977; (p. 239) Dees 2001; Fairweather 2000; Kelsey 2003; Starke 1998; Van Es 2003; Warner 1997), often with The Shepheardes Calender, because these are Spenser's two major pastorals, both featuring his persona, the shepherd Colin (Cheney 2001; Hoffman 1977; Mallette 1979; Shore 1985). Criticism on Astrophel and The Doleful Lay tends to get separated out (Coren 2002; Jang 1999; Klein 1993; O'Connell 1971). One critic who looks at the complete book, Raphael Falco (1994: 52–123), foregrounds the seven Sidney elegies, but pays short shrift to Colin Clout.4 Nonetheless, Falco pinpoints the historic significance of the volume to lie in its advertisement of the Sidney–Spenser relation as the literary genealogy inaugurating modern English literature—a genealogy that continues to organize literary histories today.

Recent editors of Spenser's ‘shorter poems’ (Spenser 1989, 1999) subscribe to modern practice by printing Colin Clout, Astrophel, and The Doleful Lay individually and then by commenting separately on them. Yet the effect has been to imagine these poems as individual works. Consequently, the time may be ripe for a holistic approach, one that examines the 1595 book as a book, that works from the early modern practice of seeing individuated authorship as part of a larger collaborative effort, and that aims to determine the volume's place both in the structure of Spenser's publishing career and in English literary history.5

This chapter suggests that the 1595 Colin Clout volume is historic as the first book in English literature to feature the national poet as the center of a national community of fellow poets and civic leaders, especially Ralegh and Queen Elizabeth, who were themselves poets.6 In particular, the book depicts the English poet performing two vital roles as part of a national community: first, in Colin Clout Spenser presents his persona leading the nation because he has undergone a divinely inspired vision of purified erotic desire; and second, in Astrophel and The Doleful Lay he presents himself as a funeral poet helping the nation process its grief after he has undergone a professional vision of the soul's immortality, of the place of the national poet in eternity.7 The two roles cohere in their wisdom about the sanctified character of poetic identity within a civic world of national achievement, as well as in their underlying project: ‘Poetry serves as a consolation for loss.’8

Colin Clouts Come Home Againe

Until the latter half of the twentieth century, Colin Clout inspired only sporadic comment. In the early seventeenth century, the ‘Spenserian poets’ register its popularity, especially William Browne in The Shepheards Pipe (1614) and George Wither in The Shepherds Hunting (1615), both of whom advertise what we might call a communal Spenser.9 In his Observations on…Spencers Faery Queene (1643), Sir Kenhelm Digby quotes Colin Clout (lines 612–14) to illustrate ‘the influences of the superior substances…into the two differing parts of Man; to wit, of the Starres…into his (p. 240) body: and of the Angels…into his soul’ (Cummings: 156). By 1709, however, Alexander Pope recognizes the importance of the Calender in the history of pastoral but fails to mention Colin Clout (Shore 1990: 173). Consequently, the poem is left largely in the hands of biographers. In his 1715 Works, John Hughes writes of Colin, ‘we find him less a Shepherd than at first: He had then been drawn out of his Retirement,…and been engag'd in an Employment which brought him into a quite different Sett of Ideas’ (Cummings: 272). Thus, as late as 1871, George L. Craik classifies Colin Clout as ‘a poem of great beauty…in the highest degree interesting both from his bearing upon the personal history of Spenser himself, and from its numerous references to his contemporaries’ (III, 201).10

Today, critics locate the poem's importance in its representation of a particular autobiographical history, which Richard McCabe calls ‘autoreferential[ity]’ (Spenser 1999: ix): Spenser's friendship with Ralegh in Ireland; their trip together to the court of Queen Elizabeth in 1589–90; and Spenser's return ‘home’ to Ireland.11 In the epistle to Ralegh, Spenser calls his poem ‘a simple pastorall’, and says he has written it in a ‘mean…stile’ to convey a ‘simple meaning’, the nature of which he does not disclose, except to say that his pastoral fiction ‘agree[s]…with the truth in circumstance and matter’. Yet the terms of the dedication veil an epic significance to the pastoral allegory through a Virgilian career‐discourse of high and low: ‘Sir, that you may see that I am not alwaies ydle as yee thinke, though not greatly well occupied,…I make you present of this simple pastorall, unworthie of your higher conceipt for the meaness of the stile.’ Here, the poet finesses his social predicament: as a lower ranking civil servant, Spenser writes a low‐ranking poem to a ‘higher’ official on a topic of interest to them both, since during their ‘late being in England’ Ralegh showed Spenser ‘singular favours’, but also because the higher official can ‘protect’ the lower against ‘the malice of evill mouthes’. In seeking Ralegh's patronage in terms of the Virgilian grid of pastoral and epic, the poet suggests how the lower form serves the higher goal of national literary ‘truth’.

Since Spenser signs the dedication to Ralegh ‘From my house of Kilcolman the 27. of December. 1591’, we confront two complications. First, because Spenser lived at Kilcolman Castle, Cork, the nation is a new space linking Ireland with England. Thus, Colin Clout is important for etching the defining feature of Spenser's literary biography: he is an English national poet who writes in pastoral exile from Ireland (McCabe 1993). Second, Spenser wrote a draft of Colin Clout four years before publishing it. We do not know the cause of the delay, but several events alluded to occurred after 1591 (Shore 1990: 173). Notably, in 1592 Elizabeth banished Ralegh from court for marrying Elizabeth Throckmorton (Cheney 1993: 111–48). There is, then, both a curious temporal warp to the process of authorship and a complex spatial expansion of nationhood built into the book of Colin Clout and its fiction.

Moreover, the poem's genre ‘remains remarkably difficult to specify’ (McCabe 2006: 175).12 Criticism distinguishes between two main versions of pastoral as a literary form. The idealistic version is a pastoral of pleasure, deriving from Schiller's On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry (1795–6), and it defines pastoral as a sentimental longing for the ideal and an escape from the actual (Poggioli 1975). In contrast, the (p. 241) ideological version is a ‘pastoral of power’ (Montrose 1980), deriving from Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie (1589), and it defines pastoral as an ideological practice of ‘putting the complex into the simple’ (Empson 1935: 22). Yet, from Virgil, Spenser would have understood the genre rather as a pastoral of progression, the inaugural form of a poet's epic career. In the Calender, what inaugurates his career is a distinct authorial experience: the poet solves his nation's problem of faith by undergoing an epiphany about the practical value of transcendence to the working of the nation (Cheney 2001: 84–5).

Unlike the Calender, however, Colin Clout is a relatively long narrative poem, one that expands Spenser's cultural model by featuring a balance of genders in the formation of British nationhood: Colin has moved from Kent to Ireland; and he interacts not simply with shepherds but with shepherdesses. Even so, the presence of a second pastoral within Spenser's Virgilian career is unusual among European authors (Cheney 2001: 81–3). Critics account for Spenser's second pastoral by seeing Colin Clout as a ‘return’ to the genre at the end of his career: whereas the Calender ‘was conceived as a prologue to heroic poetry, Spenser's late pastorals are alternatives to it’ (Alpers 1989: 797). In this view, Spenser returns to pastoral because he becomes disillusioned with epic values of national duty, retreating into the private space of transcendent artistic consciousness.

In form, however, Colin Clout looks less like Spenser's first pastoral than it does Elizabethan epyllia or minor epics, such as Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis.13 In 1595, Michael Drayton identifies his epyllion, Endymion and Phoebe, as a companion poem to Colin Clout (Brooks‐Davies 1994: 460): ‘Colin…my Muse…rudely…presumes to sing by thee’ (993–4). By re‐classifying Colin Clout as a pastoral epyllion, we gain access to its fundamental bridging role in Spenser's literary career, for the ‘minor epic was…the proving ground for…epic’, a form ‘above the pastoral…and below the epic, the transition between the two in the gradus Vergilianus’ (Hulse 1981: 12). In this view, Colin Clout is not a return to pastoral but an instrument to the continuation of The Faerie Queene, and thus to Spenser's self‐presentation as England's ‘first laureate poet’ (Helgerson 1983: 100).

The laureate poet's gradus Vergilianus structures the fiction of the poem itself, suggesting that Spenser gives his autoreferentiality the shape of a Virgilian career, which he had formalized in the 1590 Faerie Queene by announcing his turn from pastoral to epic (I, Proem 1). Accordingly, Colin Clout divides into three parts. In part one (1–55), Colin sings his songs in front of his ‘peres, | The shepheard swains that did about him play’ (5–6), to form what Hobbinol calls ‘the shepheards nation’ (17), and for whose benefit Hobbinol asks Colin ‘to repeat | The passed fortunes, which to thee befell | In thy late voyage’ (32–4). In the longer second part (56–907), Colin narrates his trip to Cynthia's court: his friendship with the Shepherd of the Ocean, Ralegh (56–177); their visit to Cynthia (177–907), including Colin's audience with his sovereign (330–75), his catalogue of twelve of her poets (376–455), his catalogue of twelve of her ladies (456–583), his satire of the court (680–730) and corresponding praise (731–70), and Colin's climactic Neoplatonic vision of love (775–906). In the briefer third part (908–55), Colin praises his own beloved, Rosalind, and blames (p. 242) himself for looking too high in loving her, after which he and the shepherds go home to ‘rest’ (955). This three‐part pattern—progressing from the pastoral world of the shepherds to the epic world of the court and ‘home againe’—depicts the ‘formula of out‐and‐back’ (MacCaffrey 1976: 366–7), which Spenser uses to represent his life as a British author with a Virgilian career.

The poem's fictional pattern proceeds through the formal pattern of its verse—so deftly handled it is practically invisible. Spenser deploys an unusual decasyllabic cross‐rhymed quatrain, rhyming abab: his ‘artful denial of…[the quatrain's] inherent tendency to impose its form on the poet's material constitutes an innovation almost of the order of the Spenserian stanza’, which Spenser conceals by ‘counterpointing grammatical and metrical divisions’ (Shore 1990: 174). Spenser complicates this scheme further by blurring the boundaries between his nominal unit, the quatrain, and another, related unit, the tercet (or terza rima), a 3‐line unit rhyming aba. Thus his opening eleven lines have the following rhyme scheme: ababcbcdede: ‘This pattern might be variously described as a tercet preceding two quatrains, or as two quatrains and an intervening tercet’ (Shore 1990: 174). The poet's ability to reveal and conceal his rhyme is among the most innovative in an innovative canon.

To open part one, Spenser introduces Colin as a Virgilian pastoral poet of desire renowned to the nation:

  • The shepheards boy (best knowen by that name)
  • That after Tityrus first sung his lay,
  • Laies of sweet love, without rebuke or blame,
  • Sate (as his custome was) upon a day,
  • Charming his oaten pipe unto his peres. (1–5)

By ‘Tityrus’, Spenser does not mean only Virgil but Chaucer in comparison with Virgil, as if to trace a typology of national poets.14 The word ‘after’ means not only ‘in the manner of’ but also ‘living after’, so that the poem opens not simply with style and imitation but genealogy. Unlike Virgil and Chaucer, however, Spenser boldly wants his ‘name’ to be ‘knowen’ exclusively through his love poetry, and to be free of envy for doing so. Moreover, the word ‘Charming’ evokes Spenser's magical theory driving his erotic poetry (Cheney and Klemp 1984), emphasized through the effect of Colin's poetry on his auditors, who ‘stand astonisht at his curious skill’ (8).

Renaissance theories of poetry emphasize two aims famously articulated by Horace in the Art of Poetry: pleasure and instruction. In his Defense of Poesy, Sidney adds a third: moving the reader to virtuous action (Vickers 1999: 346). Yet Sidney also gestures to the magical effect of poetry ravishing the reader's soul.15 Sidney and Spenser instill into English poetry an erotic poetics of ravishment, and in Astrophel Spenser attributes this magical poetics to Sidney himself:

  • And many a Nymph both of the wood and brooke,
  • Soone as his oaten pipe began to shrill:
  • Both christall wells and shadie groves forsooke,
  • To heare the charmes of his enchanting skill. (43–6)

(p. 243) Spenser's word ‘charmes’ derives from the Latin carmen, meaning song. Throughout his poetry, Spenser uses magic as a metaphor for poetry, ‘For pleasing wordes are like to Magick art’ (FQ III.ii.15). Thus, in The Teares of the Muses Euterpe says that she and her sister Muses have ‘Free libertie to chaunt charmes at will’ (244). Similarly, Renaissance Neoplatonists identify Love as a magician, as Marsilio Ficino does in his commentary on Plato's Symposium, ‘Because in love there is all the power of enchantment’ (Jayne 1944: 199). In Book VI, canto x, of The Faerie Queene, Spenser will formalize the magical operation of erotic poetry, when Colin creates the Dance of the Graces in imitation of the Ptolemaic universe precisely to harness its power (Cheney and Klemp 1984).

In Colin Clout, Hobbinol attributes a magical effect to Colin's presence when he had left home, and later when he comes home again: ‘Whilest thou wast hence, all dead in dole did lie:…| But now both woods and fields, and floods revive, |…That us late dead, hast made againe alive’ (22–31). Colin possesses a magical connection to the land, so that all of nature ebbs and flows in proportion to his presence. The power to ‘revive’ what is ‘dead’ evokes Christ but also Orpheus, the legendary founder of poetry who uses his lyre to move stones, trees, and animals (Cain 1971). In Colin Clout, Spenser presents himself not simply as England's Virgil but also as the ‘Bryttane Orpheus’.16

As the British Orpheus, Colin locates the feminine source of his inspiration in Queen Cynthia: ‘Wake then my pipe, my sleepie Muse awake, | Till I have told her praises lasting long’ (48–9). In an epiphany that constitutes the core experience of the Orphic poet's Virgilian career, Colin understands the beauty of his sovereign as divine in origin:

  • And since I saw that Angels blessed eie,
  • Her worlds bright sun, her heavens fairest light,
  • My mind full of my thoughts satietie,
  • Doth feed on sweet contentment of that sight. (40–3)

Not just a convention, the poet's religious wisdom of an illuminated political consciousness empowers him to continue his national epic.

In part two of the poem, Colin records the contents of his ‘song’ (51), which begins with his meeting of ‘The shepheard of the Ocean’ (66). Spenser presents the meeting as an Elizabethan jam session, in which two artists play musical instruments and sing songs in an amicable display of reciprocal invention:

  •   aemuling my pipe, he tooke in hond
  • My pipe before that aemuled of many,
  • And plaid theron; (for well that skill he cond)
  • Himselfe as skilfull in that art as any.
  • He pip'd, I sung; and when he sung, I piped,
  • By chaunge of turnes, each making other mery. (72–7)

The doubly used word ‘aemuling’ means ‘emulating, desiring to rival (a unique usage)’ (Spenser 1999: 651). Ocean hears Colin's music, and emulates it as an act of (p. 244) friendly rivalry; in turn, Colin emulates Ocean, and the two reciprocate ‘untill…both were weary’ (79). Here Spenser does more than fictionalize the art of imitation, in which one poet models himself on another; he models the ‘mery’ temperament that should order that process in a civilized society.

When Cuddy asks Colin to ‘tell what thou didst sing’ (84), Spenser invites the reader to think about genre: ‘Whether it were some hymne, or morall laie, | Or carol made to praise thy loved lasse’ (86–7). The language evokes a hymn or divine poem, a didactic poem, or a love poem, yet Colin replies, ‘Nor of my love, nor of my losse’ (88), implying that the song he sang before Ocean was none of the three: ‘But of my river Bregogs love I soong, | Which to the shiny Mulla he did beare’ (92–3). In this poem about the land, Colin sings a national allegory of love—what Cuddy calls simply a ‘lovely lay’ (97), and Colin a ‘tale’ (100).

This last classification indicates that the tale of the Bregog and the Mulla is a narrative poem, and thus a miniature of Colin Clout. In particular, the tale resembles the Ovidian epyllion dominant in the mid‐1590s: in their mutual love, Bregog and Mulla are blocked by Mulla's father, Old Mole, who has arranged another marriage for her, leading the lovers to elope, until ‘a shepheards boy’ (147) tells Mole, who seeks revenge on Bregog by turning him into a river. While mythologizing the Ralegh–Throckmorton affair (Spenser 1989: 523–4), the allegory also gestures to the way the poet speaks ‘Under the foote of Mole’ (57)—beneath his verse—to assert his freedom from Elizabethan power, chiefly Lord Burleigh (Kelsey 2003).

Colin does not record the Shepherd of the Ocean's song but describes its contents:

  • His song was all a lamentable lay,
  • Of great unkindnesse, and of usage hard,
  • Of Cynthia the Ladie of the sea,
  • Which from her presence faultlesse him debard. (164–7)

Here Spenser alludes to Ralegh's own epyllion, the Booke of the Ocean to Scinthia (Oram 1989: 532). The symbolic interlock with Colin's song is ingenious: where he allegorizes Ralegh's affair with Elizabeth Throckmorton, Ocean complains of the Queen's wrath over this very event, calling for her ‘pittie’ (171). In the fiction, that is, the two poems have nothing to do with each other; symbolically, both fixate on the core idea driving the 1595 book: singing about loss within a community can make both self and other ‘mery’.

Colin's ability to reciprocate Ralegh's poetry of loss amiably leads the courtier to take the shepherd to see Cynthia. The details of their voyage across the Irish Sea (195–261) celebrate Ralegh's role in the Queen's naval strength, followed by celebration of her land power: ‘Both heaven and heavenly graces do much more |…abound in that same land’ (308–9). Colin extends his praise of ‘Cynthias land’ (289) to her person, dilating on the terms of his earlier epiphany in quintessential Spenserian verse:

  • I would her lyken to a crowne of lillies,
  • Upon a virgin brydes adorned head,
  • With Roses dight and Goolds and Daffadillies;
  • Or like the circlet of a Turtle true,
  • (p. 245) In which all colours of the rainbow bee;
  •   .   .   .   .   .   .
  • The image of the heavens in shape humane. (337–51)

Colin's portrait emphasizes Cynthia's physical beauty and bounty, her regality and virginity, her fidelity and perfection. In the last line, he records his fundamental insight: the female's human ‘shape’ is an ‘image’ of the divine. Cynthia incarnates the godhead. Here Spenser solves the problem that had plagued Petrarch and his heirs, for whom the female serves rather as arch‐impediment to the poet's union with the deity (Cheney 1993: 149–94). Colin's vision of the female sovereign as the minister of the deity qualifies him for the title of national poet.

Colin's audience with Cynthia suggests that Spenser read part of The Faerie Queene to Elizabeth:

  • The shepheard of the Ocean (quoth he)
  • Unto that Goddesse grace me first enhanced,
  • And to mine oaten pipe enclin'd her eare,
  • That she thenceforth therein gan take delight,
  • And it desir'd at timely houres to heare. (358–62)

Perhaps Spenser read Elizabeth the story of Timias and Belphoebe in III.v, which shows the huntress rescuing the squire from disgrace (Bednarz 1983: 69 n 23). At l. 175 of Colin Clout, Spenser raises the topic of poetic instrumentality, for Mariana says that Ocean's lamentable lay was so powerful Cynthia would ‘move to take him to her grace againe’. Scholars believe that Spenser's 1596 continuation of the Timias–Belphoebe story in IV.vii–viii helped restore Ralegh to favor in 1597 (O'Connell 1977: 122), yet maybe Colin Clout was instrumental in ushering in this rare instance of poetic praxis.

When Alexis asks why Cynthia needs such a lowly poet when she ‘hath so many shepheards in her fee’ (370), Colin praises twelve of her poets. Colin names both William Alabaster (400), who had written an epic on the Queen, ‘Eliseïs’ (403), and Samuel Daniel (424), who had written the sonnet sequence Delia (416) and the epyllion Complaint of Rosamond (427). A few other poets are recognizable: not simply Astrophel as Sidney, but also Alcyon as Arthur Gorges, and Amyntas as Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange. Scholars identify Harpalus as George Turberville; Corydon as Abraham Fraunce or Edward Dyer; Palin as George Peele; Alcon as either Thomas Lodge or Thomas Watson; and ‘old Palemon’ (396) as Thomas Churchyard (on record as identifying himself here). Most evasive has been the identity of ‘Aetion’: ‘A gentler shepheard may no where be found: | Whose Muse full of high thoughts invention, | Doth like himselfe Heroically sound’ (444–7)—a description that may (or may not) evoke the name of Shakespeare. Such biographical speculation, however, occludes the real form that history here takes: Spenser is England's first modern poet to present himself as part of a larger national community of poets: ‘All these…| …do their Cynthia immortall make’ (452–3).

When Lucinda rebukes Colin for neglecting Cynthia's ‘Nymphs’ (459), Spenser compliments twelve ladies of Elizabeth's court, most of whom we can identify: Urania, as Mary Sidney Herbert; Theana, Anne Russell, Countess of Warwick; (p. 246) Marian, Margaret Russell, Countess of Cumberland; Mansilia, Helena, Countess of Northumberland; Galathea, Frances Howard, sister to Douglas Howard, whose death Spenser commemorated in ‘Daphnaïda’ (510); Neaera, Elizabeth Sheffield; Stella, Frances Walsingham; and ‘Phyllis, Charillis, and sweet Amaryllis’ (540), the three Spencer sisters, Elizabeth, Anne, and Alice (ancestors of the late Princess Diana), to whom Spenser claims kinship: a ‘noble familie: | Of which I meanest boast my selfe to be’ (537–8). In Colin Clout, Spenser presents himself as a poet of the court lady, attuned to the national value of the feminine.

Appropriately, the lass Aglaura encourages Colin to ‘Finish the storie’ (589), which he does through a bifold strategy that has long disturbed readers (Fairweather 2000: 303–4). First, he delivers a scathing satire of the court, indicting courtiers for violating human decency through theatrical character: ‘each mans worth is measured by his weed’ (711). Second, Colin offers a contradictory encomium to the court, centralized in the Queen's largesse: ‘For Cynthia doth in sciences abound, | And gives to their professors stipends large’ (745–6). Opposed to theatricality, Colin proffers ‘spotlesse honestie, | And…profession of all learned arts’ (753–4).

Colin's bifold depiction of the court leads Corylas to ask whether ‘love’ is ‘professed there’ (771–2), prompting Colin to identify eros as the virtuous courtier's central value: ‘love most aboundeth there. | For all the walls and windows there are writ, | All full of love, and love, and love my deare, | And all their talke and studie is of it’ (775–8). While Colin recognizes that some courtiers ‘prophane’ the ‘mightie mysteries’ of love (788), he claims that he and other ‘poore shepheards…|… serve that God’ with ‘religion’ (795–8)—an expression that catapults him into ‘some celestiall rage | Of love’, or Neoplatonic furor, a divine form of erotic inspiration that produces ‘oracles…sage’ (823–5). Cuddy's designation of Colin as ‘Priest’ of ‘that God’— ‘So well thou wot'st the mysterie of his might, | As if his godhead thou didst present see’ (832–4)—leads Colin ‘t'expresse his powre divine’ (838) in a powerful Neoplatonic hymn of some sixty lines: Love creates the world out of chaos, leading all creatures ‘each one his like to love, | And like himselfe desire for to beget’ (863–4). The repetition of, and play on, the word ‘like’ underscores the similitude of desire, the masculine and feminine mutuality that Colin locates in Love's mother: ‘Venus selfe doth soly couples seeme, | Both male and female through commixture joynd’ (801–2). In this hermaphroditic model of companionate desire, Colin locates true ‘grace’ (881), the ‘medicyn’ to the fatal ‘hurt’ of Love's ‘wound’ (876–7). Because ‘love is Lord of all the world by right’ (883), the Neoplatonic mystogogue ends by admonishing ‘all lovers’ to ‘honor’ the erotic deity with ‘chaste heart’ (887–8). When Melissa praises Colin as ‘deeply…divyn[ing]…|…love and beautie…with wondrous skill’, she records the ‘debt’ that ‘all wemen’ owe to Colin's ‘defen[se]’ of their ‘cause’ (896–901).

In part three of the poem, Melissa's praise leads Lucid to introduce the topic of ‘Faire Rosalind’, who has been ‘blamed’ for being ‘too cruell’ to Colin (908–9). The Calender had ended with Colin bidding adieu to Rosalind after she had taken up with Menalcas. Sixteen years later, Colin is still separated from his beloved, but rather than blaming her, he now accepts blame. A ‘simple swaine’, he has ‘lookt’ too ‘hie’, while (p. 247) she remains true to herself: her ‘loftie eye’ (936–40), the center of her ‘divine regard and heavenly hew’ (933), does not look down. Like Cynthia, Rosalind incarnates the godhead. In his role as national poet of love, Colin demonstrates his ability to see the divinity of female beauty, and thus to use his poetry to seek feminine ‘grace’ (939). In the highest testament of this faith, Colin seals his laureate status by presenting himself as the ‘simple trophe of her great conquest’ (951).

If ‘Rosalind’ figures Spenser's second wife, Elizabeth Boyle (Burchmore 1977: 396), Colin Clout joins Amoretti and Epithalamion in bringing the poet's beloved into conjunction with his sovereign. Yet rather than ‘displacing’ the Queen in favor of his wife (Burchmore 1977: 405), Spenser likely sees the two as complementary (Warner 1997: 368–70). Rosalind may use her lofty eye to ‘loath’ Colin because he is a ‘lowly thing’ (938), but Spenser's career discourse identifies her as a virtual synecdoche for the bridge from low to high that this poem seeks to build (Edwards 1971: 63).

Accordingly, the poem concludes when Colin arises ‘from [the] ground’, followed by ‘all the rest’, who are ‘All loth to part, but that the glooming skies | Warnd them to draw their bleating flocks to rest’ (952–5). Anticipating Hamlet's final pun on ‘rest’— ‘The rest is silence’—Spenser's concluding rhyme speaks to the condition of national repose, the skies darkening around the poet and his community, as they perform their nurturing duty to their ‘bleating flocks’. Refusing to soften the threat of loss, Spenser announces his preparation to jump the gap from pastoral to epic.17


Astrophel, A Pastorall Elegy represents an interlocking yet different model of the national poet of community. Rather than celebrate the national poet of love against a poetics of loss, Spenser now presents himself as the national poet of loss in the genre of funeral elegy.18

Yet Astrophel has long been the most maligned poem in the Spenser canon. Between the late sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, almost no commentary exists. In 1715, Hughes mentions Spenser's ‘Elegies on Sir Philip Sidney’, but ‘leave[s]’ them to ‘the Reader's own Observation’ (Cummings: 276). Nineteenth‐century scholars routinely discuss the poem's date of composition, its connection with Sidney, and other biographical matters (Variorum VII, 484–5, 490). Most notorious is the judgment of Palgrave: ‘None of Spenser's poems, I apprehend, so completely and so unexpectedly disappoints a reader as this’ (Variorum VII, 487). What disappoints Palgrave is Spenser's ‘failure’ to include his ‘lovely touches’, ‘his prevalent beauty and picturesqueness’, and his ‘expression of personal feeling’ (Variorum VII, 487). As the cause of failure, Palgrave cites Spenser's ‘patronage’ relationship with Sidney (Variorum VII, 488)—evidently, a blot to Romantic ideas of spontaneous literary genius.

(p. 248) Toward the last quarter of the twentieth century, critics indicate why we might care about this poem: Spenser represents his relation to Sidney as the starting point of modern English literary history. Yet rather than offer a personalized portrait, Spenser displaces his eulogy through the classical myth of Adonis, Venus, and the boar. The principal source‐texts are Bion's Lament for Adonis and especially Ronsard's epyllion L'Adonis, to a lesser extent Ovid's Metamorphoses (10.503–739), while two other classical poems help form the ‘model for the Renaissance pastoral elegy’ (Falco 1994: 59), Theocritus's Idyll 1 and Virgil's Eclogue 5 (Variorum VII, 486–7, 491–9; O'Connell 1971: 28–30). In particular, Spenser's debt to Ronsard may leave a trace of his interest in the Pléiade as a model for a national community of poets.19 Yet the most neglected source, Moschus's Lament for Bion, includes three features important here:

  1. 1) The formation of a community of poets: Moschus puts himself in the company of seven classical elegists, from Hesiod to Theocritus (Edmonds 1928: 451–2);

  2. 2) The advertisement of a literary genealogy: Moschus sees himself as the ‘inheritor’ of Bion (Edmonds 1928: 453); and

  3. 3) The building of a career‐grid linking pastoral to epic: Moschus offsets his pastoral elegy through reference to Homer's epics (Edmonds 1928: 451).

We probably also need to add as a source a contemporary work just published: Shakespeare's deeply erotic Venus and Adonis (1593), which Spenser may seek to chasten.20

Spenser's subtitle, ‘A Pastorall Elegie’, identifies the poem's genre: it is a pastoral in the elegiac mode, an elegy in the pastoral mode. Recently, critics have written extensively on this genre. G. W. Pigman III presents Spenser as ‘a master of lament’ who uses elegy to probe ‘the moral problem of grief’ (1985: 75), while Peter Sacks sees Spenser achieving the ‘work of mourning precisely by resolving this question of the adequacy of language and its figures of consolation’ (1985: 54). Dennis Kay follows up on both to see Spenser pursuing ‘the consoling function of art’, with Astrophel constituting ‘an attempt to…teach the role artistic invention can play when human wit is challenged to make sense of premature and unexpected death’ (1990: 48). More recently, Lynn Enterline shows how sixteenth‐century elegists advance the ‘movement from mourning to consolation’ by offering ‘the poem itself as a form of recompense for loss’ (2007: 147).

In the November eclogue, The Ruines of Time, and Daphnaïda, Spenser applies the work of mourning to the nation as a whole (Cheney 2003). We need to view Astrophel within this career‐long commitment to the role of the national funeral poet. Since Sidney had died in 1586, critics have wondered why Spenser and his colleagues would wait to publish their volume. We do not know the answer, but one possibility emerges: in Astrophel, Spenser is less concerned with the process of national mourning than he is with the national role of the funeral poet himself.

The poem begins with a three‐stanza proem, written in a sixain stanza (like Venus and Adonis, or its models, Januarye and December), rhyming ababcc. While older (p. 249) critics often find the verse ‘strangely pallid’ and ‘frigid’ (Variorum VII, 483), Sir Sidney Lee disagrees: ‘No sweeter imagery ever adorned an elegy than that to be met within Spenser's Astrophel’ (Variorum VII, 483). Once we leave aside Romantic notions of sincerity, we can enjoy verse often stunning in its delicacy, as this on an event that never transpires: ‘none is nigh, thine eylids up to close, | And kisse thy lips like faded leaves of rose’ (137–8).

The proem is meta‐poetry, about the poem itself. Spenser addresses ‘Shepheards’ that use ‘pipes of oaten reed’ to ‘plaine’ (complain) of their ‘loves concealed smart’, so that he may ‘breed | Compassion’ in the ‘hart’ of ‘countrey lasses’ (1–4). He asks his ‘dolefull plaint’ to be ‘placed’ among the shepherds' own songs to ‘empierse’ ladies' ‘softened hearts’ now that Astrophel has died (6–9). Thus, Spenser presents his poem as a pastoral complaint or elegy, designed to affect female emotion or interiority, in community with other grieving poets.

In the poem proper, Spenser adapts Sidney's biography to the Adonis myth: his birth, education, marriage, and career, followed by his death and funeral. Recurrently, Spenser presents Sidney as unusual because he jumps the gap of conceptual oppositions (Klein 1993: 42). Astrophel combines physical and moral beauty: ‘He grew up fast in goodnesse and in grace, | And doubly faire wox both in mynd and face’ (17–18). Astrophel also possesses military prowess and poetic virtuosity: ‘For both in deeds and words he nourtred was, | Both wise and hardie’ (71–2). Moreover, his ‘skill’ (85) in ‘sports’ (76) is ‘matcht’ with ‘courage’ (85), and he pursues a double goal: ‘His mistress name, and his own fame to raise’ (88). Even when he fights the boar, he does so ‘Now with his sharp borespear, now with his blade’ (108)—weapons of pastoral and epic. Thus, like Shakespeare's Adonis, Astrophel moves along the Virgilian career track: from the pastoral world of ‘Shepheard[s]’ (1) to the world of epic hunting, the fatal battle at Zutphen (Klein 1993: 46). Spenser presents Sidney as a poet‐soldier who gave his life on ‘forreine soyle’ (the Netherlands) to defend his country from ‘the brutish nation’ of Spain (92–8) during a national process of fame.

As a funeral elegy, Astrophel naturally settles on a model of immortality. Critics label this model classical, because it imagines Sidney's fame as earthly renown, eschewing Christian glory. The key event is Astrophel's metamorphosis into a flower, which scholars cannot identify botanically (Oram 1989: 576). The reason is that Spenser invents the flower himself, after telling how Stella ‘followed’ Astrophel in death, ‘To prove that death their hearts cannot divide, | Which living were in love so firmly tide’ (178–80). When the ‘Gods’ see ‘this paire of lovers trew’, they ‘Transform’ both ‘Into one flowre that is both red and blew’ (181–4):

  • It first growes red, and then to blew doth fade,
  • Like Astrophel, which thereinto was made.
  • And in the midst thereof a star appeares,
  • As fairly formd as any star in skyes:
  • Resembling Stella in her freshest years. (185–9)

Spenser invents his Ovidian floral metamorphosis to express the principle of faith in death, in which the female remains ‘firmly tide’ to her lover after he dies by dying (p. 250) herself ‘after him’ (176). The perfect icon becomes a single flower of red turning blue (colors of passion and chastity) with a star of beauty shining in its center. Yet Spenser transposes the marital principle to a literary one, for Stella ‘becomes symbolic of the ideals and inspiration behind Sidney's poetry’, and the flower ‘becomes a very delicate symbol for Sidney's poetry’ itself (O'Connell 1971: 32).21 For Spenser, in sum, Sidney has written an immortalizing poetry that nullifies death through marital faith.

Critics disagree about Spenser's attitude toward Sidney in Astrophel. Whereas most see Spenser using art to create consolation (Kay 1990; O'Connell 1971; Pigman 1985; Sacks 1985), some emphasize Spenser's criticism of the Sidneian ideal of poetic chivalry (Klein 1993: 43). Although Spenser does express detachment from Sidney's death‐dealing heroism, he would seem to do so to perform the work of mourning as a vital part of his laureate career (Clarke 2000; Falco 1994).

The Doleful Lay of Clorinda

The transition from Astrophel to The Doleful Lay has long given readers pause. After Astrophel and Stella die, and the shepherds mourn ‘that pitteous spectacle’ (203), the poet describes how Astrophel's sister begins the process of grief; Clorinda

  •     began this dolefull lay,
  • Which least I marre the sweetnesse of the vearse,
  • In sort as she it sung, I will rehearse. (214–16)

In the fiction, the narrator says he will ‘rehearse’ the ‘dolefull lay’ that Clorinda ‘sung’, the word ‘rehearse’ meaning perform. Yet we cannot tell whether this means that Spenser ventriloquizes the voice of Sidney's sister, or whether the Countess wrote the poem herself. While some Herbert scholars argue for the possibility of her authorship (Hannay 1998: II, 119–32), most Spenser editors argue for his authorship (Spenser 1989, 1999). Recently, Danielle Clarke grants authorship to Spenser but allows for a more capacious model that challenges the notion of individuated authorship with one based on collaboration: ‘the Colin Clout volume suggests that the author figure is indeed a manipulable fiction or that the manipulation of these fictions of authorship works by indirection to instate the figure of Spenser as author’ (2000: 452–3). No matter who wrote individual poems, the volume and the poem are Spenser's, even though ‘the processes of verbal echoing, numerical patterning, and textual arrangement…suggest that we…rethink our notion of authorship, even with…a “self‐crowned laureate” [such] as Spenser’ (Clarke 2000: 467).

Written in a sixain stanza, The Doleful Lay complements its companion poem's classical model of immortality with a Christian one. The central question about ‘that immortall spirit’ (61) emerges at line 66: ‘can so divine a thing be dead?’ Clorinda answers, ‘Ah no: it is not dead, ne can it die, | But lives for aie, in blisfull Paradise’ (p. 251) (67–8). In this way, the two‐poem sequence—Astrophel with its earthly fame, The Doleful Lay with its heavenly salvation—re‐produces the two‐part movement of November, to anticipate, famously, Milton's Lycidas (1645):

  • Lull him a sleep in Angelick delight;
  • Whilest in sweet dreame to him presented bee
  • Immortall beauties, which no eye may see. (76–8)

Like Astrophel, The Doleful Lay concludes with a transition to the next part of the volume, the five concluding Sidney elegies, ‘As everie one in order lov'd him best, |…| With dolefull layes unto the time addrest’ (104–6):

  • The which I here in order will rehearse,
  • As fittest flowres to deck his mournfull hearse. (107–8)

The elegies by Bryskett, Roydon, Ralegh, and Greville (or Dyer) then follow. While the question of authorship surrounding The Doleful Lay will no doubt continue, a related question emerges from Bryskett's second elegy, and we shall close with it.


A pastorall Aeglogue upon the death of Sir Phillip Sidney, a dialogue poem featuring ‘Lycon’ and ‘Colin’, closes with the initials ‘L.B’, prompting scholars to assign the elegy to Lodowick Bryskett. Yet in her 1990 article on ‘Astrophel’ in The Spenser Encyclopedia, Katherine Duncan‐Jones speculates that ‘the poem may well be a collaboration between the two poets’ (74). In 1986, Fred B. Tromly had followed the ‘fullest discussion of Bryskett's authorship’, a 1934 dissertation by Walter George Friedrich (384 n 1), but ended with an ambiguous statement: Byrskett ‘presents his poem as an act of collaboration with a much greater poet’ (388). Then, in 1998 Margaret Hannay cites Tromly and Duncan‐Jones to suggest Bryskett's ‘collaboration with Spenser’ (I, 123), quoting lines 141–6:

  • Behold my selfe with Colin, gentle swaine
  • (Whose lerned Muse thou cherisht most whyleare)
  • Where we thy name recording, seeke to ease
  • The inward torment and tormenting paine,
  • That thy departure to us both hath bred;
  • Ne can ech others sorrow yet appease. (141–6)

Thus Herbert's editors conclude that Bryskett ‘wrote “A pastorall Aeglogue” for the occasion, probably with Spenser's help’ (Hannay 1998: I, 124). Spenser scholars have never sufficiently debated this issue. The issue needs to be debated, because it could lead to the identification of 77 new lines of Spenserian verse.

(p. 252) Whoever wrote the poem, clearly Colin's voice differs from Lycon's, and it sounds distinctly Spenserian:

  • Ye Nymphs and Nayades with golden heare,
  • That oft have left your purest cristall springs
  • To harken to his layes…(118–20)

Whether Spenser collaborated with Bryskett or not, A pastorall Aeglogue is probably the first poem outside the Spenser canon to present Colin singing in the authentic register of his creator. Perhaps, just as Spenser ventriloquizes Sidney's grieving sister, so Bryskett ventriloquizes Spenser, and both poetic acts ‘rehearse’ the act of ‘aemuling’ between Colin and the Shepherd of the Ocean earlier in the 1595 book. However scholars decide the issue, the Colin Clout volume remains historic for printing a fiction not simply by a community of English poets but also about the formation of an English community of poets for the nation: as the first poet to write a national epic, Edmund Spenser is England's laureate heir to Sir Philip Sidney, and together they preside over the inauguration of English literary history.


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                                                                                                                      (1.) Quotations from Spenser's shorter poems come from Spenser (1999); The Faerie Queene, from Hamilton (2001); and the non‐Spenserian Sidney elegies from Spenser (1912).

                                                                                                                      (2.) Briefly, a national poet is a ‘laureate’ poet who writes poetry about the nation, and presents himself as doing so through the medium of print, in the European tradition of Virgil's Aeneid, even though he may not endorse the nation's contemporary leaders. See especially Helgerson (1992).

                                                                                                                      (3.) Only one quarto edition (1595), printed by William Ponsonby, exists, although two states survive (corrected and uncorrected). Meyer (1962) supplies a full list of textual variants.

                                                                                                                      (4.) For a review of scholarship, see McCabe (2006), 174–8.

                                                                                                                      (5.) The forthcoming Oxford Edition of the Collected Works of Edmund Spenser will print the complete 1595 book.

                                                                                                                      (6.) On Elizabeth as a ‘poet’, see Puttenham, Arte of English Poesie, in Vickers (1999), 213.

                                                                                                                      (7.) Cf. Kay (1990), who does not discuss Colin Clout: from ‘the Astrophel volume’, Spenser's followers ‘derived a clear and practical sense of the nature of poetic community,…and the role and status of the laureate poet in relation to his fellows’ (65–6).

                                                                                                                      (8.) Edwards (1971), 51, referring only to Colin Clout.

                                                                                                                      (9.) A ‘communal Spenser’ profitably joins the ‘poetical Spenser’ and the ‘colonial Spenser’ of modern scholarship (Rambuss 1996: 17). On a Spenserian ‘model of the collective cultural production and historical agency’ in William Browne and George Wither, see O'Callaghan (2000), 34.

                                                                                                                      (10.) Thanks to Dustin Stegner for this reference.

                                                                                                                      (11.) For the best overview, see Shore (1990); for the only book‐length study, see Meyer (1969).

                                                                                                                      (12.) See Edwards (1971): ‘it is a mélange of satire, love‐complaint, panegyric, and autobiographical allegory’ (60).

                                                                                                                      (13.) Hulse says he does not discuss the pastoral epyllion (1981: 12).

                                                                                                                      (14.) See Warton in Variorum, VII, 452; Renwick in Variorum, ibid.; Cheney (2002), 232–3.

                                                                                                                      (15.) See Lewis (1954): ‘If poetry did not ravish, it is for him nothing’ (346).

                                                                                                                      (16.) ‘R.S.’, Commendatory Verse 4.4, 1590 FQ, in Hamilton (2001), 723.

                                                                                                                      (17.) This formulation attempts to negotiate the triumphalist reading of Mallette (1979) and the more negative reading of Fairweather (2000: 301).

                                                                                                                      (18.) See McCabe (2005): ‘The lament for Sidney is essentially a continuation of Colin Clout’ (175).

                                                                                                                      (19.) Thanks to Anne Prescott for help with Ronsard.

                                                                                                                      (20.) Critics compare the Adonis myth in Astrophel with FQ III.i.34–8 (Spenser 1989: 566), without remembering that this is the version Shakespeare takes from Spenser (Cheney 2004: Chap. 3).

                                                                                                                      (21.) O'Connell's reading may help explain what has long troubled readers: not simply does Spenser identify ‘Stella’ as Frances Walsingham (rather than Penelope Devereaux, the ‘Stella’ of Astrophil and Stella), but he presents Sidney's still‐living wife as dying in the fiction of the poem. Perhaps Spenser's obsession with (poetic) immortality is here at its most ingenious height.