An Arthurian Poetic Adventure
King or Prince Arthur is the Knight of Magnificence, the perfection of all virtues. Of the Round Table, he is portrayed as being madly in love with the Faerie Queene and spends his time in pursuit of her when not helping the other knights out of their sundry predicaments.
On a literal level, the poem follows several Arthurian knights in an examination of several virtues, though it is primarily an allegorical work, and can be read on several levels of allegory, including as praise (or, later, criticism) of Queen Elizabeth I.
Books I to III were first published in 1590, and then republished in 1596 together with books IV to VI. The Faerie Queene is notable for its form: it is one of the longest poems in the English language and the origin of a verse form that came to be known as Spenserian stanza.
In Spenser’s “Letter of the Authors” he states that the entire epic poem is “cloudily enwrapped in Allegorical devises,” and that the aim of publishing The Faerie Queene was to “fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline”.
The Faerie Queene found such favor with Elizabeth I that Spenser was granted a pension for life amounting to £50 a year.
The following is an extract from Faerie Queene. Book II. Canto VII used in the Viking Legend & Norse Mythology: Volume 1: The Underworld and the Afterlife.
Book II is centred on the virtue of Temperance as embodied in Sir Guyon, who is tempted by the fleeing Archimago into nearly attacking the Redcross Knight. Guyon discovers a woman killing herself out of grief for having her lover tempted and bewitched by the witch Acrasia and killed. Guyon swears a vow to avenge them and protect their child. Guyon on his quest starts and stops fighting several evil, rash, or tricked knights and meets Arthur. Finally, they come to Acrasia’s Island and the Bower of Bliss, where Guyon resists temptations to violence, idleness, and lust. Guyon captures Acrasia in a net, destroys the Bower, and rescues those imprisoned there.
‘Mammon in a delve’ refers to Mammon a deity, representing as money, material wealth, or any entity that promises wealth, and is associated with the greedy pursuit of gain. “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” In the Middle Ages it was often personified as a deity and sometimes included in the seven princes of Hell.
In the following, Spenser describes a Wight, a living undead featured in Norse legend:
Guyon finds Mammon in a Delve,
Sunning his Threasure hore:
Is by him tempted, and led down
To see his secret Store.
As Pilot well expert in perilous Wave,
That to a stedfast Star his Course hath bent,
When foggy Mists, or cloudy Tempests have
The faithful Light of that fair Lamp yblent,
And cover’d Heaven with hideous Dreriment;
Upon his Card and Compass firms his Eye,
The Maisters of his long Experiment,
And to them does the steddy Helm apply,
Bidding his winged Vessel fairly forward fly:
So Guyon having lost his trusty Guide,
Late left beyond that Idle Lake, proceeds
Yet on his way, of none accompany’d;
And evermore himself with Comfort feeds,
Of his own Vertues, and praise-worthy Deeds.
So long he yode, yet no Adventure found,
Which Fame of her shrill Trumpet worthy reeds:
For, still he travel’d through wide wasteful Ground,
That nought but desert Wilderness shew’d all around.
At last, he came unto a gloomy Glade,
Cover’d with Boughs and Shrubs from Heaven’s Light,
Whereas he sitting found, in secret shade,
An uncouth, salvage, and uncivil Wight,
Of griesly hue, and foul ill-favour’d sight;
His Face with Smoke was tann’d, and Eyes were blear’d,
His Head and Beard wish Soot were ill bedight,
His coal-black Hands did seem to have been sear’d
In Smith’s fire-spetting Forge, and Nails like Claws appear’d.
His iron Coat all overgrown with Rust,
Was underneath enveloped with Gold,
Whose glistring Gloss darkned with filthy Dust,
Well it appeared to have been of old
A Work of rich Entail, and curious Mold,
Woven with Anticks and wild Imagery:
And in his Lap a Mass of Coin he told,
And turned upsidown, to feed his Eye
And covetous Desire with his huge Threasury.
And round about him lay on every side
Great Heaps of Gold that never could be spent;
Of which, some were rude Ore, not purifide
Of Mulciber’s devouring Element;
Some others were new driven, and distent
Into great Ingots, and to Wedges square;
Some in round Plates withouten Monument;
But most were stamp’d, and in their Metal bare
The antique Shapes of Kings and Kesars strange and rare.
Soon as he Guyon saw, in great affright
And haste he rose, for to remove aside
Those precious Hills from Strangers envious Sight,
And down them poured thro an hole full wide,
Into the hollow Earth, them there to hide.
But Guyon lightly to him leaping, stay’d
His hand, that trembled, as one terrifide;
And tho himself were at the sight dismay’d,
Yet him perforce restrain’d, and to him doubtful said:
What art thou Man (if Man at all thou art)
That here in Desart hast thine Habitaunce,
And these rich Heaps of Wealth dost hide apart
From the World’s Eye, and from her right Usaunce?
Thereat, with staring Eyes fixed ascaunce,
In great Disdain, he answered; Hardy Elf,
That darest view my direful Countenaunce,
I reed thee rash, and heedless of thy self;
To trouble my still Seat, and Heaps of precious Pelf.
God of the World and Worldlings I me call,
Great Mammon, greatest God below the Sky,
That of my Plenty pour out unto all,
And unto none my Graces do envy:
Riches, Renown, and Principality,
Honour, Estate, and all this Worldes Good,
For which Men swink and sweat incessantly,
Fro me do flow into an ample Flood,
And in the hollow Earth have their eternal Brood.
Wherefore if me thou deign to serve and sew,
At thy Command lo all these Mountains be;
Or if to thy great Mind, or greedy View,
All these may not suffice, there shalt to thee
Ten times so much be numbred frank and free.
Mammon, said he, thy Godhead’s Vaunt is vain,
And idle Offers of thy golden Eee;
To them that covet such eye-glutting Gain,
Proffer thy Gifts, and fitter Servants entertain.
Me ill befits, that in der-doing Arms,
And Honour’s Suit my vowed Days do spend,
Unto thy bounteous Baits, and pleasing Charms,
With which weak Men thou witchest, to attend:
Regard of worldly Muck doth foully blend
And low abase the high heroick Spright,
That joys for Crowns and Kingdoms to contend;
Fair Shields, gay Steeds, bright Arms be my Delight:
Those be the Riches fit for an advent’rous Knight.
Vain-glorious Elfe, said he, dost not thou weet,
That Money can thy Wants at will supply?
Shields, Steeds, and Arms, and all things for thee meet
It can purvey in twinkling of an eye;
And Crowns and Kingdoms to thee multiply.
Do not I Kings create, and throw the Crown
Sometimes to him that low in Dust doth lie?
And him that reign’d, into his room thrust down,
And whom I lust, do heap with Glory and Renown?
All otherwise, said he, I Riches reed,
And deem them Root of all Disquietness;
First got with Guile, and then preserv’d with Dread,
And after spent with Pride and Lavishness,
Leaving behind them Grief and Heaviness.
Infinite Mischiefs of them do arise;
Strife and Debate, Bloodshed and Bitterness
Outrageous Wrong, and hellish Covetise,
That noble Heart (as great Dishonour) doth despise.
Ne thine be Kingdoms, ne the Scepters thine;
But Realms and Rulers thou dost both confound,
And loyal Truth to Treason dost incline;
Witness the guiltless Blood pour’d oft on ground,
The Crowned often slain, the Slayer crown’d
The sacred Diadem in pieces rent,
And purple Robe gored with many a Wound;
Castles surpriz’d, great Cities sack’d and brent:
So mak’st thou Kings, and gainest wrongful Government.
Long were to tell the troublous Storms, that toss
The private State, and make the Life unsweet:
Who, swelling Sails, in Caspian Sea doth cross,
And in frail Wood on Adrian Gulf doth fleet,
Doth not (I ween) so many Evils meet.
Then Mammon wexing wroth, And why then, said,
Are mortal Men so fond and undiscreet,
So evil thing to seek unto their Aid,
And having not complain, and having it upbraid?
Indeed, quoth he, thro foul Intemperance,
Frail Men are oft captiv’d to Covetise:
But would they think, with how small Allowance
Untroubled Nature doth her self suffice,
Such Superfluities they would despise,
Which with sad Cares empeach our native Joys:
At the Well-head the purest Streams arise;
But mucky Filth his branching Arms annoys,
And with uncomely Weeds the gentle Wave accloys.
The antique World, in his first flowring Youth,
Found no Defect in his Creator’s Grace;
But with glad Thanks, and unreproved Truth,
The Gifts of sovereign Bounty did embrace;
Like Angels Life was then Mens happy Case:
But later Ages Pride (like corn-fed Steed)
Abus’d her Plenty, and fat-swoln Encrease
To all licentious Lust, and ‘gan exceed
The Measure of her Mean, and natural first Need.
Then ‘gan a cursed band the quiet Womb
Of his Great Grandmother with Steel to wound,
And the hid Treasures in her sacred Tomb,
With Sacrilege to dig. Therein he found
Fountains of Gold and Silver to abound,
Of which the Matter of his huge Desire
And pompous Pride eftsoons he did compound;
Then Avarice ‘gan thro his Veins inspire
His greedy Flames, and kindled life-devouring Fire.
Son, said he then, let be thy bitter Scorn,
And leave the Rudeness of that antique Age
To them, that liv’d therein in State forlorn;
Thou that dost live in later Times, must wage
Thy Works for Wealth, and life for Gold engage.
If then thee list my offer’d Grace to use,
Take what thou please of all this Surplusage;
If thee list not, leave have thou to refuse:
But thing refused, do not afterward accuse.
Me list not, said the Elfin Knight, receive
Thing offer’d, till I know it well begot;
Ne wote I, but thou didst these Goods bereave
From rightful Owner by unrighteous Lot,
Or that Blood-guiltiness or Guile them blot.
Perdy, quoth he, yet never Eye did view
Ne Tongue did tell, ne Hand these handled not,
But safe I have them kept in secret mew,
From Heaven’s sight, and Power of all which them pursue.
What secret Place, quoth he; can safely hold
So huge a Mass, and hide from Heaven’s Eye?
Or where hast thou thy Wone, that so much Gold
Thou canst preserve from Wrong and Robbery?
Come thou, quoth he, and see. So, by and by
Thro that thick Covert he him led, and found
A darksom way, which no Man could descry,
That deep descended thro the hollow Ground,
And was with Dread and Horrour compassed around.
At length they came into a larger Space,
That stretch’d it self into an ample Plain,
Thro which a beaten broad High-way did trace,
That strait did lead to Pluto’s griesly Reign.
By that Way’s side, there sat infernal Pain,
And fast beside him sat tumultuous Strife;
The one in hand an iron Whip did strain,
The other brandished a bloody Knife,
And both did gnash their Teeth, and both did threaten Life.
On th’ other side, in one Consort there sate
Cruel Revenge, and rancorous Despight,
Disloyal Treason, and heart-burning Hate:
But gnawing Jealousy, out of their sight
Sitting alone, his bitter Lips did bite;
And trembling Fear still to and fro did fly,
And found no place where safe he shroud him might;
Lamenting Sorrow did in Darkness lie,
And Shame his ugly Face did hide from living eye.
And over them sad Horrour, with grim Hue,
Did always soar, beating his iron Wings;
And after him Owls and Night-Ravens flew,
The hateful Messengers of heavy things,
Of Death and Dolour telling sad Tidings;
Whiles sad Celeno, sitting on a Clift,
A Song of bale and bitter Sorrow sings,
That Heart of Flint asunder could have rift:
Which having ended, after him she flieth swift.
All these before the Gates of Pluto lay,
By whom they palling, spake unto them nought.
But th’ Elfin Knight with Wonder all the way
Did feed his Eyes, and fill’d his inner Thought.
At last, him to a little Door he brought,
That to the Gate of Hell, which gaped wide,
Was next adjoining, ne them parted ought:
Betwixt them both was but a little Stride,
That did the House of Riches from Hell-mouth divide.
Before the Door sate self-consuming Care,
Day and Night keeping wary watch and ward,
For fear lest Force or Fraud should unaware
Break in, and spoil the Threasure there in guard;
Ne would he suffer Sleep once thither-ward
Approach, albe his drowsy Den were next;
For next to Death is Sleep to be compar’d;
Therefore his House is unto his annext:
Here Sleep, there Riches, and Hell-Gate them both betwixt.
So soon as Mammon there arriv’d, the Door
To him did open, and afforded way;
Him followed eke Sir Guyon evermore,
Ne Darkness him, ne Danger might dismay.
Soon as he enter’d was, the Door straitway
Did shut, and from behind it forth there lept
An ugly Fiend, more foul than dismal Day,
The which with monstrous Stalk behind him stept,
And ever as he went, due watch upon him kept.
Well hoped he, e’er long that hardy Guest,
If ever covetous Hand, or lustful Eye,
Or Lips he laid on thing, that lik’d him best,
Or ever Sleep his Eye-strings did unty,
Should be his Prey. And therefore still on high
He over him did hold his cruel Claws,
Threatning with greedy Gripe to do him die,
And rend in pieces with his ravenous Paws,
If ever he transgress’d the fatal Stygian Laws.
That House’s Form within was rude and strong,
Like an huge Cave, hewn out of rocky Clift,
From whose rough Vault the ragged Breaches hung,
Emboss’d with massy Gold of glorious Gift,
And with rich Metal loaded every Rift,
That heavy Ruin they did seem to threat;
And over them Arachne high did lift
Her cunning Web, and spred her subtle Net,
Enwrapped in foul Smoak and Clouds more black than Jet.
Both Roof, and Floor, and Walls were all of Gold,
But overgrown with Dust and old Decay,
And hid in Darkness, that none could behold
The Hue thereof: for, View of chearful Day
Did never in that House it self display,
But a faint Shadow of uncertain Light;
Such as a Lamp, whose Life does fade away:
Or as the Moon, clothed with cloudy Night,
Does shew to him, that wants in Fear and sad Affright.
In all that Room was nothing to be seen,
But huge great Iron Chests and Coffers strong,
All barr’d with double Bends, that none could ween
Them to efforce by Violence or Wrong;
On every side they placed were along.
But all the Ground with Skulls was scattered,
And dead Mens Bones, which round about were flung,
Whose Lives (it seemed) whilom there were shed,
And their vile Carcases now left unburied.
They forward pass, ne Guyon yet spake word,
Till that they came unto an Iron Door,
Which to them open’d of its own accord,
And shew’d of Riches such exceeding Store,
As Eye of Man did never see before,
Ne ever could within one place be found,
Tho all the Wealth, which is, or was of yore,
Could gather’d be thro all the World around,
And that above were added to that under ground.
The Charge thereof unto a covetous Spright
Commaunded was, who thereby did attend,
And warily awaited day and night,
From other covetous fiends it to defend,
Who it to rob and ransack did intend.
Then Mammon, turning to that Warriour, said;
Lo! here the Worldez Bliss: lo! here the End,
To which all Men do aim, rich to be made:
Such Grace now to be happy, is before thee laid.
Certes, said he, I n’ill thine of offer’d Grace,
Ne to be made so happy do intend:
Another Bliss before mine Eyes I place,
Another Happiness, another End.
To them that list, these base Regards I lend:
But I in Arms, and in Atchievements brave,
Do rather chuse my flitting Hours to spend,
And to be Lord of those that Riches have,
Than them to have my self, and be their servile Slave.
Thereat the Fiend his gnashing Teeth did grate,
And griev’d, so long to lack his greedy Prey;
For well he weened, that so glorious Bait
Would tempt his Guest, to take thereof assay:
Had he so doen, he had him snatch’d away,
More light than Culver in the Faulcon’s Fist.
(Eternal God thee save from such Decay!)
But when-as Mammon saw his Purpose miss’d,
Him to entrap unwares another way he wist.
Thence forward he him led, and shortly brought
Unto another Room, whose Door forthright
To him did open, as it had been taught:
Therein an hundred Raunges weren pight,
And hundred Fornaces all burning bright;
By every Fornace many Fiends did bide,
Deformed Creatures, horrible in sight,
And every Fiend his busy Pains apply’d,
To meet the golden Metal, ready to be try’d.
One with great Bellows gather’d filling Air,
And with Forc’d Wind the Fuel did inflame;
Another did the dying Bronds repair
With iron Tongs, and sprinkled oft the same
With liquid Waves, fierce Vulcan’s Rage to tame;
Who maistering them, renew’d his former Heat:
Some scum’d the Dross that from the Metal came;
Some stir’d the molten Ore with Ladles great;
And every one did swink, and every one did sweat.
But when as earthly Wight they present saw,
Glistring in Arms and battailous Array,
From their hot Work they did themselves withdraw
To wonder at the Sight: for, till that day,
They never Creature saw, that came that way.
Their staring Eyes sparkling with fervent fire,
And ugly Shapes did nigh the Man dismay,
That were it not for shame, he would retire,
Till that him thus bespake their sovereign Lord and Sire:
Behold, thou Fairy’s Son, with mortal Eye,
That living Eye before did never see:
The thing that thou didst crave so earnestly
(To weet, whence all the Wealth late shew’d by me,
Proceeded) lo! now is reveal’d to thee.
Here is the Fountain of the Worldez Good
Now therefore, if thou wilt enriched be,
Avise thee well, and change thy wilful Mood,
Lest thou perhaps hereafter wish, and be withstood.
Suffice it then, thou Money-God, quoth he,
That all thine idle Offers I refuse.
All that I need I have; what needeth me
To covet more than I have cause to use?
With such vain Shews thy Worldlings vile abuse:
But give me leave to follow mine Emprise.
Mammon was much displeas’d, yet no’te he chuse,
But bear the Rigour of his bold Mispise,
And thence him forward led, him further so entise.
He brought him thro a darksom narrow Strait,
To a broad Gate, all built of beaten Gold;
The Gate was open, but therein did wait
A sturdy Villain, striding stiff and bold,
As if the highest God defy he would:
In his right Hand an iron Club he held,
But he himself was all of golden Mold,
Yet had both Life and Sense, and well could weld
That cursed Weapon, when his cruel Foes he quell’d.
Disdain he called was, and did disdain
To be so call’d, and who so did him call:
Stern was to look, and full of Stomach vain,
His Portance terrible, and Stature tall,
Far passing th’ Height of Men terrestrial;
Like a huge Giant of the Titans Race,
That made him scorn all Creatures great and small,
And with his Pride all others Power deface;
More fit amongst black Fiends, than Men to have his Place.
Soon as those Glitter and Arms he did espy,
That with their Brightness made that Darkness light,
His harmful Club he ‘gan to hurtle high,
And threaten Battle to the Fairy Knight;
Who likewise ‘gan himself to Battle dight,
Till Mammon did his hasty Hind withhold,
And counsel’d him abstain from perilous Fight:
For nothing might abash the Villain bold,
Ne Mortal Steel empierce his miscreated Mold.
So having him with Reason pacify’d,
And the fierce Carle commaunding to forbear,
He brought him in. The Room was large and wide,
As it some Guild or solemn Temple were:
Many great golden Pillours did upbear
The massy Roof, and Riches huge sustain;
And every Pillour decked was full dear
With Crowns and Diadems, and Titles vain,
Which mortal Princes wore, whiles they on Earth did reign.
A Rout of People there assembled were,
Of every Sort and Nation under Sky,
Which with great Uproar pressed to draw near
To th’ upper part, where was advaunced high
A stately Siege of sovereign Majesty;
And thereon sate a Woman gorgeous gay,
And richly clad in Robes of Royalty,
That never earthly Prince in such Array
His Glory did enhaunce, and pompous Pride display.
Her Face right wondrous fair did seem to be,
That her broad Beauty’s Beam great Brightness threw
Thro the dim Shade, that all Men might it see:
Yet was not that same her own native Hue,
But wrought by Art and counterfeited Shew,
Thereby more Lovers unto her to call;
Nath’less, most heavenly fair in Deed and View
She by Creation was, till she did fall;
Thenceforth she sought for Helps to cloke her Crime withal.
There, as in glistring Glory she did sit,
She held a great Gold Chain ylinked well,
Whose upper end to highest Heaven was knit,
And lower part did reach to lowest Hell,
And all that Press did round about her swell,
To catchen hold of that long Chain, thereby
To climb aloft, and others to excel:
That was Ambition, rash Desire to sty,
And every Link thereof a Step of Dignity.
Some thought to raise themselves to high degree,
By Riches and unrighteous Reward,
Some by close shouldring, some by Flattery;
Others thro Friends, others for base Regard;
And all, by wrong Ways, for themselves prepar’d
Those that were up themselves, kept others low,
Those that were low themselves, held others hard,
Ne suffer’d them to rise or greater grow,
But every one did drive his Fellow down to throw.
Which, when as Guyon saw, he ‘gan enquire,
What meant that Press about that Lady’s Throne,
And what she was that did so high aspire.
Him Mammon answered; That goodly one,
Whom all that Folk with such Contention
Do flock about, my Dear, my Daughter is;
Honour and Dignity from her alone,
Derived are, and all this Worldez Bliss,
For which ye Men do strive: few get, but many miss.
And fair Philotime she rightly hight,
The fairest Wight that woneth under Sky,
But that this darksom neather World her Light
Doth dim with Horrour and Deformity,
Worthy of Heaven and high Felicity,
From whence the Gods have her for Envy thrust:
But sith thou hast found Favour in mine Eye,
Thy Spouse I will her make, if that thou lust,
That she may thee advaunce for Works and Merits just.
Gramercy, Mammon, said the gentle Knight,
For so great Grace and offer’d high Estate;
But I, that am frail Flesh and earthly Wight,
Unworthy Match for such immortal Mate
My self well wote, and mine unequal Fate:
And were I not, yet is my Trouth yplight,
And Love avow’d to other Lady late,
That to remove the same I have no Might:
To chaunge Love causless, is Reproach to warlike Knight.
Mammon emmoved was with inward Wrath;
Yet forcing it to feign, him forth thence led
Thro griesly Shadows by a beaten Path,
Into a Garden goodly garnished
With Herbs and Fruits, whose Kinds mote not be re’d:
Not such, as Earth out of her fruitful Womb
Throws forth to Men, sweet and well favoured,
But direful deadly black both Leaf and Bloom,
Fit to adorn the Dead, and deck the dreary Tomb.
There mournful Cypress grew in greatest store,
And Trees of bitter Gall, and Heben sad,
Dead-sleeping Poppy, and black Hellebore,
Cold Coloquintida, and Tetra mad,
Mortal Samnitis, and Cicuta bad,
Which-with th’ unjust Athenians made to die
Wise Socrates, who thereof quaffing glad
Pour’d out his Life, and last Philosophy
To the fair Critias, his dearest Belamy.
The Garden of Proserpina this hight;
And in the midst thereof a silver Seat,
With a thick Arbour goodly overdight,
In which she often us’d from open Heat
Her self to shroud, and Pleasures to intreat.
Next thereunto did grow a goodly Tree,
With Braunches broad disspred, and Body great,
Clothed with Leaves, that none the Wood mote see,
And loaden all with Fruit, as thick as it might be.
Their fruit were golden Apples glistring bright,
That goodly was their Glory to behold,
On Earth like never grew, ne living Wight
Like ever saw, but they from hence were sold:
For those, which Hercules, with Conquest bold,
Got from great Atlas’ Daughters, hence began,
And planted there, did bring forth Fruit of Gold;
And those with which th’ Euboean young Man wan
Swift Atalanta when thro Craft he her out-ran.
Here also sprong that goodly golden Fruit,
With which Acontius got his Lover true,
Whom he had long time sought with fruitless Suit:
Here eke that famous golden Apple grew,
The which emongst the Gods false Ate threw;
For which th’ Idaean Ladies disagreed,
Till partial Paris dempt it Venus’ due,
And had (of her) fair Helen for his Meed,
That many noble Greeks and Trojans made to bleed.
The warlike Elf much wondred at this Tree,
So fair and great, that shadowed all the ground,
And his broad Braunches, laden with rich Fee,
Did stretch themselves without the utmost bound
Of this great Garden, compass’d with a Mound,
Which over-hanging, they themselves did steep
In a black Flood which flow’d about it round;
That is the River of Cocytus deep,
In which full many Souls do endless wail and weep.
Which to behold, he clomb up to the Bank,
And looking down, saw many damned Wights
In those sad Waves; which direful deadly stank,
Plonged continually of cruel Sprights,
That with their piteous Cries, and yelling Shrights,
They made the further Shore resounden wide.
Emongst the rest of those same rueful Sights,
One cursed Creature he by chaunce espy’d,
That drenched lay full deep, under the Garden side.
Deep was he drenched to the upmost Chin,
Yet gaped still, as coveting to drink
Of the cold Liquor, which he waded in;
And stretching forth his Hand, did often think
To reach the Fruit, which grew upon the Brink.
But both the Fruit from Hand, and Flood from Mouth
Did fly aback, and made him vainly swink:
The whiles he starv’d with Hunger, and with Drowth
He daily dy’d, yet never throughly dyen couth.
The Knight, him seeing labour so in vain,
Ask’d who he was, and what he meant thereby:
Who, groaning deep, thus answered him again;
Most cursed of all Creatures under Sky,
Lo! Tantalus, I here tormented lie!
Of whom high Jove wont whilom feasted be,
Lo here I now for want of Food do die:
But if that thou be such, as I thee see,
Of Grace I pray thee, give to eat and drink to me.
Nay, nay, thou greedy Tantalus (quoth he)
Abide the Fortune of thy present Fate;
And unto all that live in high Degree,
Ensample be of Mind intemperate,
To teach them how to use their present State.
Then ‘gan the cursed Wretch aloud to cry,
Accusing highest Jove and Gods ingrate,
And eke blaspheming Heaven bitterly,
As Author of Unjustice, there to let him die.
He look’d a little further, and espy’d
Another Wretch, whose Carcass deep was drent
Within the River, which the same did hide:
But both his Hands, most filthy feculent,
Above the Water were on high extent,
And fain’d to wash themselves incessantly;
Yet nothing cleaner were for such intent,
But rather fouler seemed to the Eye;
So lost his Labour vain and idle Industry.
The Knight him calling, asked who he was,
Who lifting up his Head, him answered thus;
I Pilate am, the falsest Judg, alas!
And most unjust, that by unrighteous
And wicked Doom, to Jews despiteous
Delivered up the Lord of Life to die,
And did acquit a Murdrer felonous;
The whiles my Hands I wash’d in Purity,
The whiles my Soul was soil’d with foul Iniquity.
Infinite moe, tormented in like Pain,
He there beheld, too long here to be told:
Ne Mammon would there let him long remain,
For Terror of the Tortures manifold,
In which the damned Souls he did behold,
But roughly him bespake. Thou fearful Fool,
Why takest not of that same Fruit of Gold,
Ne sittest down on that same silver Stool,
To rest thy weary Person in the Shadow cool?
All which he did, to do him deadly fall
In frail Intemperance through sinful Bait:
To which if he inclined had at all,
That dreadful Fiend, which did behind him wait,
Would him have rent in thousand pieces strait.
But he was wary wise in all his way,
And well perceived his deceitful sleight,
Ne suffered Lust his Safety to betray;
So goodly did beguile the Guiler of the Prey.
And now he has so long remained there,
That vital Powers ‘gan wex both weak and wan,
For want of Food and Sleep; which two upbear,
Like mighty Pillars, this frail Life of Man,
That none without the same enduren can.
For, now three days of Men were full out-wrought,
Since he this hardy Enterprize began:
For-thy great Mammon fairly he besought,
Into the World to guide him back, as he him brought.
The God, though loth, yet was constrain’d t’ obey:
For lenger time than that, no living Wight,
Below the Earth, might suffred be to stay;
So back again, him brought to living Light.
But all so soon as his enfeebled Spright
‘Gan suck this vital Air into his Breast,
As overcome with too exceeding Might,
The Life did flit away out of her Nest,
And all his Senses were with deadly Fit oppress’d.
[Works, ed. Hughes (1715) 2:263-79]