KCW Today Poetry

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November, with its short days, fallen leaves and chill in the air, reminds us that the year is drawing to a close. It is a month where being tucked up under a duvet with a good book and glass of wine seems a more pleasurable option than walking through the city fog to meet up with friends for an evening.

Many poets have found inspiration in this, the eleventh month of the year, and here the poetry page plays host to a classic! The Shepheardes Calendar (1579) by Edmund Spenser is part of a collection of works that fit into the Pastoral tradition, a genre of poetry attributed to the Hellenistic Greek poet, Theocritus.

The works of this genre offer an idealised view of rural life and traditions through dialogues between Shepherds, Shepherdess and other country characters. The Pastorals involve singing competitions, generally about love and death, between rival Shepherds and are used as a means to critique some of the major social, governmental and religious issues of the day.

In the Shepheardes Calendar, Spenser deliberately uses archaic forms of vocabulary and dialogue to recall the Old English of Chaucer and pay homage to the father of Literature. The twelve poems in the cycle follow the twelve months of the year and in this extract from November, Spenser tells us that the brighter songs of May are no longer suitable for a month which sees autumn come to a close. The hero of the piece is Colin Clout, a shepherd in love with Rosalind.

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However, as with all great love stories his love is unrequited. In this extract, Spenser has Colin sing an emotionally charged lament about the death of Dido, the Daughter of a Shepherd of Note. However it is equally addressing the distressing reality that Rosalind has rejected his love and is lost. The subject of loss and death is given even more potency in the fact it is set in November and the passing of autumn

Extract from Shepheardes Calendar: November (1579)

Ægloga vndecima. Thenot & Colin.

Thenot.
Colin my deare, when shall it please thee sing,
As thou were | wont songs of some iouisaunce?
Thy Muse to long slombreth in sorrowing,
Lulled a sleepe through loues misgouernaunce.
Now somewhat sing, whose endles souenaunce,
Emong the shepeheards swaines may aye remaine,
Whether thee list the loued lasse aduaunce,
Or honor Pan with hymnes of higher vaine.

Colin.
Thenot, now nis the time of merimake.
Nor Pan to herye, nor with loue to playe:
Sike myrth in May is meetest for to make,
Or summer shade vnder the cocked haye.
But nowe sadde Winter welked hath the day,
And Phoebus weary of his yerely tas-ke,
Ystabled hath his steedes in lowlye laye,
And taken vp his ynne in Fishes has-ke.
Thilke sollein season sadder plight doth aske:
And loatheth sike delightes, as thou doest prayse:
The mornefull Muse in myrth now list ne mas-ke,
As shee was wont in yougth and sommer dayes.
But if thou algate lust light virelayes,
And looser songs of loue to vnderfong
Who but thy selfe deserues sike Poetes prayse?
Relieue thy Oaten pypes, that sleepen long.

Thenot.
The Nightingale is souereigne of song,
Before him sits the Titmose silent bee:
And I vnfitte to thrust in [s]kilfull thronge,
Should Colin make iudge of my fooleree.
Nay, better learne of hem, that learned bee,
An han be watered at the Muses well:
The kindlye dewe drops from the higher tree,
And wets the little plants that lowly dwell.
But if sadde winters wrathe and season chill,
Accorde not with thy Muses meriment:
To sadder times thou mayst attune thy quill,
And sing of sorrowe and deathes dreeriment.
For deade is Dido, dead alas and drent,
Dido the greate shepehearde his daughter sheene:
The fayrest May she was that euer went,
Her like shee has not left behind I weene.
And if thou wilt bewayle my wofull tene:
I shall thee giue yond Cosset for thy payne:
And if thy rymes as rownd and rufull bene,
As those that did thy Rosalind complayne,
Much greater gyfts for guerdon thou shalt gayne,
Then Kidde of Cosset, which I thee bynempt:
Then vp I say, thou iolly shepeheard swayne,
Let not my small demaund be so contempt.

Colin.
Thenot to that I choose, thou doest me tempt,
But ah to well I wote my humble vaine,
And howe my rymes bene rugged and vnkempt:
Yet as I conne, my conning I will strayne.
Vp then Melpomene thou mounefulst Muse of nyne,
Such cause of mourning neuer hadst afore:
Vp grieslie ghostes and vp my rufull ryme,
Matter of myrth now shalt thou haue no more.
For dead she is, that myrth thee made of yore.
Didomy deare alas is dead,
Dead and lyeth wrapt in lead:
O heauie herse,
Let streaming teares be poured out in store:
O carefull verse.

Shepheards, that by your flocks on Kentish downes abyde,
Waile ye this wofull waste of natures warke:
Waile we the wight, whose presence was our pryde:
Waile we the wight, whose absence is our carke.
The sonne of all the world is dimme and darke:
The earth now lacks her wonted light,
And all we dwell in deadly night,
O heauie herse,
Breake we our pypes, that shrild as lowde as Larke,
O carefull verse.

Why do we longer liue, (ah why liue we so long)
Whose better dayes death hath shut vp in woe?
The fayrest floure our gyrlond all emong,
Is faded quite and into dust ygoe.
Sing now ye shepheards daughters, sing no moe
The songs that Colin made in her prayse,
But into weeping turne your wanton layes,
O heauie herse,
Now is time to dye. Nay time was long ygoe,
O carefull verse.

Whence is it, that the flouret of the field doth fade,
And lyeth buryed long in Winters bale:
Yet soone as spring his mantle hath displayd,
It floureth fresh, as it should neuer fayle?
But thing on earth that is of most auaile,
As vertues braunch and beauties budde,
Reliuen not for any good.
O heauie herse,
The braunch once dead, the budde eke needes must quaile,
O carefull verse.

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