Sacred Texts  Sagas & Legends  England  Index  Previous  Next 

Canto I.

The Patron of true Holinesse,
Foule Errour doth defeate:
Hypocrisie him to entrappe,
Doth to his home entreate.

A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine,
    Y cladd in mightie armes and siluer shielde,
    Wherein old dints of deepe wounds did remaine,
    The cruell markes of many' a bloudy fielde;
    Yet armes till that time did he neuer wield:
    His angry steede did chide his foming bitt,
    As much disdayning to the curbe to yield:
    Full iolly knight he seemd, and faire did sitt,
As one for knightly giusts and fierce encounters fitt.

But on his brest a bloudie Crosse he bore,
    The deare remembrance of his dying Lord,
    For whose sweete sake that glorious badge he wore,
    And dead as liuing euer him ador'd:
    Vpon his shield the like was also scor'd,
    For soueraine hope, which in his helpe he had:
    Right faithfull true he was in deede and word,
    But of his cheere did seeme too solemne sad;
Yet nothing did he dread, but euer was ydrad.

Vpon a great aduenture he was bond,
    That greatest Gloriana to him gaue,
    That greatest Glorious Queene of Faerie lond,
    To winne him worship, and her grace to haue,
    Which of all earthly things he most did craue;
    And euer as he rode, his hart did earne
    To proue his puissance in battell braue
    Vpon his foe, and his new force to learne;
Vpon his foe, a Dragon horrible and stearne.

A louely Ladie rode him faire beside,
    Vpon a lowly Asse more white then snow,
    Yet she much whiter, but the same did hide
    Vnder a vele, that wimpled was full low,
    And ouer all a blacke stole she did throw,
    As one that inly mournd: so was she sad,
    And heauie sat vpon her palfrey slow:
    Seemed in heart some hidden care she had,
And by her in a line a milke white lambe she lad.

So pure and innocent, as that same lambe,
    She was in life and euery vertuous lore,
    And by descent from Royall lynage came
    Of ancient Kings and Queenes, that had of yore
    Their scepters stretcht from East to Westerne shore,
    And all the world in their subiection held;
    Till that infernall feend with foule vprore
    Forwasted all their land, and them expeld:
Whom to auenge, she had this Knight from far cõpeld.

Behind her farre away a Dwarfe did lag,
    That lasie seemd in being euer last,
    Or wearied with bearing of her bag
    Of needments at his backe. Thus as they past,
    The day with cloudes was suddeine ouercast,
    And angry Ioue an hideous storme of raine
    Did poure into his Lemans lap so fast,
    That euery wight to shrowd it did constrain,
And this faire couple eke to shroud thẽselues were fain.

Enforst to seeke some couert nigh at hand,
    A shadie groue not far away they spide,
    That promist ayde the tempest to withstand:
    Whose loftie trees yclad with sommers pride,
    Did spred so broad, that heauens light did hide,
    Not perceable with power of any starre:
    And all within were pathes and alleies wide,
    With footing worne, and leading inward farre:
Faire harbour that them seemes; so in they entred arre.

And foorth they passe, with pleasure forward led,
    Ioying to heare the birdes sweete harmony,
    Which therein shrouded from the tempest dred,
    Seemd in their song to scorne the cruell sky.
    Much can they prayse the trees so straight and hy,
    The sayling Pine, the Cedar proud and tall,
    The vine-prop Elme, the Poplar neuer dry,
    The builder Oake, sole king of forrests all,
The Aspine good for staues, the Cypresse funerall.

The Laurell, meed of mightie Conquerours
    And Poets sage, the Firre that weepeth still,
    The Willow worne of forlorne Paramours,
    The Eugh obedient to the benders will,
    The Birch for shaftes, the Sallow for the mill,
    The Mirrhe sweete bleeding in the bitter wound,
    The warlike Beech, the Ash for nothing ill,
    The fruitfull Oliue, and the Platane round,
The caruer Holme, the Maple seeldom inward sound.

Led with delight, they thus beguile the way,
    Vntill the blustring storme is ouerblowne;
    When weening to returne, whence they did stray,
    They cannot finde that path, which first was showne,
    But wander too and fro in wayes vnknowne,
    Furthest from end then, when they neerest weene,
    That makes them doubt, their wits be not their owne:
    So many pathes, so many turnings seene,
That which of them to take, in diuerse doubt they been.

At last resoluing forward still to fare,
    Till that some end they finde or in or out,
    That path they take, that beaten seemd most bare,
    And like to lead the labyrinth about;
    Which when by tract they hunted had throughout,
    At length it brought them to a hollow caue,
    Amid the thickest woods. The Champion stout
    Eftsoones dismounted from his courser braue,
And to the Dwarfe a while his needlesse spere he gaue.

Be well aware, quoth then that Ladie milde,
    Least suddaine mischiefe ye too rash prouoke:
    The danger hid, the place vnknowne and wilde,
    Breedes dreadfull doubts: Oft fire is without smoke,
    And perill without show: therefore your stroke
    Sir knight with-hold, till further triall made.
    Ah Ladie (said he) shame were to reuoke
    The forward footing for an hidden shade:
Vertue giues her selfe light, through darkenesse for to wade.

Yea but (quoth she) the perill of this place
    I better wot then you, though now too late
    To wish you backe returne with foule disgrace,
    Yet wisedome warnes, whilest foot is in the gate,
    To stay the steppe, ere forced to retrate.
    This is the wandring wood, this Errours den,
    A monster vile, whom God and man does hate:
    Therefore I read beware. Fly fly (quoth then
The fearefull Dwarfe:) this is no place for liuing men.

But full of fire and greedy hardiment,
    The youthfull knight could not for ought be staide,
    But forth vnto the darksome hole he went,
    And looked in: his glistring armor made
    A litle glooming light, much like a shade,
    By which he saw the vgly monster plaine,
    Halfe like a serpent horribly displaide,
    But th'other halfe did womans shape retaine,
Most lothsom, filthie, foule, and full of vile disdaine.

And as she lay vpon the durtie ground,
    Her huge long taile her den all ouerspred,
    Yet was in knots and many boughtes vpwound,
    Pointed with mortall sting. Of her there bred
    A thousand yong ones, which she dayly fed,
    Sucking vpon her poisonous dugs, each one
    Of sundry shapes, yet all ill fauored:
    Soone as that vncouth light vpon them shone,
Into her mouth they crept, and suddain all were gone.

Their dam vpstart, out of her den effraide,
    And rushed forth, hurling her hideous taile
    About her cursed head, whose folds displaid
    Were stretcht now forth at length without entraile.
    She lookt about, and seeing one in mayle
    Armed to point, sought backe to turne againe;
    For light she hated as the deadly bale,
    Ay wont in desert darknesse to remaine,
Where plaine none might her see, nor she see any plaine.

Which when the valiant Elfe perceiu'd, he lept
    As Lyon fierce vpon the flying pray,
    And with his trenchand blade her boldly kept
    From turning backe, and forced her to stay:
    Therewith enrag'd she loudly gan to bray,
    And turning fierce, her speckled taile aduaunst,
    Threatning her angry sting, him to dismay:
    Who nought aghast, his mightie hand enhaunst:
The stroke down frõ her head vnto her shoulder glaunst.

Much daunted with that dint, her sence was dazd,
    Yet kindling rage, her selfe she gathered round,
    And all attonce her beastly body raizd
    With doubled forces high aboue the ground:
    Tho wrapping vp her wrethed sterne arownd,
    Lept fierce vpon his shield, and her huge traine
    All suddenly about his body wound,
    That hand or foot to stirre he stroue in vaine:
God helpe the man so wrapt in Errours endlesse traine.

His Lady sad to see his sore constraint,
    Cride out, Now now Sir knight, shew what ye bee,
    Add faith vnto your force, and be not faint:
    Strangle her, else she sure will strangle thee.
    That when he heard, in great perplexitie,
    His gall did grate for griefe and high disdaine,
    And knitting all his force got one hand free,
    Wherewith he grypt her gorge with so great paine,
That soone to loose her wicked bands did her constraine.

Therewith she spewd out of her filthy maw
    A floud of poyson horrible and blacke,
    Full of great lumpes of flesh and gobbets raw,
    Which stunck so vildly, that it forst him slacke
    His grasping hold, and from her turne him backe:
    Her vomit full of bookes and papers was,
    With loathly frogs and toades, which eyes did lacke,
    And creeping sought way in the weedy gras:
Her filthy parbreake all the place defiled has.

As when old father Nilus gins to swell
    With timely pride aboue the Aegyptian vale,
    His fattie waues do fertile slime outwell,
    And ouerflow each plaine and lowly dale:
    But when his later spring gins to auale,
    Huge heapes of mudd he leaues, wherein there breed
    Ten thousand kindes of creatures, partly male
    And partly female of his fruitfull seed;
Such vgly monstrous shapes elswhere may no man reed.

The same so sore annoyed has the knight,
    That welnigh choked with the deadly stinke,
    His forces faile, ne can no longer fight.
    Whose corage when the feend perceiu'd to shrinke,
    She poured forth out of her hellish sinke
    Her fruitfull cursed spawne of serpents small,
    Deformed monsters, fowle, and blacke as inke,
    Which swarming all about his legs did crall,
And him encombred sore, but could not hurt at all.

As gentle Shepheard in sweete euen-tide,
    When ruddy Phoebus gins to welke in west,
    High on an hill, his flocke to vewen wide,
    Markes which do byte their hasty supper best;
    A cloud of combrous gnattes do him molest,
    All striuing to infixe their feeble stings,
    That from their noyance he no where can rest,
    But with his clownish hands their tender wings
He brusheth oft, and oft doth mar their murmurings.

Thus ill bestedd, and fearefull more of shame,
    Then of the certaine perill he stood in,
    Halfe furious vnto his foe he came,
    Resolv'd in minde all suddenly to win,
    Or soone to lose, before he once would lin;
    And strooke at her with more then manly force,
    That from her body full of filthie sin
    He raft her hatefull head without remorse;
A streame of cole black bloud forth gushed frõ her corse.

Her scattred brood, soone as their Parent deare
    They saw so rudely falling to the ground,
    Groning full deadly, all with troublous feare,
    Gathred themselues about her body round,
    Weening their wonted entrance to haue found
    At her wide mouth: but being there withstood
    They flocked all about her bleeding wound,
    And sucked vp their dying mothers blood,
Making her death their life, and eke her hurt their good.

That detestable sight him much amazde,
    To see th'vnkindly Impes of heauen accurst,
    Deuoure their dam; on whom while so he gazd,
    Hauing all satisfide their bloudy thurst,
    Their bellies swolne he saw with fulnesse burst,
    And bowels gushing forth: well worthy end
    Of such as drunke her life, the which them nurst;
    Now needeth him no lenger labour spend,
His foes haue slaine themselues, with whom he should contend.

His Ladie seeing all, that chaunst, from farre
    Approcht in hast to greet his victorie,
    And said, Faire knight, borne vnder happy starre,
    Who see your vanquisht foes before you lye:
    Well worthy be you of that Armorie,
    Wherein ye haue great glory wonne this day,
    And proou'd your strength on a strong enimie,
    Your first aduenture: many such I pray,
And henceforth euer wish, that like succeed it may.

Then mounted he vpon his Steede againe,
    And with the Lady backward sought to wend;
    That path he kept, which beaten was most plaine,
    Ne euer would to any by-way bend,
    But still did follow one vnto the end,
    The which at last out of the wood them brought.
    So forward on his way (with God to frend)
    He passed forth, and new aduenture sought;
Long way he trauelled, before he heard of ought.

At length they chaunst to meet vpon the way
    An aged Sire, in long blacke weedes yclad,
    His feete all bare, his beard all hoarie gray,
    And by his belt his booke he hanging had;
    Sober he seemde, and very sagely sad,
    And to the ground his eyes were lowly bent,
    Simple in shew, and voyde of malice bad,
    And all the way he prayed, as he went,
And often knockt his brest, as one that did repent.

He faire the knight saluted, louting low,
    Who faire him quited, as that courteous was:
    And after asked him, if he did know
    Of straunge aduentures, which abroad did pas.
    Ah my deare Sonne (quoth he) how should, alas,
    Silly old man, that liues in hidden cell,
    Bidding his beades all day for his trespas,
    Tydings of warre and worldly trouble tell?
With holy father sits not with such things to mell.

But if of daunger which hereby doth dwell,
    And homebred euill ye desire to heare,
    Of a straunge man I can you tidings tell,
    That wasteth all this countrey farre and neare.
    Of such (said he) I chiefly do inquere,
    And shall you well reward to shew the place,
    In which that wicked wight his dayes doth weare:
    For to all knighthood it is foule disgrace,
That such a cursed creature liues so long a space.

Far hence (quoth he) in wastfull wildernesse
    His dwelling is, by which no liuing wight
    May euer passe, but thorough great distresse.
    Now (sayd the Lady) draweth toward night,
    And well I wote, that of your later fight
    Ye all forwearied be: for what so strong,
    But wanting rest will also want of might?
    The Sunne that measures heauen all day long,
At night doth baite his steedes the Ocean waues emong.

Then with the Sunne take Sir, your timely rest,
    And with new day new worke at once begin:
    Vntroubled night they say giues counsell best.
    Right well Sir knight ye haue aduised bin,
    (Quoth then that aged man;) the way to win
    Is wisely to aduise: now day is spent;
    Therefore with me ye may take vp your In
    For this same night. The knight was well content:
So with that godly father to his home they went.

A little lowly Hermitage it was,
    Downe in a dale, hard by a forests side,
    Far from resort of people, that did pas
    In trauell to and froe: a little wyde
    There was an holy Chappell edifyde,
    Wherein the Hermite dewly wont to say
    His holy things each morne and euentyde:
    Thereby a Christall streame did gently play,
Which from a sacred fountaine welled forth alway.

Arriued there, the little house they fill,
    Ne looke for entertainement, where none was:
    Rest is their feast, and all things at their will;
    The noblest mind the best contentment has.
    With faire discourse the euening so they pas:
    For that old man of pleasing wordes had store,
    And well could file his tongue as smooth as glas;
    He told of Saintes and Popes, and euermore
He strowd an Aue-Mary after and before.

The drouping Night thus creepeth on them fast,
    And the sad humour loading their eye liddes,
    As messenger of Morpheus on them cast
    Sweet slõbring deaw, the which to sleepe them biddes.
    Vnto their lodgings then his guestes he riddes:
    Where when all drownd in deadly sleepe he findes,
    He to his study goes, and there amiddes
    His Magick bookes and artes of sundry kindes,
He seekes out mighty charmes, to trouble sleepy mindes

Then choosing out few wordes most horrible,
    (Let none them read) thereof did verses frame,
    With which and other spelles like terrible,
    He bad awake blacke Plutoes griesly Dame,
    And cursed heauen, and spake reprochfull shame
    Of highest God, the Lord of life and light;
    A bold bad man, that dar'd to call by name
    Great Gorgon, Prince of darknesse and dead night,
At which Cocytus quakes, and Styx is put to flight.

And forth he cald out of deepe darknesse dred
    Legions of Sprights, the which like little flyes
    Fluttring about his euer damned hed,
    A-waite whereto their seruice he applyes,
    To aide his friends, or fray his enimies:
    Of those he chose out two, the falsest twoo,
    And fittest for to forge true-seeming lyes;
    The one of them he gaue a message too,
The other by him selfe staide other worke to doo.

He making speedy way through spersed ayre,
    And through the world of waters wide and deepe,
    To Morpheus house doth hastily repaire.
    Amid the bowels of the earth full steepe,
    And low, where dawning day doth neuer peepe,
    His dwelling is; there Tethys his wet bed
    Doth euer wash, and Cynthia still doth steepe
    In siluer deaw his euer-drouping hed,
Whiles sad Night ouer him her mãtle black doth spred

Whose double gates he findeth locked fast,
    The one faire fram'd of burnisht Yuory,
    The other all with siluer ouercast;
    And wakefull dogges before them farre do lye,
    Watching to banish Care their enimy,
    Who oft is wont to trouble gentle Sleepe.
    By them the Sprite doth passe in quietly,
    And vnto Morpheus comes, whom drowned deepe
In drowsie fit he findes: of nothing he takes keepe.

And more, to lulle him in his slumber soft,
    A trickling streame from high rocke tumbling downe
    And euer-drizling raine vpon the loft,
    Mixt with a murmuring winde, much like the sowne
    Of swarming Bees, did cast him in a swowne:
    No other noyse, nor peoples troublous cryes,
    As still are wont t'annoy the walled towne,
    Might there be heard: but carelesse Quiet lyes,
Wrapt in eternall silence farre from enemyes.

The messenger approching to him spake,
    But his wast wordes returnd to him in vaine:
    So sound he slept, that nought mought him awake.
    Then rudely he him thrust, and pusht with paine,
    Whereat he gan to stretch: but he againe
    Shooke him so hard, that forced him to speake.
    As one then in a dreame, whose dryer braine
    Is tost with troubled sights and fancies weake,
He mumbled soft, but would not all his silence breake.

The Sprite then gan more boldly him to wake,
    And threatned vnto him the dreaded name
    Of Hecate: whereat he gan to quake,
    And lifting vp his lompish head, with blame
    Halfe angry asked him, for what he came.
    Hither (quoth he) me Archimago sent,
    He that the stubborne Sprites can wisely tame,
    He bids thee to him send for his intent
A fit false dreame, that can delude the sleepers sent.

The God obayde, and calling forth straight way
    A diuerse dreame out of his prison darke,
    Deliuered it to him, and downe did lay
    His heauie head, deuoide of carefull carke,
    Whose sences all were straight benumbd and starke.
    He backe returning by the Yuorie dore,
    Remounted vp as light as chearefull Larke,
    And on his litle winges the dreame he bore
In hast vnto his Lord, where he him left afore.

Who all this while with charmes and hidden artes,
    Had made a Lady of that other Spright,
    And fram'd of liquid ayre her tender partes
    So liuely, and so like in all mens sight,
    That weaker sence it could haue rauisht quight:
    The maker selfe for all his wondrous witt,
    Was nigh beguiled with so goodly sight:
    Her all in white he clad, and ouer it
Cast a blacke stole, most like to seeme for Vna fit.

Now when that ydle dreame was to him brought,
    Vnto that Elfin knight he bad him fly,
    Where he slept soundly void of euill thought,
    And with false shewes abuse his fantasy,
    In sort as he him schooled priuily:
    And that new creature borne without her dew,
    Full of the makers guile, with vsage sly
    He taught to imitate that Lady trew,
Whose semblance she did carrie vnder feigned hew.

Thus well instructed, to their worke they hast,
    And comming where the knight in slomber lay,
    The one vpon his hardy head him plast,
    And made him dreame of loues and lustfull play,
    That nigh his manly hart did melt away,
    Bathed in wanton blis and wicked ioy:
    Then seemed him his Lady by him lay,
    And to him playnd, how that false winged boy,
Her chast hart had subdewd, to learne Dame pleasures toy.

And she her selfe of beautie soueraigne Queene,
    Faire Venus seemde vnto his bed to bring
    Her, whom he waking euermore did weene,
    To be the chastest flowre, that ay did spring
    On earthly braunch, the daughter of a king,
    Now a loose Leman to vile seruice bound:
    And eke the Graces seemed all to sing,
    Hymen iô Hymen, dauncing all around,
Whilst freshest Flora her with Yuie girlond crownd.

In this great passion of vnwonted lust,
    Or wonted feare of doing ought amis,
    He started vp, as seeming to mistrust,
    Some secret ill, or hidden foe of his:
    Lo there before his face his Lady is,
    Vnder blake stole hyding her bayted hooke,
    And as halfe blushing offred him to kis,
    With gentle blandishment and louely looke,
Most like that virgin true, which for her knight him took.

All cleane dismayd to see so vncouth sight,
    And halfe enraged at her shamelesse guise,
    He thought haue slaine her in his fierce despight:
    But hasty heat tempring with sufferance wise,
    He stayde his hand, and gan himselfe aduise
    To proue his sense, and tempt her faigned truth.
    Wringing her hands in wemens pitteous wise,
    Tho can she weepe, to stirre vp gentle ruth,
Both for her noble bloud, and for her tender youth.

And said, Ah Sir, my liege Lord and my loue,
    Shall I accuse the hidden cruell fate,
    And mightie causes wrought in heauen aboue,
    Or the blind God, that doth me thus amate,
    For hoped loue to winne me certaine hate?
    Yet thus perforce he bids me do, or die.
    Die is my dew: yet rew my wretched state
    You, whom my hard auenging destinie
Hath made iudge of my life or death indifferently.

Your owne deare sake forst me at first to leaue
    My Fathers kingdome,--There she stopt with teares;
    Her swollen hart her speach seemd to bereaue,
    And then againe begun, My weaker yeares
    Captiu'd to fortune and frayle worldly feares,
    Fly to your faith for succour and sure ayde:
    Let me not dye in languor and long teares.
    Why Dame (quoth he) what hath ye thus dismayd?
What frayes ye, that were wont to comfort me affrayd?

Loue of your selfe, she said, and deare constraint
    Lets me not sleepe, but wast the wearie night
    In secret anguish and vnpittied plaint,
    Whiles you in carelesse sleepe are drowned quight.
    Her doubtfull words made that redoubted knight
    Suspect her truth: yet since no' vntruth he knew,
    Her fawning loue with foule disdainefull spight
    He would not shend, but said, Deare dame I rew,
That for my sake vnknowne such griefe vnto you grew.

Assure your selfe, it fell not all to ground;
    For all so deare as life is to my hart,
    I deeme your loue, and hold me to you bound;
    Ne let vaine feares procure your needlesse smart,
    Where cause is none, but to your rest depart.
    Not all content, yet seemd she to appease
    Her mournefull plaintes, beguiled of her art,
    And fed with words, that could not chuse but please,
So slyding softly forth, she turnd as to her ease.

Long after lay he musing at her mood,
    Much grieu'd to thinke that gentle Dame so light,
    For whose defence he was to shed his blood.
    At last dull wearinesse of former fight
    Hauing yrockt a sleepe his irkesome spright,
    That troublous dreame gan freshly tosse his braine,
    With bowres, and beds, and Ladies deare delight:
    But when he saw his labour all was vaine,
With that misformed spright he backe returnd againe.

Next: Canto II