Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reader's Diary - The Faerie Queen Book II by Edmund Spenser

I'm positively giddy with excitement. Why!? Because I just finished reading Book Two of Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene. I was hoping to finish it up by the end of January and here we are in the last week. So WOO HOO and all that. (Not a very poetical statement, but it adequately expresses the emotions that I feel about this!)

If you haven't read my Reader's Diary of The Faerie Queen Book I, you'll want to do that first. Otherwise, this particular review is going to make very little sense to you as I have absolutely no intention of repeating everything I said the first time. (You too can breathe a sigh of relief over that one!) In quick summary: book one was about Una and the Red Cross Knight and focused on holiness. Book two focuses on the virtue of temperance. (Each book focuses on a different virtue.)

I would not have made it through book two (and just barely did at that!) without the Cliff Notes. For the record, I have NEVER made use of Cliff Notes in all my born days but I'm in way over my head with Spenser. Coupled with the fact that I really can't admit to liking poetry, Cliff Notes are a must. I'm still not sure why people do like poetry. At the same time, there were a few lines in this book that made my spirit soar and so maybe that happens to others on a regular basis - I don't know. And I will never know. The Faerie Queene, I feel I can safely say, will be the extent of any poetry that I might be even remotely tempted to devour in my lifetime. (Excepting Lucy Maud Montgomery's, of course, but I have a feeling that doesn't really count.)

In Book Two we are introduced to Sir Guyon who is put to the test to learn the art, benefits and blessings of temperance. (Definition of temperance: moderation or self-restraint in action, statement, etc.; self-control.) Spenser is making a point with this portion of the story that in order to live life well, normal desires must be under control of the right reason. Whether it be anger (a normal human reaction to things), sensual pleasure (expected), ambition (hoped for), etc., it must all be kept under control of good (a.k.a. solid) reasoning. We should not just give over our flesh to its natural desires and inclinations for that can often lead us into heaps of trouble. In this book, Guyon faces numerous tests and temptations but by surrounding himself with a wise counselors (Palmer) to whom he listens to and follows the advice of, he avoids both danger and death. Although Guyon finds himself in tricky and testy situations resulting from all manner of deceitful and crafty enemies, he is spared disaster on account of good sense and accountability.

My favorite part of this book was in Canto vii when Guyon comes up against a wretched guy named Mammon. At this point in the story, Guyon is briefly separated from Palmer and probably has a rougher time escaping from Mammon than was really necessary. Mammon tempts and teases Guyon to change his holy course and accept both riches and a beautiful maiden (Mammon's daughter) but Guyon refuses. After managing to get away from Mammon without falling prey to the temptations, Guyon faints dead away.

At this point, an angel comes and takes watch over Guyon until Palmer reenters the picture and stands guard over the body as his master recovers. While Guyon is passed out, two really really bad guys (Pyrochles & Cymochles) come upon him and wish to do him evil. They manage to remove his armor but before they can kill him, Arthur (yes, THE Arthur) arrives on the scene and pretty much saves the day, destroying Pyrochles and Cymochles both. The picture this paints is of Christ coming to save the day and spare the lives of His beloved. While we were yet sinners (asleep) He came to save.

Spenser writes at the beginning of Canto viii:

And is there care in heaven? and is there loue
In heauenly spirits to thse creatures bace,
That may compassion of their euils moue?
There is: else much more wretched were the cace
Of men, then beasts. But o th'exceeding grace
Of highest God, that loues his creatures so,
And all his works with mercy doth embrace,
That blessed Angels, he sends to and fro,
To serue to wicked man, to serue his wicked foe.

In other words, how great is our God who would send help and care to us in our hour of need, without our realizing it or even being aware of the fact that there is danger around us? He thinks about us when we aren't thinking for ourselves or anyone else! He surrounds and preserves us when we don't deserve it. He is present in our failures and weakest moments. He proves His love for us over and over again.

THAT section of poetry swelled my heart larger than the Grinch on Christmas Day. Oh what manner of love the Father has given unto us that we might be called the children of God? His love is amazing, steady and unchanging and it is mysteriously beautiful.

Your love is amazing
Steady and unchanging
Your love is a mountain
Firm beneath my feet

Your love is a mystery
How You gently life me
When I am surrounded
Your love carries me

Mysteriously beautiful is how I would describe Spenser's poetry. I don't claim understanding but I can tell you that it is beautiful. It is beyond me but I will work at it because I think it's valuable. There are gold nuggets to be picked up here and there and I aim to find them! So if you stick around, eventually I'll get to Book Three. However, I think I shall take another little break first!


Anonymous said...

Kudos to you for persevering through a difficult piece of literature and finding the gold in it!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! This is hard (poetry isn't easy for me either) and I haven't tried the Faerie Queen yet, but I've enjoyed watching your progress.

B said...

Congratulations! I can't even say for sure that I've read all the way through The Faerie Queen. (I know I've read large chunks of it, but I think my professors abridged our reading, and I've never returned for the full dose.)

For the record, I'm a big fan of Cliffs Notes (or Sparknotes, which I think are even better) for providing a little boost.

Mirlandra said...

I'm glad you are delving and that the extra notations were helpful. If you ever change entirely and think that poetry might be for you, Mary Oliver's book House of Light is the best I've ever read. It won the 1984 Pulitzer but rightly so (not something I say about most things that won that prize). Blessings on you!

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