Edmund Spenser

(1552 - 13 January 1599 / London / England)

Visions of the worlds vanitie.


One day, whiles that my daylie cares did sleepe,
My spirit, shaking off her earthly prison,
Began to enter into meditation deepe
Of things exceeding reach of common reason;
Such as this age, in which all good is geason,
And all that humble is and meane debaced,
Hath brought forth in her last declining season,
Griefe of good mindes, to see goodnesse disgraced.
On which when as my thought was throghly placed,
Vnto my eyes strange showes presented were,
Picturing that, which I in minde embraced,
That yet those sights empassion me full nere.
Such as they were (faire Ladie) take in worth,
That when time serues, may bring things better forth.

2

In Summers day, when Phoebus fairly shone,
I saw a Bull as white as driuen snowe,
With gilden hornes embowed like the Moone,
In a fresh flowring meadow lying lowe:
Vp to his eares the verdant grasse did growe,
And the gay floures did offer to be eaten;
But he with fatnes so did ouerflowe,
That he all wallowed in the weedes downe beaten,
Ne car'd with them his daintie lips to sweeten:
Till that a Brize, a scorned little creature,
Through his faire hide his angrie sting did threaten,
And vext so sore, that all his goodly feature,
And all his plenteous pasture nought him pleased:
So by the small the great is oft diseased.

3

Beside the fruitfull shore of muddie Nile,
Vpon a sunnie banke outstretched lay
In monstrous length, a mightie Crocodile,
That cram'd with guiltles blood, and greedie pray
Of wretched people trauailing that way,
Thought all things lesse than his disdainfull pride.
I saw a little Bird, cal'd Tedula,
The least of thousands which on earth abide,
That forst this hideous beast to open wide
The greisly gates of his deuouring hell,
And let him feede, as Nature doth prouide,
Vpon his iawes, that with blacke venime swell.
Why then should greatest things the least disdaine,
Sith that so small so mighty can constraine?

4

The kingly Bird, that beares Ioues thunder-clap,
One day did scorne the simple Scarabee,
Proud of his highest seruice, and good hap,
That made all other Foules his thralls to bee:
The silly Flie, that no other redresse did see,
Spide where the Eagle built his towring nest,
And kindling fire within the hollow tree,
Burnt vp his yong ones, and himselfe distrest;
Ne suffred him in anie place to rest,
But droue in Ioues owne lap his egs to lay;
Where gathering also filth him to infest,
Forst with the filth his egs to fling away:
For which when as the Foule was wroth, said Ioue,
Lo how the least the greatest may reproue.

5

Toward the sea turning my troubled eye,
I saw the fish (if fish I may it cleepe)
That makes the sea before his face to flye,
And with his flaggie finnes doth seeme to sweepe
The fomie waues out of the dreadfull deep,
The huge Leuiathan, dame Natures wonder,
Making his sport, that manie makes to weep:
A sword-fish small him from the rest did sunder,
That in his throat him pricking softly vnder,
His wide Abysse him forced forth to spewe,
That all the sea did roare like heauens thunder,
And all the waues were stain'd with filthie hewe.
Hereby I learned haue, not to despise,
What euer thing seemes small in common eyes.

6

An hideous Dragon, dreadfull to behold,
Whose backe was arm'd against the dint of speare
With shields of brasse, that shone like burnisht golde,
And forkhed sting, that death in it did beare,
Stroue with a Spider his vnequall peare:
And bad defiance to his enemie.
The subtill vermin creeping closely neare,
Did in his drinke shed poyson priuily;
Which through his entrailes spredding diuersly,
Made him to swell, that nigh his bowells brust,
And him enforst to yeeld the victorie,
That did so much in his owne greatnesse trust.
O how great vainnesse is it then to scorne
The weake, that hath the strong so oft forlorne.

7

High on a hill a goodly Cedar grewe,
Of wondrous length, and streight proportion,
That farre abroad her daintie odours threwe;
Mongst all the daughters of proud Libanon,
Her match in beautie was not anie one.
Shortly within her inmost pith there bred
A litle wicked worme, perceiue'd of none,
That on her sap and vitall moysture fed:
Thenceforth her garland so much honoured
Began to die, (O great ruth for the same)
And her faire lockes fell from her loftie head,
That shortly balde, and bared she became.
I, which this sight beheld, was much dismayed,
To see so goodly thing so soone decayed.

8

Soone after this I saw an Elephant,
Adorn'd with bells and bosses gorgeouslie,
That on his backe did beare (as batteilant)
A gilden towre, which shone exceedinglie;
That he himselfe through foolish vanitie,
Both for his rich attire, and goodly forme,
Was puffed vp with passing surquedrie,
And shortly gan all other beasts to scorne,
Till that a little Ant, a silly worme,
Into his nosthrils creeping, so him pained,
That casting downe his towres, he did deforme
Both borrowed pride, and natiue beautie stained.
Let therefore nought that great is, therein glorie,
Sith so small thing his happines may varie.

9

Looking far foorth into the Ocean wide,
A goodly ship with banners brauely dight,
And flag in her top-gallant I espide,
Through the maine sea making her merry flight:
Faire blew the winde into her bosome right;
And th' heauens looked louely all the while,
That she did seeme to daunce, as in delight,
And at her owne felicitie did smile.
All sodainely there cloue vnto her keele
A little fish, that men call Remora,
Which stopt her course, and held her by the heele,
That winde nor tide could moue her thence away.
Straunge thing me seemeth, that so small a thing
Should able be so great an one to wring.

10

A mighty Lyon, Lord of all the wood,
Hauing his hunger throughly satisfide,
With pray of beasts, and spoyle of liuing blood,
Safe in his dreadles den him thought to hide:
His sternesse was his prayse, his strength his pride,
And all his glory in his cruell clawes.
I saw a wasp, that fiecely him defide,
And bad him battaile euen to his iawes;
Sore he him stong, that it the blood forth drawes,
And his proude heart is fild with fretting ire:
In vaine he threats his teeth, his tayle, his pawes,
And from his bloodie eyes doth sparkle fire;
That dead himselfe he wisheth for despight.
So weakest may anoy the most of might.

11

What time the Romaine Empire bore the raine
Of all the world, and florisht most in might,
The nations gan their soueraigntie disdaine,
And cast to quitt them from their bondage quight:
So when all shrouded were in silent night,
The Galles were, by corrupting of a mayde,
Possest nigh of the Capitol through slight,
Had not a Goose the treachery bewrayde.
If then a Goose great Rome from ruine stayde,
And Ioue himselfe, the patron of the place,
Preserud from being to his foes betrayde,
Why do vaine men mean things so much deface,
And in their might repose their most assurance,
Sith nought on earth can chalenge long endurance?

12

When these sad sights were ouerpast and gone,
My spright was greatly moued in her rest,
With inward ruth and deare affection,
To see so great things by so small distrest:
Thenceforth I gan in my engrieued brest
To scorne all difference of great and small,
Sith that the greatest often are opprest,
And vnawares doe into daunger fall.
And ye, that read these ruines tragicall
Learne by their losse to loue the low degree,
And if that fortune chaunce you vp to call
To honours seat, forget not what you be:
For he that of himselfe is most secure,
Shall finde his state most fickle and vnsure.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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