Monday, October 29, 2007

Edmund Spenser: The Bower of Bliss from the Faerie Queen

Here is the famous chapter on the destruction of "The Bower of Bliss" in The Fairie Queen by Edmund Spenser from the 1590's.

The Bower of Bliss
It was a lovely spot, a place adorned in the most perfect way by which art could imitate nature; everything sweet and pleasing, or that the daintiest fancy could devise, was gathered here in lavish profusion. A light fence enclosed it, and a rich ivory gate,

''Ere long they heard an hideous bellowing. Of many beasts, that roared outrageously, * * * * * * *

But soone as they approcht with deadly threat, The Palmer over them his staffe upheld.'
wonderfully carven, stood open to all those that came thither.

In the porch sat a tall, handsome porter, whose looks were so pleasant that he seemed to entice travellers to him, but it was only to deceive them to their own ruin. He was the keeper of the garden, and his name was Pleasure. He was decked with flowers, and by his side was set a great bowl of wine, with which he pleased all new-comers. He offered it to Sir Guyon, but the latter refused his idle courtesy, and overthrew the bowl.

Passing through the gate, they beheld a large and spacious plain, strewn on every side with delights. The ground was covered with green grass, and made beautiful with all kinds of lovely flowers; the skies were always bright, and the air soft and balmy; no storm or frost ever came to harm the tender blossoms; neither scorching heat nor piercing cold to hurt those who dwelt therein.

Guyon wondered much at the loveliness of that sweet place, yet would not suffer any of its delights to allure him, but passed straight through, and still looked forward. Presently he came to a beautiful arbour, fashioned out of interlacing boughs and branches. This was arched over with a clustering vine, richly laden with bunches of luscious grapes--some were deep purple like the hyacinth--some like rubies, laughing red--some like emeralds, not yet well ripened, and there were others of burnished gold. They almost broke down the branches with their weight, and seemed to offer themselves to be freely gathered by the passers-by.

In the arbour sat a finely dressed lady; she held in her left hand a golden cup, and with her right hand she gathered the ripe fruit, and squeezed the juice of the grapes into the cup. It was her custom to give a draught of this wine to every stranger that passed, but when she offered it to Guyon to taste, he took the cup out of her hand, and flung it to the ground, so that it was broken and all the wine spilt. Excess, for that was the lady's name, was very angry at this, but she could not withstand the Knight, and was obliged to let him pass, and he went on, heedless of her displeasure.

Then before his eyes appeared a most lovely paradise, abounding in every sort of pleasure: rainbow-coloured flowers, lofty trees, shady dells, breezy mountains, rustling groves, crystal streams--it was impossible to tell which was art and which nature, they were so cunningly mingled; both combined made greater the beauty of the other, and adorned this garden with an endless variety.

In the midst of all, stood a fountain made of the most precious materials on earth, so pure and bright that one could see the silver flood running through every channel. It was wrought all over with curious carving, and above all was spread a trail of ivy of the purest gold, coloured like nature, so that any one who saw it would surely think it was real ivy. Numberless little streams continually welled out of this fountain, and formed a little lake, through the shallow water of which one could see the bottom, all paved with shining jasper.

Then at last Sir Guyon and the Palmer drew near to the "Bower of Bliss," so called by the foolish favourites of the wicked enchantress.

"Now, sir, consider well," said the Palmer, "for here is the end of all our travel. Here dwells Acrasia, whom we must surprise, or else she will slip away, and laugh at our attempt."

Soon they heard the most lovely melody, such as might never be heard on mortal ground. It was almost impossible to say what kind of music it was, for all that is pleasing to the ear there joined in harmony--the joyous singing of birds, angelic voices, silver-sounding instruments, murmuring waters, and the whispering wind; and through it all they heard the singing of one voice, sweeter than all the others.

But in spite of the lovely music heard on every side, Sir Guyon and the Palmer never left their path; they kept on through many groves and thickets, till at last they came in sight of the wicked enchantress herself. She lay, half-sleeping, on a bed of roses, clad in a veil of silk and silver, all round were many fair ladies and boys singing sweetly. Not far off was her last victim, a gallant-looking youth, over whom she had cast an evil spell. His brave sword and armour hung idly on a tree, and he lay sunk in a heavy slumber, forgetful of all the noble deeds in which he had once delighted.

Sir Guyon and the Palmer cautiously drew near, then suddenly rushed forward, and flung over Acrasia a net which the skilful Palmer had made for the occasion. All her attendants immediately fled in terror. Acrasia tried all her arts and crafty wiles to set herself
free, but in vain; the net was so cunningly woven, neither guile nor force could disentangle her.

Then Sir Guyon broke down without pity all the pleasant bowers, and the stately palace, and trampled down the gardens, and burnt the banqueting-hall, so that nothing was left of the beautiful place to tempt other people to ruin.

As for Acrasia, they led her away captive, bound with adamantine chains, for nothing else would keep her safe; and when they came back to the place where they had met the wild beasts, these again flew fiercely at them, as if they would rescue their mistress. But the Palmer soon pacified them.

Then Guyon asked what was the meaning of these beasts that lived there.

"These seeming beasts are really men whom the enchantress has thus transformed," replied the Palmer. "Now they are turned into these hideous figures, in accordance with their bad and ugly minds."

"A sad end of an ignoble life, and a mournful result of excess in pleasure," said the Knight. "But, Palmer, if it may so please you, let them be returned to their former state."

So the Palmer struck them with his staff, and immediately they were turned into men. Very queer and ill at ease they looked. Some were inwardly ashamed, and some were angry to see the Lady Acrasia captive. But one in particular, who had lately been a hog, Grill by name, loudly lamented, and abused the Knight for bringing him back from the shape of a hog into that of a man.

Then said Guyon, "See how low a man can sink, to forget so soon the excellence in which he was created, and to choose rather to he a beast without intelligence!"

"Worthless men delight in base things," said the Palmer. "Let Grill be Grill, and have his hoggish mind. But let us depart hence, while wind and weather serve."

So Sir Guyon, having overthrown the power of the wicked enchantress, went back to the house of Alma, where he had left Prince Arthur. The captive Acrasia he sent under a strong guard to the court of the Faerie Queene, to be presented to Queen Gloriana as a proof that he had accomplished his hard task; but he himself travelled forth with Prince Arthur, to make further trial of his strength and to seek fresh adventures.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I definitely agree with the statement that "worthless men delight in base things". The concept that Sir Guyon only survived this bower of bliss because he rejected all of the base things is incredibly neat. We do find it incredibly difficult to reject all of these things every day, because they are so within our reach. At any point, Sir Guyon, could have partaken in gluttony. But of course, he was very driven toward his goal, to take down Acrasia. I believe we all lose sight of the greater purposes in life because we are distracted by all of the tempting things around us. It would take a person of great moral strength and character to overcome the temptation of these things, especially in an environment in which they are plentiful and so many have failed. I wonder if we could ever make it through an obstacle course such as this. It reminds me very much of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Only the one little boy who could control his impulses would win the grand prize. We could all learn from that, because it is because of these behaviors that more and more temptations have become available to us. It's a vicious cycle, the more we want, the more temptations we will have.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Marissa Manns said...

This passage is a great metaphor for life. We could all participate in gluttony, etc. in one form of another but we choose not to. Sir Guyon and the Palmer could have chosen to do so. They did not do so because they were focused on other purposes. Life is about making choices. I admire Guyon and the Palmer for being able to resist the charms of this place. Dedication like this is rare in today's world. This story makes a few interesting points. "These seeming beasts are really men whom the enchantress has thus transformed," replied the Palmer."Now they are turned into these hideous figures, in accordance with their bad and ugly minds." I like how ironic it is that a life filled with pleasure can result in this and now the men are beasts. "A sad end of an ignoble life, and a mournful result of excess in pleasure," said the Knight. These two characters feel that they hold the key to solve the world's problems. This is okay, but there are still implications to this. Everyone cannot be the solution. This is because opinions differ too much. If everyone thought like this, the world would be chaos.

4:53 AM  
Anonymous Eden said...

I think this passage has an excellent message. Sir Guyon and the Palmer are excellent models for the importance of virtue and moderation. Had they given into gluttony and greed they would undoubtably have failed their task, but through perserverence and strength of will thet utlimately suceed. In my opinion, this is an excellent model for society, as we have bee studing the Enlightenment thinkers ideals of what is necissary for a community to function smoothly I think this story is relatable. For example it is important for a government to remember that it’s main function is to serve the people and to resist becoming drunk with power. If a government gives in to greed, it has already failed. Thus it is important for all facets of society, both communal and individual to adhear to the morals of Sir Guyon.

9:30 AM  

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