AD's English Literature : Spenserian Stanza and Its Variety of Effects on English Poetry

Spenserian Stanza and Its Variety of Effects on English Poetry

The stanza which Spenser invented for his epic, with its carefully chiming rhyme – scheme and concluding alexandrine, is capable of a great variety of effects, and the popular notion that it less suited for narrative verse than for static pictorial description is not borne out by the way it actually operates in the poem. Simply the Spenserian Stanza is composed of nine lines, the first eight in iambic pentameter and the last an alexandrine, in iambic hexameter. The usual rhyme scheme is ababbcbcc: Read More Elizabethan Literature

At length/ they spide,/ where to/wards them /with speed
A Squire/ came ga/llopping, /as he /would flie;
Bearing/ a li/ttle Dwarfe/ before /his steed,
That all/ the way/ full loud/ for aide/ did crie,
That seem’d/ his shrikes /would rend/ the bra/sen skie:
Whom af/ter did /a migh/tie man/ pursew,
Ryding/ upon/ a Dro/medare /on hie,
Of sta/ture huge, /and ho/rrible /of hew,
That would/ have maz’d/ a man /his dread/full face /to vew.”- Faerie Queen

Spenser does indeed excel in certain kinds of set descriptive piece, but he can vary the speed and movement of the stanza to produce contemplative, discursive, dreamlike, exclamatory, formal, colloquial, satirical, and other styles and moods. His use of deliberately antique word forms, Chaucerian and pseudo – Chaucerian, is largely for purposes of stylization appropriate to a heroic poem, but he can also use older words to give a homely, proverbial effect. Read More Elizabethan Literature  

 Altogether, the Faerie Queen is a poem of extraordinary richness and diversity, a remarkable synthesis of Elizabethan culture whose total effect cannot be properly judged because the work was left unfinished but whose quality and splendors can nevertheless be easily discerned. Read More Poetry   It has a sustained rhythmic sweep, and the final long line adds an epic dignity. Yet the synthesis was a personal one: the union of chivalric, patriotic, Christian, and Platonic, of medieval and protestant, of courtly love and Christian marriage. It was no imitable language; there was no further road, along that way – the way of the allegorical heroic poems deriving its form the Italian epic – in English Literature. Read More Elizabethan Literature   
However,  Spenser’s place in the English poetic tradition is indisputable: he was the first modern poet to exploit the full poetic resources of the English language; he had the highest ambitions for poetry while at the same time retaining a freshness of approach characteristic of the more casual and “occasional” singer. The Spenserian stanza form was mostly used for romantic prose in the grand style and for philosophic poems.  He inspired both Milton and Keats, in very different ways: to the former he was “sage and serious Spenser”, “England’s first epic poet, while to the later he stood for enchantment and high romance. There is other long list of followers: Robert Burns, Lord Byron, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson or the like.

Here we quote from The Eve of St. Agnes by John Keats and Adonais by Percy Bysshe Shelley for illustrative purpose: Read More Poetry

“ St. Ag/nes' Eve/—Ah, bi/tter chill/ it was!

 The owl,/ for all /his fea/thers, was /a-cold;

The hare /limp'd trem/bling through /the fro/zen grass,

 And si/lent was /the flock/ in woo/lly fold:

 Numb were /the Beads/man's fin/gers, while/ he told

 His ro/sary, /and while /his fros/ted breath,

 Like pi/ous in/cense from/ a cen/ser old,

 Seem'd tak/ing flight/ for heaven,/ without /a death,

Past the/ sweet Vir/gin's pic/ture, while/ his prayer/ he saith. ”- The Eve of St. Agnes


“I weep/ for A/dona/is—he /is dead!

Oh, weep/ for A/dona/is! though /our tears

Thaw not /the frost/ which binds/ so dear /a head!

And thou,/ sad Hour,/ selec/ted from /all years

To mourn/ our loss,/ rouse thy/ obscure/ compeers,

 And teach/ them thine/ own so/rrow, say:/ “With me

 Died A/dona/is; till /the Fu/ture dares

 Forget/ the Past,/ his fate /and fame/ shall be

An e/cho and/ a light /unto/ eter/nity!””- Adonais

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert   

2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
3. Spenserian Stanza <> 
4. A Critical History of English Literature – DAVID DAICHES

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