Earl's Court

Elizabethan English Poetry

Edmund Spenser: The Faerie Qveene

16th century, Elizabethan English. Numerous printed copies.

The boat obeyed her thoughts and slid more swiftly through the water than a swallow through the air.

Sir Guyon looks on incredulously. A fully armed knight is splashing about in the water trying desperately, it seems, to bring his life to an end. He is, he cries, the most wretched man alive: Burning in flames, yet no flames can I see, and dying daily, daily yet revive.

It is fortunate, thinks Sir Guyon, that the waters of this lake are such that: Every weightie thing they did upbear, ne ought mote [and nothing could] ever sink downe to the bottome there.

Sir Guyon lets his mind wander briefly over the past few hours, in which he has travelled by boat across the Idle Lake searching for the witch Acrasia who could, he had learnt, be found on a floating island. An island of forbidden pleasures. An Isle of Bliss. A Paradise. He had been forced to leave his companion on the bank when he boarded this curious boat in pursuit of this island. The lady in the boat had been more than insistent: Guyon was loath to leave his guide behind yet being entered, might not back retyre, for the flit bark, obeying to her mind, forth launched quickly, as she did desire...

As had happened shortly before – Eftsoones [almost at once] her shallow ship away did slide, more swift than swallow shears the liquid sky, withouten oar or pilot it to guide, or winged canvas with the wind to fly, only she turned a pin, and by and by it cut away upon the yielding wave, nor cared she her course for to apply, for it was taught the way, which she would have, and both from rocks and flats it self could wisely save.

But he had been taken to another island instead and now he is back on the shore, watching this knight who cannot die.

Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Book II, Canto VI.

See for yourself

Edmund Spenser – Wikipedia

The Faerie Queene – Wikipedia

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