Elizabethan English Poetry

Edmund Spenser: The Idle Lake

16th century, Elizabethan English. The Faerie Qveene, numerous printed copies.

Ahead is a deadly whirlpool and a rock, which to avoid one is to be destroyed by the other. There are sirens calling. A lone female on an enchanted island.

Sir Guyon is on the Idle Lake once more, searching for the island of the witch Acrasia. Two days now in that sea he sayled has, ne ever land beheld, ne living wight [person]...

On the third morning he urges his palmer to keep his tiller well, for ahead is a deadly whirlpool and a rock, which to avoid one is to be destroyed by the other. Is this an expanse of water similar to the one that Odysseus sailed? Are we to expect sirens?

By skilful rowing, the ferryman safely avoids the Gulf of Greediness and the Rock of Reproach. Rowing strongly onwards, they see on the horizon some islands. Sir Guyon is overjoyed, but the ferryman warns him that they are not solid land but the Wandering Islands. As th’Isle of Delos whylome [once] men report amid th’ Aegean sea long time did stray, ne made for shipping any certain port.... Urged to shun these islands, for he who lands will wander aimlessly, unable to leave, and coming close to a shore, they hear the singing of a damsel who sees them and calls, tempting them to land. When they decline the invitation, she boards a little boat and rows to them, cajoling and urging them to come with her. It is a woman who ferried Sir Guyon once before across this Idle Lake. But they ignore her entreaties and row on, so she turns and leaves them.

Endangered by whirlpools, quicksands, by phantom monsters of the deep conjured by the witch Acrasia and by maidens singing on mermaid shores, they press onwards. A mist descends and becomes a dense fog that plunges them into night; just as a dark mist engulfs Saint Brendan before he reaches the shores of Paradise. Birds and harpies molest them, but at last the sky brightens and they make land. It is the island of the witch Acrasia, and seems to have all the attributes of a Paradise.

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

See for yourself

Edmund Spenser – Wikipedia

The Faerie Queene – Wikipedia

Lakes and seas

Piccadilly Line

magical water
montage of sea images

Navigate the tunnel