And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

søndag 7. august 2011

London Letters - Silver-streaming Thames

When I whom sullein care,
Through discontent of my long fruitlesse stay
In Princes Court, and expectation vayne
Of idle hopes, which still doe fly away,
Like empty shaddowes, did aflict my brayne,
Walkt forth to ease my payne
Along the shoare of siluer streaming Themmes
- Prothalamion, Edmund Spenser

As men's faculties dwindle when the autumns of their lives approach so do the length and content of my blogposts diminish as the material hoarded during my stay in England is spent. As the title reveals this is an implement in the series called London Letters, a cycle of blogposts connected solely by a particular geographical setting, and I confess the series has not been as orderly compiled as it probably should have been. However, since it is my intent to chronicle the outlines and certain particulars of my somewhat uneventful trip to London, I would like to include one of the few pleasures I experienced during my stay, namely a quiet rest by the river Thames.

Considering this one of my few pleasures owes not to the trip being dreadful as such, but rather that despite certain unquestionable highlights, such as the National Art Gallery and, to a somewhat less extent, Westminster Abbey, my visit to London was marked by many frustrations. The main reason for this discomfort was my stiff muscles owing to some hill-climbing in Edinburgh the previous weekend, a problem that only worsened the fact that I had some considerable difficulties finding my hotel, which was situated in Sussex Place. I had thought this would be plain sailing, to quote a somewhat obscure Monty Python sketch, but I had not taken into account, and nor did the staff at the hotel seem to know, that there are two places in London called Sussex Place: one close to Paddington Station where there are several hotels, and one where you find the London Business School and little else. Naturally, since fortune sometimes spits in my face, I went all the way to the latter location and a good way back before I went to Paddington on my rather sore feet.

The following array of pictures, however, were taken after my somewhat disappointing trip to Westminster. Having paid my respects to the Prince of Poets and failed to see the tomb of Edward the Confessor, I went down to the Thames to read Spenser's Prothalamion as a part of my previously mentioned pilgrimage. Since the poem is written in a tone of disappointment and dejection it fitted rather well to my own state of mind as I went down to the river bank. 

Along the shoare of siluer streaming Themmes,
Whose rutty Bancke, the which his Riuer hemmes,
Was paynted all with variable flowers,
And all the meades adornd with daintie gemmes,
Fit to decke maydens bowres,
And crowne their Paramours,
Against the Brydale day, which is not long:
Sweete Themmes runne softly, till I end my Song.
- Prothalamion, Edmund Spenser

There when they came, whereas those bricky towres,
The which on Themmes brode aged backe doe ryde,
Where now the studious Lawyers haue their bowers
That whylome wont the Templer Knights to byde,
Till they decayd through pride:
- Prothalamion, Edmund Spenser

 Next whereunto there standes a stately place,
Where oft I gayned giftes and goodly grace
Of that great Lord, which therein wont to dwell,
Whose want too well, now feeles my friendless case:
But Ah here fits not well
Olde woes, but ioyes to tell
- Prothalamion, Edmund Spenser

 From those high Towers, this noble Lord issuing,
Like radiant
Hesper when his golden hayre
in th'
Ocean billowes he hath Bathed fayre,
Descended to the Riuers open vewing,
With a great traine ensuing.
- Prothalamion, Edmund Spenser

Prothalamion, meaning "song before the wedding", was published in 1596 and was occasioned by the double marriage of Elizabeth and Katherine Somerset, daughters of the Earl of Worcester. Spenser was at this time in London to seek out his fortune at the royal court, attempting to emulate his hero Vergilius, in the company of his friend Sir Walter Raleigh. His hopes were not fulfilled, as can be clearly read in the first stanza of the poem, and he later returned to Ireland.

The poem is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, as most often is the case with Spenser's poetry, but it is also very quaint in certain respects. Unlike his sonnet cycle, Amoretti, or his Epithalamion, Prothalamion is more heavily loaded with references to contemporary events, and is deeply immersed in politics. Despite being a wedding song dedicated to the ladies Somerset, Spenser spends considerable time on himself and the Earl of Essex' military exploits against the Spanish. Considering the Somerset ladies were to be wedded into the House of Essex, it appears that the hapless Spenser took this opportunity to seek the patronage of Robert of Essex in a customary poetic grovel. In my view this lessens the quality of the work because it becomes so ostentatiously bound up with its contemporaneity, a feature rather unfitting a bridal song which ought to address certain matrimonial constancies not affected by the world of the court. Prothalamion is, therefore, as a hymn of hopelessness, the dejected ramblings of an aspiring courtier poorly veiled by his poetic prowess.

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