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'The New Poet'

'The New Poet': Novelty and Tradition in Spenser’s Complaints

Volume: 32
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    'The New Poet'
    Book Description:

    This gracefully written and well thought-out study deals with a neglected collection of poems by Spenser, which was issued in 1591 at the height of his career. While there has been a good deal written in recent years on two of the poems in the collection, ‘Mother Hubberd’s Tale’ and ‘Muiopotmos’, Brown innovatively addresses the collection in its entirety. He urges us to see it as a planned whole with a consistent design on the reader: he fully acknowledges, and even brings out further, the heterogeneity of the collection, but he examines it nevertheless as a sustained reflection on the nature of poetry and the auspices for writing in a modern world, distancing itself from the traditions of the immediate past. The strength of this work lies both in the originality of its project and in the precision and enterprise of the close reading that informs its argument. Interest in the concern of Spenser’s poetry with the nature of poetry is in the current critical mainstream, but here the attentiveness is both unusually focused and unusually sustained. Brown garners more than would be expected from the translations in the Complaints, while at the same time including striking and individual chapters on the better known ‘Mother Hubberd’s Tale’ and ‘Muiopotmos’; he advances understanding of these extremely subtle texts and fully justifies his wider approach to the collection as a whole. Arguing that Spenser’s relationship to literary tradition is more complex than is often thought, Brown suggests that Spenser was a self-conscious innovator whose gradual move away from traditional poetics is exhibited by the different texts in the Complaints. He further suggests that the Complaints are a ‘poetics in practice’, which progress from traditional ideas of poetry to a new poetry that emerges through Spenser’s transformation of traditional complaint.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-366-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. viii-ix)
    (pp. x-x)
  6. INTRODUCTION ‘Subject unto chaunge’: Spenser’s Complaints and the New Poetry
    (pp. 1-36)

    Poetic texts, like the human beings that make them, are themselves ‘Subject unto chaunge’. Textual change can take many forms: from the rediscovery and re-evaluation of previously marginalized texts (and conversely the displacement and marginalization of previously classic texts), to the loss of distant classics or unpublished manuscripts. A static text – secure either in unexamined prestige or oblivion – is necessarily a dead one. Spenser’sComplaints, though not as widely read as they deserve, have been generally overlooked since their first appearance in 1591 to the detriment of the understanding of Spenser’s achievement. In recent years critical re-evaluation ofComplaintshas...


    • CHAPTER ONE ‘Clowdie teares’: Poetic and Doctrinal Tensions in Virgil’s Gnat
      (pp. 39-62)

      This study explores ‘the new Poet’s’ novelty: how his achievement is the result of his predicament. I argue that Spenser’s work develops from traditional poetics to newer ideas of writing that reflect the uncertainties of a society in the process of rapid change. In my view, theComplaintsreveal the tensions between literary tradition and novelty which eventually produce an innovative conception of poetry. Spenser’s achievement inComplaintsis to register his critical concern with poetry in such a way as to let the reader appreciate the conceptual change it was undergoing.

      I begin withVirgils Gnatbecause it is...

    • CHAPTER TWO Forming the ‘first garland of free Poësie’ in France and England, 1558–91
      (pp. 63-96)

      The self-conscious appropriation ofCulexbyVirgils Gnatinvites the consideration of Spenser’s practice as a translator elsewhere inComplaints. I have argued that he stands between the medieval tradition of faithful ‘sententious’ translation and later conceptions of translation as psychological paraphrase. InVirgils Gnat, Spenser adapts the original to voice his own social and literary anxieties: the English poem both translatesCulexand discloses aspects of Spenser’s relationship with Leicester. In the light of this practice, we must ask ifRuines of Rome, Spenser’s translation of Du Bellay’sLes Antiquitez de Rome, exhibits the same kind of appropriation.Les...


    • CHAPTER THREE A ‘goodlie bridge’ between the Old and the New: the transformation of complaint in The Ruines of Time
      (pp. 99-132)

      To move fromComplaints’ translations to its original poems is to become more conscious of the differences between Spenser and his contemporaries. Though ostensibly an elegy for Leicester and Sidney,The Ruines of Timein fact uses their deaths much as Milton was to use the death of Edward King inLycidas– as an opportunity to discuss poetry and the rôle of the poet. Though Spenser uses complaint to bewail the death of Sidney, his poem is not a conventional lament for great men, despite his claims in the Dedication to the Countess of Pembroke that it was ‘speciallie intended...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Poetry’s ‘liuing tongue’ in The Teares of the Muses
      (pp. 133-168)

      The Ruines of Timereveals the tensions within Spenser’s intellectual heritage and one way of resolving them. Through the figure of Sidney, the poem establishes an accommodation between the conflicting imperatives of poetic ‘eternizing’ and Christian world-contempt. Yet this accommodation is conditioned by the memorial context ofThe Ruines of Time, whose poetic concerns are a function of its wider purpose as a ‘thankefull’ elegiac ‘remembrance’ of Sidney and the Leicester circle.¹ As the text which immediately followsThe Ruines of Timein theComplaintsvolume,The Teares of the Musescontinues to explore the tension between Christian and humanist...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Cracking the Nut? Mother Hubberds Tale’s Attack on Traditional Notions of Poetic Value
      (pp. 169-212)

      Breton’s couplet ambiguously alignsMother Hubberds Talein the mainstream of Western poetics by evoking what can be called the ‘poem as nut’ aesthetic. This tradition, which can be traced to Augustine, finds its classic expression in Fulgentius’s commentary onThe Thebaid.² Fulgentius states that ‘poetic songs are seen to be comparable with nuts’:³ poetic fiction is like a nut, possessing an outer casing (the literal sense) and an inner ‘kernel’ (the mystical or allegorical sense). The reader must ‘Cracke the nut’ to obtain a ‘kernel’ of ‘doctrine wyse’⁴ containedwithinthe fiction. While this formula had been used as...

    • CHAPTER SIX ‘Excellent device and wondrous slight’: Muiopotmos and Complaints’ Poetics
      (pp. 213-254)

      A poem about tapestries is necessarily ecphrastic.¹ I begin with an ecphrasis – a mode which for Spenser invariably entails reflection on the nature of artifice.

      At the climax ofThe Faerie QueeneII, Guyon and the Palmer discover the enchantress Acrasia with her current lover. This voyeuristic moment enables Spenser to present her both as a delusive artist and as a work of art:

      Vpon a bed of roses she was layd,

      As faint through heat, or dight to pleasant sin,

      And was arayd, or rather disarayd,

      All in a vele of silke and siluer thin,

      That hid no whit...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The New Poetry beyond the Complaints
      (pp. 255-270)

      In the dedicatory sonnet toThe Choice of Valentines, Nashe dismissively notes that ‘Complaints and praises everyone can write’, though not everyone can write ‘of love’s pleasures’.¹ He presents his erotic poem, probably composed in 1592,² as something daringly new in comparison with the drab traditionality of ‘pangs in stately rhymes’.³ Nashe’s cocksure claim to novelty provides a useful starting point as I conclude this study. Though he alludes to traditional complaint, his remark invites consideration of the new poetry beyond theComplaintsvolume. Now I want to ask what are the further implications of the innovatory poetic Spenser proposes...

  9. APPENDIX Urania-Astraea and ‘Divine Elisa’ in The Teares of the Muses (11.527–88)
    (pp. 271-274)
    (pp. 275-288)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 289-293)