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Home » » Why has Spenser been called 'The Poet's Poet '?

It was Charles Lamb who called Spenser 'The Poets’ Poet’. At least there are two reasons why Spenser is regarded as the poets’ poet and the second father of English Poetry. Firstly, Spenser rendered incalculable service to English poetry in a variety of ways and left behind him models of poetic excellence to be imitated and followed by a host of poets who came in his wake. He is also calted the "Prince of Poets of his time." He coached more poets and more eminent ones than any other poets. Besides, he is the poets' poet because he is not the poet of the common man, but only of the scholars and poets with well-versed in classical tradition and humanistic studies. During the Renaissance, Spenser's poetry could really be appreciated by those who were familiar with classical writers and authors of the Renaissance. Since only scholars and poets had that necessary equipment to understand Spenser, and the common man had not that facility to understand him, Spenser is called the poet of poets and not the poet of the ordinary man. Throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th-centuries, a host of poets followed him. called him their master, and exalted him as their guide and mentor. 

Dryden acknowledged him as his master and added that, "No man was ever born with a greater genius or more knowledge to support it." Pope is all praises for him, and James Thomson referred to him as 'my master Spenser’, Shelley, Byron, and Keats wrote their best poems in the Spenserian stanza (a long stanza of nine lines with the rhyme abab cdcd d. He is the poets' poet in the true sense for he is the fountain-head of all those excellences and beauties which are scattered in the works of subsequent poets, and for which they expressed their indebtedness to him and called him their master. 

'An Over Faint Quietness', wrote Sir Philip Sidney in 1581. "Should seem to strew the house for poets." Hitherto the scholar and courtier had ruled the domain of fantasy with pleasing and graceful though not very vital results. But the words were no sooner uttered than a force came into poetry that speedily dispersed the "over fain quietness". Spenser came at a crucial moment in English Poetry. The spell of Italy had taken hold of our senses, without gripping to heart and conscience. Ascham's suspicion of the novel. and his hostile attitude towards Italian influence, did at any rate represent one side of national feeling. The revival of letters had merged into the Protestant Revolution; but the influence of Germany and Italy were hitherto antagonistic forces in our literature. It is impossible not to fed that the verse of Surrey, and of Gascoigne, reflect only in part national character and temperament, Now in Spenser, the Puritan side and the artistic side arc merged and reconciled. Spenser is at once the child of the Renaissance and the Reformation. On one side we may regard him with Milton as the sage and serious Spenser, on is the Humanist. alive to the finger tips with the sensuous beauty of Southern Romance. 

Spenser's tirst masterpiece is The Shepherd's Calendar. It is modelled on the artificial pastoral popularised by the Renaissance, and inspired by Virgil and Theocritus. Technically it is a poem of considerable merit, and shows great adroitness in dealing with various old time metres in a fresh and masterly way. While his love of allegory teads him to pretty pieces of word painting such as the delightful Oak and the Briar. Comparing the poem with the verse preceding it, one realises the richness, the warm pictorial beauty, and sense of amplitude hitherto alien to English poetry. But The Shepherd's Calendar pales in significance beside The Faerie Queene. This poem was neither writtcn in England nor inspired by England. Ireland is the inspiration: Ireland is the scenic background; Ireland supplies the stuff of adventure; Ireland the troublous, storm-tossed Ireland of Elizabeth's reign. The enemies of Gloriana were flesh and blood enemies; the knights came from Elizabeth's Court and for this reason, perhaps, this poem has been called the Epic of the English Wars in Ireland under Elizabeth I. 

The poem reveals a sober, chaste, and sensitive spirit; one keenly alive to sensuous beauty, but kept from the grossness and coarseness of some of his brilliant contemporaries by a mind of singular refinement; and beauty is for him of the supermost value in life. Small wonder that Keats was fired by his verse, for certainly his famous phrase, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever,” is entirely Spenserian in sentiment. 

The poem set-out to be a story with Twelve Knights of Elizabeth who undertake various enterprises in her honour. But the poet had, unlike Chaucer, little gifted of lucidity, and soon wanders off the main road into the flowery meads of fancy. Starting in the middle of one of the adventures, he never completes his initial design, and the poem is merely a lovely mosaic into which are woven deeds of chivalry and pictorial fantasies, and grave moralising. From the pleasures and excitements of chivalry Spenser takes his ideas; yet he is not content merely to tell an entertaining story as Tasso and Ariosto had done, but to present his visions in a framework of high and noble purpose. Indeed. in a letter to Raleigh he avows his purpose is "to fashion a virtuous and gentle discipline." 

What differentiates Spenser from, say, Shakespeare the poet, is the equable calm that pervades even his fervour. Sensitive to every phase of imagination and beauty, there is always a dreamy atmosphere about his verse, The sharp, vivid intensity of Shakespeare is not his; but he has his own particular charm. 

His genius  is epic, not lyric; he is a story teller, not a singer. He has something Of Homer's ancient simplicity, though not the poignancy. But the samiles are primal and direct. 

“A wounded hero falls as an aged tree. : He growing on the top of rocky clift." 

This is a rich ornate imagination: yet it rarely becomes turbid and oppressive. If it lacks Miarlowe’s thrill, it certainly also lacks his wviclence. It is a thing of prismatic colouring. refracting the white light of common day in delicate rainbow hues. The symbolism behind his faerie music need not trouble us: and we may enjoy the adventures of his Knight of the cross defending his beloved Una, almost without realising that it is a battle between truth and falsehood with which he is concerned. 

‘The Amoretti’ love sonnets, fall far below the level of Shakespeare's splendid series; and that curious undertone of melancholy that sounds through most Renaissance poetry is blended here delicately with frank and sensitive delight in the beauty and splendour of things. Intenser in its passion, and therefore more arresting in its hold upon the reader is the ‘Epithalamion’. There is no relatively short poem that exhibits more happily the sensuous sweetness and the rapture of Spenser's best work, than this poem. 

The manuscript of ‘Colin Clout’ was sent to his friend Sir Walter Raleigh on his arrival back in Engiand in 1591, but was not published ull 1595. It is livelier than most of Spenser's work; the dreamy languor that hangs like a silver mist over his pictures is here thrown aside for a space. It is a brilliant piece of vigorous retrospect, and a happy and affectionate tribute to Raleigh's protection. 

His prose work on Ireland is an able and thoughtful contribution to the irish problem from the English point of view. Granting the point of view that could scarcely have been otherwise with one in Spenser's position, it shows an insight into the causes of disaffection, and a frank criticism of English rule, in advance of the time. The book displays a side of Spenser's powers not illustrated in his poetry; shrewdness of insight, and on the whole a fair and judicious spirit. 

Spenser has been happily called the poet's poet. In his own day he influenced a large number of verse writers, of more or less power!Cowley and Dryden at a later period testified to his inspiring influence as a literary artist; Milton paid him warm tribute; and even Pope.

Whose poetic faculty is so different in kind from that of the Elizabethan, admitted of his compelling magic. The indebtedness of Keats and Tennyson is easily comprehensible; but the most significanr testimony to the greatness of this romantic Puritan lies in the power he wields over versifiers so alien in imaginative vision as Dryden and Pope. The height of a mountain can never be fairly gauged till the looker on is at a distance and can measure the relative importance of the hills before him. Lesser heights dwindle and melt into the horizon as we pass through the centuries. Spenser like Shakespeare still stands up sharply and distinctly against the skies; in travelling hills of minor importance may have shut him off from those of us in the plain, but ascent any of our own heights—Browning, Tennyson, and William Morris, and we sec him at once. And even those who have never read a line of ‘The Faerie Queene' have met him unknown and unrecognised in ‘The Earthly Paradise’. Limitations he had. of course; the splendour of Shakespeare is beyond his grasp, and the line austerity of Milton. ‘But no poet in any age or clime had a richer and fuller sense of sensuous of the resources of rhythmic music and pictorial phrasing such as would reveal this loveliness in words. 


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