Muiopotmos Or The Fate Of The Butterflie by Edmund Spenser







[* This date seems to be an error for 1591; or, as Mr. Craik suggests, it may have been used designedly with reference to real events, not yet ascertained, which furnished the subject of this very pleasing allegory. The Visions of the Worlds Vanitie, which follow this piece, may be suspected of a similar application. C.]


Most brave and bountifull La: for so excellent favours as I have received at your sweet handes, to offer these fewe leaves as in recompence, should be as to offer flowers to the gods for their divine benefites. Therefore I have determined to give my selfe wholy to you, as quite abandoned from my selfe, and absolutely vowed to your services: which in all right is ever held for full recompence of debt or damage, to have the person yeelded. My person I wot wel how little worth it is. But the faithfull minde and humble zeale which I bear unto your La: may perhaps be more of price, as may please you to account and use the poore service thereof; which taketh glory to advance your excellent partes and noble vertues, and to spend it selfe in honouring you; not so much for your great bounty to my self, which yet may not be unminded; nor for name or kindreds* sake by you vouchsafed, beeing also regardable; as for that honorable name, which yee have by your brave deserts purchast to your self, and spred in the mouths of al men: with which I have also presumed to grace my verses, and, under your name, to commend to the world this smal poeme; the which beseeching your La: to take in worth, and of all things therein according to your wonted graciousnes to make a milde construction, I humbly pray for your happines.

Your La: ever


E. S.

[Footnote: “This lady was Elizabeth, one of the six daughters of Sir John Spencer, of Althorpe, in Northamptonshire, and was married to Sir George Carey, who became Lord Hunsdon on the death of his father, in 1596.”–TODD.]




I sing of deadly dolorous debate,
Stir'd up through wrathful! Nemesis despight,
Betwixt two mightie ones of great estate,
Drawne into armes and proofe of mortall fight
Through prowd ambition and hart-swelling hate, 5
Whilest neither could the others greater might
And sdeignfull scorne endure; that from small iarre
Their wraths at length broke into open warre.

The roote whereof and tragicall effect,
Vouchsafe, O thou the mournfulst Muse of nyne, 10
That wontst the tragick stage for to direct,
In funerall complaints and waylfull tyne*
Reveale to me, and all the meanes detect
Through which sad Clarion did at last declyne
To lowest wretchednes: And is there then 15
Such rancour in the harts of mightie men?
[* Tyne, grief.]

Of all the race of silver-winged flies
Which doo possesse the empire of the aire,
Betwixt the centred earth and azure skies
Was none more favourable nor more faire, 20
Whilst heaven did favour his felicities,
Then Clarion, the eldest sonne and haire
Of Muscaroll, and in his fathers sight
Of all alive did seeme the fairest wight.

With fruitfull hope his aged breast he fed 25
Of future good, which his yong toward yeares,
Full of brave courage and bold hardyhed
Above th’ensample of his equall peares,
Did largely promise, and to him fore-red,
(Whilst oft his heart did melt in tender teares,) 30
That he in time would sure prove such an one,
As should be worthie of his fathers throne.

The fresh yong flie, in whom the kindly fire
Of lustfull yongth* began to kindle fast,
Did much disdaine to subiect his desire 35
To loathsome sloth, or houres in ease to wast;
But ioy’d to range abroad in fresh attire
Through the wide compas of the ayrie coast,
And with unwearied wings each part t’inquire
Of the wide rule of his renownned sire. 40
[* Yongth, youth.]

For he so swift and nimble was of flight,
That from this lower tract he dar’d to stie*
Up to the clowdes, and thence with pineons light
To mount aloft unto the christall skie,
To vew the workmanship of heavens hight 45
Whence down descending he along would flie
Upon the streaming rivers, sport to finde,
And oft would dare to tempt the troublous winde.
[* Stie, mount.]

So on a summers day, when season milde
With gentle calme the world had quieted, 50
And high in heaven Hyperions fierie childe
Ascending did his beames abroad dispred,
Whiles all the heavens on lower creatures smilde,
Yong Clarion, with vauntfull lustiehead;
After his guize did cast abroad to fare, 55
And theretoo gan his furnitures prepare.

His breastplate first, that was of substance pure,
Before his noble heart he firmely bound,
That mought his life from yron death assure,
And ward his gentle corpes from cruell wound: 60
For it by arte was framed to endure
The bit* of balefull steele and bitter stownd**,
No lesse than that which Vulcane made to sheild
Achilles life from fate of Troyan field.
[* Bit, bite.]
[** Stownd, hour.]

And then about his shoulders broad he threw 65
An hairie hide of some wilde beast, whom hee
In salvage forrest by adventure slew,
And reft the spoyle his ornament to bee;
Which, spredding all his backe with dreadfull vew,
Made all that him so horrible did see 70
Thinke him Alcides with the lyons skin,
When the Naemean conquest he did win.

Upon his head, his glistering burganet*,
The which was wrought by wonderous device
And curiously engraven, he did set: 75
The mettall was of rare and passing price;
Not Bilbo** steele, nor brasse from Corinth fet,
Nor costly oricalche from strange Phoenice;
But such as could both Phoebus arrowes ward,
And th’hayling darts of heaven beating hard. 80
[* Burganet, helmet.]
[** Bilbo, Bilboa.]

Therein two deadly weapons fixt he bore,
Strongly outlaunced towards either side,
Like two sharpe speares, his enemies to gore:
Like as a warlike brigandine, applyde
To fight, layes forth her threatfull pikes afore, 85
The engines which in them sad death doo hyde,
So did this flie outstretch his fearefull hornes,
Yet so as him their terrour more adornes.

Lastly his shinie wings, as silver bright,
Painted with thousand colours passing farre 90
All painters skill, he did about him dight:
Not halfe so manie sundrie colours arre
In Iris bowe; ne heaven doth shine so bright,
Distinguished with manie a twinckling starre;
Nor Iunoes bird, in her ey-spotted traine, 95
So manie goodly colours doth containe.

Ne (may it be withouten perill spoken)
The Archer-god, the sonne of Cytheree,
That ioyes on wretched lovers to be wroken*,
And heaped spoyles of bleeding harts to see, 100
Beares in his wings so manie a changefull token.
Ah! my liege Lord, forgive it unto mee,
If ought against thine honour I have tolde;
Yet sure those wings were fairer manifolde.
[* Wroken, avenged.]

Full many a ladie faire, in court full oft 105
Beholding them, him secretly envide,
And wisht that two such fannes, so silken soft
And golden faire, her Love would her provide;
Or that, when them the gorgeous flie had doft,
Some one that would with grace be gratifide 110
From him would steale them privily away,
And bring to her so precious a pray.

Report is that Dame Venus on a day,
In spring when flowres doo clothe the fruitful ground,
Walking abroad with all her nymphes to play, 115
Bad her faire damzels flocking her arownd
To gather flowres, her forhead to array.
Emongst the rest a gentle nymph was found,
Hight Astery, excelling all the crewe
In curteous usage and unstained hewe. 120

Who, being nimbler ioynted than the rest,
And more industrious, gathered more store
Of the fields honour than the others best;
Which they in secret harts envying sore,
Tolde Venus, when her as the worthiest 125
She praisd’, that Cupide (as they heard before)
Did lend her secret aide in gathering
Into her lap the children of the Spring,

Whereof the goddesse gathering iealous feare,–
Not yet unmindfull how not long agoe 130
Her sonne to Psyche secrete love did beare,
And long it close conceal’d, till mickle woe
Thereof arose, and manie a rufull teare,–
Reason with sudden rage did overgoe;
And, giving hastie credit to th’accuser, 135
Was led away of them that did abuse her.

Eftsoones that damzel by her heavenly might
She turn’d into a winged butterflie,
In the wide aire to make her wandring flight;
And all those flowres, with which so plenteouslie 140
Her lap she filled had, that bred her spight,
She placed in her wings, for memorie
Of her pretended crime, though crime none were:
Since which that flie them in her wings doth beare.

Thus the fresh Clarion, being readie dight, 145
Unto his iourney did himselfe addresse,
And with good speed began to take his flight:
Over the fields, in his franke* lustinesse;
And all the champion** he soared light;
And all the countrey wide he did possesse, 150
Feeding upon their pleasures bounteouslie,
That none gainsaid, nor none did him envie.
[* Franke, free.]
[** Champion, champaign.]

The woods, the rivers, and the medowes green.
With his aire-cutting wings he measured wide,
Ne did he leave the mountaines bare unseene, 155
Nor the ranke grassie fennes delights untride.
But none of these, how ever sweete they beene,
Mote please his fancie nor him cause t’abide:
His choicefull sense with everie change doth flit;
No common things may please a wavering wit. 160

To the gay gardins his unstaid desire
Him wholly caried, to refresh his sprights:
There lavish Nature, in her best attire,
Powres forth sweete odors and alluring sights;
And Arte, with her contending, doth aspire 165
T’excell the naturall with made delights:
And all that faire or pleasant may be found
In riotous excesse doth there abound.
There he arriving round about doth flie,
From bed to bed, from one to other border; 170
And takes survey, with curious busie eye,
Of every flowre and herbe there set in order;
Now this, now that, he tasteth tenderly,
Yet none of them he rudely doth disorder,
Ne with his feete their silken leaves deface, 175
But pastures on the pleasures of each place.

And evermore with most varietie,
And change of sweetnesse, (for all change is sweete,)
He casts his glutton sense to satisfie;
Now sucking of the sap of herbe most meete, 180
Or of the deaw which yet on them does lie,
Now in the same bathing his tender feete:
And then he pearcheth on some braunch thereby,
To weather him, and his moyst wings to dry.

And then againe he turneth to his play, 185
To spoyle the pleasures of that paradise;
The wholsome saulge*, and lavender still gray,
Ranke-smelling rue, and cummin good for eyes,
The roses raigning in the pride of May,
Sharpe isope, good for greene wounds remedies, 190
Faire marigoldes, and bees-alluring thime,
Sweete marioram, and daysies decking prime:
[* Saulge, sage.]

Coole violets, and orpine growing still,
Embathed balme, and chearfull galingale,
Fresh costmarie, and breathfull camomill, 195
Dull poppie, and drink-quickning setuale*,
Veyne-healing verven, and hed-purging dill,
Sound savorie, and bazil hartie-hale,
Fat colworts, and comforting perseline**,
Colde lettuce, and refreshing rosmarine. 200
[* Setuale, valerian.]
[** Perseline, purslain.]

And whatso else of vertue good or ill
Grewe in this gardin, fetcht from farre away,
Of everie one he takes and tastes at will,
And on their pleasures greedily doth pray.
Then when he hath both plaid, and fed his fill, 205
In the warme sunne he doth himselfe embay*,
And there him rests in riotous suffisaunce
Of all his gladfulnes and kingly ioyaunce.
[* Embay, bathe.]

What more felicitie can fall to creature
Than to enioy delight with libertie, 210
And to be lord of all the workes of Nature,
To raine in th’aire from earth to highest skie,
To feed on flowres and weeds of glorious feature,
To take whatever thing doth please the eie?
Who rests not pleased with such happines, 215
Well worthie he to taste of wretchednes.

But what on earth can long abide in state?
Or who can him assure of happie day?
Sith morning faire may bring fowle evening late,
And least mishap the most blisse alter may! 220
For thousand perills lie in close awaite
About us daylie, to worke our decay;
That none, except a God, or God him guide,
May them avoyde, or remedie provide.

And whatso heavens in their secret doome 225
Ordained have, how can fraile fleshly wight
Forecast, but it must needs to issue come?
The sea, the aire, the fire, the day, the night,
And th’armies of their creatures, all and some*,
Do serve to them, and with importune might 230
Warre against us, the vassals of their will.
Who then can save what they dispose to spill?
[* All and some, one and all.]

Not thou, O Clarion, though fairest thou
Of all thy kinde, unhappie happie flie,
Whose cruell fate is woven even now 235
Of loves owne hand, to worke thy miserie!
Ne may thee helpe the manie hartie vow,
Which thy olde sire with sacred pietie
Hath powred forth for thee, and th’altars sprent*
Nought may thee save from heavens avengement! 240
[* Sprent, sprinkled.]

It fortuned (as heavens had behight*)
That in this gardin where yong Clarion
Was wont to solace him, a wicked wight,
The foe of faire things, th’author of confusion,
The shame of Nature, the bondslave of spight, 245
Had lately built his hatefull mansion;
And, lurking closely, in awayte now lay,
How he might anie in his trap betray.
[* Behight, ordained.]

But when he spide the ioyous butterflie
In this faire plot dispacing* too and fro, 250
Fearles of foes and hidden ieopardie,
Lord! how he gan for to bestirre him tho,
And to his wicked worke each part applie!
His heart did earne** against his hated foe,
And bowels so with rankling poyson swelde, 255
That scarce the skin the strong contagion helde.
[* Dispacing, ranging about.]
[** Earne, yearn.]

The cause why he this flie so maliced*
Was (as in stories it is written found)
For that his mother which him bore and bred,
The most fine-fingred workwoman on ground, 260
Arachne, by his meanes was vanquished
Of Pallas, and in her owne skill confound**,
When she with her for excellence contended,
That wrought her shame, and sorrow never ended.
[* Maliced, bore ill-will to.]
[** Confound, confounded.]

For the Tritonian goddesse, having hard 265
Her blazed fame, which all the world had fil’d,
Came downe to prove the truth, and due reward
For her prais-worthie workmanship to yeild:
But the presumptuous damzel rashly dar’d
The goddesse selfe to chalenge to the field, 270
And to compare with her in curious skill
Of workes with loome, with needle, and with quill.

Minerva did the chalenge not refuse,
But deign’d with her the paragon* to make:
So to their worke they sit, and each doth chuse 275
What storie she will for her tapet** take.
Arachne figur’d how love did abuse
Europa like a bull, and on his backe
Her through the sea did beare; so [email protected] seene,
That it true sea and true bull ye would weene. 280
[* Paragon, comparison.]
[** Tapet, tapestry.]
[@ Lively, life-like.]

Shee seem’d still backe unto the land to looke,
And her play-fellowes aide to call, and feare
The dashing of the waves, that up she tooke
Her daintie feete, and garments gathered neare:
But Lord! how she in everie member shooke, 285
When as the land she saw no more appeare,
But a wilde wildernes of waters deepe:
Then gan she greatly to lament and weepe.

Before the bull she pictur’d winged Love,
With his yong brother Sport, light fluttering 290
Upon the waves, as each had been a dove;
The one his bowe and shafts, the other spring*
A burning teade** about his head did move,
As in their syres new love both triumphing;
And manie Nymphes about them flocking round, 295
And manie Tritons which their homes did sound.
[* Spring, springal, youth.]
[** Teade, torch.]

And round about her-worke she did empale*
With a faire border wrought of sundrie flowres,
Enwoven with an yviewinding trayle:
A goodly worke, full fit for kingly bowres, 300
Such as Dame Pallas, such as Envie pale,
That al good things with venemous tooth devowres,
Could not accuse. Then gan the goddesse bright
Her selfe likewise unto her worke to dight.
[* Empale, inclose.]

She made the storie of the olde debate 305
Which she with Neptune did for Athens trie:
Twelve gods doo sit around in royall state,
And love in midst with awfull maiestie,
To iudge the strife betweene them stirred late:
Each of the gods by his like visnomie* 310
Eathe** to be knowen; but love above them all,
By his great lookes and power imperiall.
[* Visnomie, countenance.]
[** Eathe, easy.]

Before them stands the god of seas in place,
Clayming that sea-coast citie as his right,
And strikes the rockes with his three-forked mace;
Whenceforth issues a warlike steed in sight, 316
The signe by which he chalengeth the place;
That all the gods which saw his wondrous might
Did surely deeme the victorie his due:
But seldom seene, foreiudgement proveth true. 320

Then to herselfe she gives her Aegide shield,
And steel-hed speare, and morion * on her hedd,
Such as she oft is seene in warlicke field:
Then sets she forth, how with her weapon dredd
She smote the ground, the which streight foorth did yield 325
A fruitfull olyve tree, with berries spredd,
That all the gods admir’d; then all the storie
She compast with a wreathe of olyves hoarie.
[* Morion, steel cap.]

Emongst those leaves she made a butterflie,
With excellent device and wondrous slight, 330
Fluttring among the olives wantonly,
That seem’d to live, so like it was in sight:
The velvet nap which on his wings doth lie,
The silken downe with which his backe is dight,
His broad outstretched homes, his hayrie thies, 335
His glorious colours, and his glistering eies.

Which when Arachne saw, as overlaid *
And mastered with workmanship so rare,
She stood astonied long, ne ought gainesaid;
And with fast fixed eyes on her did stare, 340
And by her silence, signe of one dismaid,
The victorie did yeeld her as her share;
Yet did she inly fret and felly burne,
And all her blood to poysonous rancor turne:
[* Overlaid, overcome.]

That shortly from the shape of womanhed, 345
Such as she was when Pallas she attempted,
She grew to hideous shape of dryrihed*,
Pined with griefe of follie late repented:
Eftsoones her white streight legs were altered
To crooked crawling shankes, of marrowe empted, 350
And her faire face to foule and loathsome hewe,
And her fine corpes to a bag of venim grewe.
[* Dryrihed, sadness, unsightliness.]

This cursed creature, mindfull of that olde
Enfestred grudge the which his mother felt,
So soone as Clarion he did beholde, 355
His heart with vengefull malice inly swelt;
And weaving straight a net with mame a folde
About the cave in which he lurking dwelt,
With fine small cords about it stretched wide,
So finely sponne that scarce they could be spide, 360

Not anie damzell which her vaunteth most
In skilfull knitting of soft silken twyne,
Nor anie weaver, which his worke doth boast
In dieper, in damaske, or in lyne*,
Nor anie skil’d in workmanship embost, 365
Nor anie skil’d in loupes of fingring fine,
Might in their divers cunning ever dare
With this so curious networks to compare.
[* Lyne, linen.]

Ne doo I thinke that that same subtil gin
The which the Lemnian god framde craftilie, 370
Mars sleeping with his wife to compasse in,
That all the gods with common mockerie
Might laugh at them, and scorne their shamefull sin,
Was like to this. This same he did applie
For to entrap the careles Clarion, 375
That rang’d each where without suspition.

Suspition of friend, nor feare of foe,
That hazarded his health, had he at all,
But walkt at will, and wandred too and fro,
In the pride of his freedome principall*: 380
Litle wist he his fatall future woe,
But was secure; the liker he to fall.
He likest is to fall into mischaunce,
That is regardles of his governaunce.
[* Principall, princely.]

Yet still Aragnoll (so his foe was hight) 385
Lay lurking covertly him to surprise;
And all his gins, that him entangle might,
Drest in good order as he could devise.
At length the foolish flie, without foresight,
As he that did all daunger quite despise, 390
Toward those parts came flying careleslie,
Where hidden was his hatefull enemie.

Who, seeing him, with secret ioy therefore
Did tickle inwardly in everie vaine;
And his false hart, fraught with all treasons store, 395
Was fil’d with hope his purpose to obtaine:
Himselfe he close upgathered more and more
Into his den, that his deceiptfull traine
By his there being might not be bewraid,
Ne anie noyse, ne anie motion made. 400

Like as a wily foxe, that, having spide
Where on a sunnie banke the lambes doo play,
Full closely creeping by the hinder side,
Lyes in ambushment of his hoped pray,
Ne stirreth limbe, till, seeing readie tide*, 405
He rusheth forth, and snatcheth quite away
One of the litle yonglings unawares;
So to his worke Aragnoll him prepares.
[* Tide, time.]

Who now shall give unto my heavie eyes
A well of teares, that all may overflow? 410
Or where shall I finde lamentable cryes,
And mournfull tunes enough my griefe to show?
Helpe, O thou Tragick Muse, me to devise
Notes sad enough, t’expresse this bitter throw:
For loe, the drerie stownd* is now arrived, 415
That of all happines hath us deprived.
[* Stownd, hour.]

The luckles Clarion, whether cruell Fate
Or wicked Fortune faultles him misled,
Or some ungracious blast out of the gate
Of Aeoles raine* perforce him drove on hed**, 420
Was (O sad hap and howre unfortunate!)
With violent swift flight forth caried
Into the cursed cobweb, which his foe
Had framed for his finall overthroe.
[* Raine, kingdom.]
[** On hed, head-foremost.]

There the fond flie, entangled, strugled long, 425
Himselfe to free thereout; but all in vaine.
For, striving more, the more in laces strong
Himselfe he tide, and wrapt his winges twaine
In lymie snares the subtill loupes among;
That in the ende he breathelesse did remaine, 430
And, all his yongthly* forces idly spent,
Him to the mercie of th’avenger lent.
[* Yongthly, youthful.]

Which when the greisly tyrant did espie,
Like a grimme lyon rushing with fierce might
Out of his den, he seized greedelie 435
On the resistles pray, and, with fell spight,
Under the left wing stroke his weapon slie
Into his heart, that his deepe-groning spright
In bloodie streames foorth fled into the aire,
His bodie left the spectacle of care. 440


Ver. 365.–And Arte, with her contendlng. Compare the description of Aerasia’s garden, Faerie Queene, II. xii. 59; and also v. 29. TODD.

Ver. 273.–Minerva did, etc. Much of what follows is taken from the fable of Arachne in Ovid. JORTIN.