Vision Upon The Fairy Queen Analysis

Krapp, George Philip. The Paris Psalter and the Meters of Boethius. New York: Columbia University Press, 1932. Monnin, Pierre Eric. "Poetic Improvements in the Old English Meters of Boethius." English Studies 60 (1979): 346-360.

William H. Smith


When Edmund Spenser's great epic poem, The Faerie Queene, first appeared in print in 1590, seven short commendatory poems followed at the end. The adventurer, courtier, soldier, and poet Sir Walter Raleigh wrote the first two of these poems, which praise Spenser and his literary achievement. The first one, beginning "Methought I saw the grave, where Laura lay," is considered by many critics to be among the best lyric poems of the Elizabethan era, particularly due to its vividly dramatic content, Raleigh's accomplished use of the fashionable SONNET form, and the relationship it suggests between his poem and Spenser's epic on which it comments, as well as between the two authors themselves. To encounter such a memorable poem is unusual in this context; commendatory verses were typically artless "blurbs" by like-minded poets or acquaintances who hoped to benefit from a little flattery.

The position of all seven poems is also unusual: Often preceding the main work to act as a preview or even advertisement, the verse commendations in the case of The Faerie Queene become a kind of epilogue. This placement may simply reflect their late arrival at the printer, or they may have been consciously intended to create an impression-forming, sympathetic first reception of Spenser's ambitious poem. In this context, Raleigh offers in his sonnet the first literary criticism on Spenser's epic.

"Methought I saw" is specifically an English sonnet, with its three quatrains followed by a concluding couplet. The speaker begins by describing a vision he or she has received of the grave of Laura, the idealized, unobtainable subject of Petrarch's poems. Whereas the real Laura purportedly died in Avignon, Raleigh imagines her grave within the Temple of Vesta, in the Roman Forum (ll. 1-3). The first quatrain ends with a statement of purpose: The speaker has passed by her grave to see "that buried dust of living fame" (l. 4). The motivation initially seems positive: Petrarch has immortalized Laura in his poetry, despite her physical death. Yet the very presence of Laura's "dust" compromises that fame: Petrarch ultimately can commemorate, but not save, her. The "buried" dust refers to Laura entombed, but more figuratively it foreshadows the death of her "living fame," subtly personified here. Raleigh also personifies "faire love" and "fairer vertue" (l. 5). These "graces" maintain Laura's grave, even as vestal virgins once kept the sacred fire of Rome continuously lit in Vesta's temple. The climax of the narration occurs next: "All suddeinly I saw the Faery Queene" (l. 6). This revelation constitutes the central action of Raleigh's vision.

The sonnet's formal title is "A Vision upon the Con-ceipt of the Faery Queene." For years, Raleigh's editors did not preserve the title's italics, but this change causes a significant shift in emphasis. The original title clearly speaks of Spenser's epic poem, though in Raleigh's sonnet itself the phrase appears without italics, suggesting instead the character the Faerie Queene. Spenser further complicates the matter in a "Letter to Raleigh," printed just before the sonnet. There he explains how the character of the Faery Queene represents glory generally and Queen Elizabeth I in particular. In this way Spenser honors by imitation Raleigh's court poetry, which allowed for effusive praise of the queen. Raleigh, in turn, employs these multiple identi

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