The service which Spenser
did to our literature by this exquisite sense of harmony is incalculable.
His fine ear, abhorrent of barbarous dissonance, his dainty tongue that loves to prolong the relish of a musical phrase, made possible the transition from the cast-iron stiffness of ‘Ferrex and Porrex’ to the Damascus pliancy of Fletcher
It was he that
Taught the dumb on high to sing,
And heavy ignorance aloft to fly:
That added feathers to the learned's wing,
And gave to grace a double majesty.
I do not mean that in the ‘Shepherd
's Calendar’ he had already achieved that transmutation of language and metre by which he was afterwards to endow English verse with the most varied and majestic of stanzas, in which the droning old alexandrine, awakened for the first time to a feeling of the poetry that was in him, was to wonder, like M. Jourdain
, that he had been talking prose all his life,—but already he gave clear indications of the tendency and premonitions of the power which were to carry it forward to ultimate perfection.
A harmony and alacrity of language like this were unexampled in English verse:—
Ye dainty nymphs, that in this blessed brook
Do bathe your breast,
Forsake your watery bowers and hither look
At my request. . . . .
And eke you virgins that on Parnass dwell,
Whence floweth Helicon, the learned well,
Help me to blaze
Her worthy praise,
Which in her sex doth all excel.
Here we have the natural gait of the measure, somewhat formal and slow, as befits an invocation; and now mark how the same feet shall be made to quicken their pace at the bidding of the tune:—