An Hymn In Honour Of Beauty

Original Text: 
Edmund Spenser, Fowre Hymnes (London: [R. Field] for W. Ponsonby, 1596). STC 23086. Facs.Edn. (New York: Da Capo Press, 1971). PR 2360 F6 1971
2What wontless fury dost thou now inspire
3Into my feeble breast, too full of thee?
4Whilst seeking to aslake thy raging fire,
5Thou in me kindlest much more great desire,
6And up aloft above my strength dost raise
7The wondrous matter of my fire to praise.
9So now in honour of thy mother dear,
10An honourable hymn I eke should frame,
11And with the brightness of her beauty clear,
12The ravish'd hearts of gazeful men might rear
13To admiration of that heavenly light,
14From whence proceeds such soul-enchanting might.
15Thereto do thou, great goddess, queen of beauty,
16Mother of love, and of all world's delight,
17Without whose sovereign grace and kindly duty
18Nothing on earth seems fair to fleshly sight,
19Do thou vouchsafe with thy love-kindling light
20T' illuminate my dim and dulled eyne,
21And beautify this sacred hymn of thine:
22That both to thee, to whom I mean it most,
23And eke to her, whose fair immortal beam
25That now it wasted is with woes extreme,
26It may so please, that she at length will stream
27Some dew of grace into my withered heart,
28After long sorrow and consuming smart.
29WHAT time this world's great Workmaster did cast
30To make all things such as we now behold,
31It seems that he before his eyes had plac'd
32A goodly pattern, to whose perfect mould
33He fashion'd them as comely as he could;
34That now so fair and seemly they appear,
35As nought may be amended anywhere.
36That wondrous pattern, wheresoe'er it be,
37Whether in earth laid up in secret store,
38Or else in heaven, that no man may it see
40Is perfect Beauty, which all men adore;
41Whose face and feature doth so much excel
42All mortal sense, that none the same may tell.
43Thereof as every earthly thing partakes
44Or more or less, by influence divine,
45So it more fair accordingly it makes,
46And the gross matter of this earthly mine,
48Doing away the dross which dims the light
50For, through infusion of celestial power,
51The duller earth it quick'neth with delight,
52And lifeful spirits privily doth pour
53Through all the parts, that to the looker's sight
54They seem to please. That is thy sovereign might,
55O Cyprian queen, which flowing from the beam
56Of thy bright star, thou into them dost stream.
57That is the thing which giveth pleasant grace
58To all things fair, that kindleth lively fire,
59Light of thy lamp, which, shining in the face,
60Thence to the soul darts amorous desire,
61And robs the hearts of those which it admire;
62Therewith thou pointest thy son's poison'd arrow,
63That wounds the life, and wastes the inmost marrow.
64How vainly then do idle wits invent,
65That beauty is nought else but mixture made
67Of pure complexions, that shall quickly fade
68And pass away, like to a summer's shade;
69Or that it is but comely composition
70Of parts well measur'd, with meet disposition.
71Hath white and red in it such wondrous power,
72That it can pierce through th' eyes unto the heart,
74As nought but death can stint his dolour's smart?
75Or can proportion of the outward part
76Move such affection in the inward mind,
77That it can rob both sense and reason blind?
78Why do not then the blossoms of the field,
79Which are array'd with much more orient hue,
80And to the sense most dainty odours yield,
81Work like impression in the looker's view?
82Or why do not fair pictures like power shew,
83In which oft-times we nature see of art
85But ah, believe me, there is more than so,
86That works such wonders in the minds of men;
87I, that have often prov'd, too well it know,
88And whoso list the like assays to ken,
89Shall find by trial, and confess it then,
90That beauty is not, as fond men misdeem,
91An outward shew of things, that only seem.
92For that same goodly hue of white and red,
93With which the cheeks are sprinkled, shall decay,
94And those sweet rosy leaves, so fairly spread
95Upon the lips, shall fade and fall away
96To that they were, even to corrupted clay;
97That golden wire, those sparkling stars so bright,
98Shall turn to dust; and lose their goodly light.
99But that fair lamp, from whose celestial ray
100That light proceeds, which kindleth lovers' fire,
101Shall never be extinguish'd nor decay;
102But when the vital spirits do expire,
103Unto her native planet shall retire;
104For it is heavenly born and cannot die,
106For when the soul, the which derived was,
107At first, out of that great immortal Spright,
109Down from the top of purest heaven's height
110To be embodied here, it then took light
111And lively spirits from that fairest star,
112Which lights the world forth from his fiery car.
113Which power retaining still or more or less,
115Through every part she doth the same impress,
116According as the heavens have her graced,
117And frames her house, in which she will be placed,
118Fit for herself, adorning it with spoil
119Of th' heavenly riches which she robb'd erewhile.
120Thereof it comes that these fair souls, which have
121The most resemblance of that heavenly light,
122Frame to themselves most beautiful and brave
123Their fleshly bower, most fit for their delight,
124And the gross matter by a sovereign might
125Tempers so trim, that it may well be seen
126A palace fit for such a virgin queen.
127So every spirit, as it is most pure,
128And hath in it the more of heavenly light,
129So it the fairer body doth procure
130To habit in, and it more fairly dight
131With cheerful grace and amiable sight.
132For of the soul the body form doth take:
133For soul is form, and doth the body make.
134Therefore wherever that thou dost behold
136Know this for certain, that the same doth hold
138Fit to receive the seed of virtue strewed.
139For all that fair is, is by nature good;
140That is a sign to know the gentle blood.
141Yet oft it falls that many a gentle mind
142Dwells in deformed tabernacle drown'd,
144Or through unaptness in the substance found,
145Which it assumed of some stubborn ground,
146That will not yield unto her form's direction,
147But is deform'd with some foul imperfection.
148And oft it falls, (ay me, the more to rue)
149That goodly beauty, albe heavenly born,
150Is foul abus'd, and that celestial hue,
151Which doth the world with her delight adorn,
152Made but the bait of sin, and sinners' scorn,
153Whilst every one doth seek and sue to have it,
154But every one doth seek but to deprave it.
155Yet nathëmore is that fair beauty's blame,
156But theirs that do abuse it unto ill:
157Nothing so good, but that through guilty shame
158May be corrupt, and wrested unto will:
159Natheless the soul is fair and beauteous still,
160However flesh{"e}s fault it filthy make;
161For things immortal no corruption take.
162But ye fair dames, the world's dear ornaments
163And lively images of heaven's light,
164Let not your beams with such disparagements
165Be dimm'd, and your bright glory dark'ned quite;
166But mindful still of your first country's sight,
167Do still preserve your first informed grace,
168Whose shadow yet shines in your beauteous face.
169Loathe that foul blot, that hellish firebrand,
170Disloyal lust, fair beauty's foulest blame,
172Commend to you by love's abused name,
173But is indeed the bondslave of defame;
174Which will the garland of your glory mar,
175And quench the light of your bright shining star.
176But gentle Love, that loyal is and true,
177Will more illumine your resplendent ray,
178And add more brightness to your goodly hue,
179From light of his pure fire; which, by like way
180Kindled of yours, your likeness doth display;
181Like as two mirrors, by oppos'd reflection,
182Do both express the face's first impression.
183Therefore, to make your beauty more appear,
184It you behoves to love, and forth to lay
185That heavenly riches which in you ye bear,
186That men the more admire their fountain may;
187For else what booteth that celestial ray,
188If it in darkness be enshrined ever,
189That it of loving eyes be viewed never?
190But, in your choice of loves, this well advise,
191That likest to yourselves ye them select,
192The which your forms' first source may sympathize,
193And with like beauty's parts be inly deckt;
194For, if you loosely love without respect,
195It is no love, but a discordant war,
196Whose unlike parts amongst themselves do jar.
197For love is a celestial harmony
199Which join together in sweet sympathy,
200To work each other's joy and true content,
201Which they have harbour'd since their first descent
202Out of their heavenly bowers, where they did see
203And know each other here belov'd to be.
204Then wrong it were that any other twain
205Should in love's gentle band combined be
206But those whom Heaven did at first ordain,
207And made out of one mould the more t' agree;
208For all that like the beauty which they see,
209Straight do not love; for love is not so light
210As straight to burn at first beholder's sight.
211But they, which love indeed, look otherwise,
212With pure regard and spotless true intent,
213Drawing out of the object of their eyes
214A more refined form, which they present
215Unto their mind, void of all blemishment;
216Which it reducing to her first perfection,
217Beholdeth free from flesh's frail infection.
218And then conforming it unto the light,
219Which in itself it hath remaining still,
220Of that first Sun, yet sparkling in his sight,
221Thereof he fashions in his higher skill
222An heavenly beauty to his fancy's will;
223And it embracing in his mind entire,
224The mirror of his own thought doth admire.
225Which seeing now so inly fair to be,
226As outward it appeareth to the eye,
227And with his spirit's proportion to agree,
229And fully setteth his felicity;
230Counting it fairer than it is indeed,
231And yet indeed her fairness doth exceed.
232For lovers' eyes more sharply sighted be
233Than other men's, and in dear love's delight
234See more than any other eyes can see,
235Through mutual receipt of beam{"e}s bright,
236Which carry privy message to the spright,
237And to their eyes that inmost fair display,
238As plain as light discovers dawning day.
239Therein they see, through amorous eye-glances,
240Armies of loves still flying to and fro,
241Which dart at them their little fiery lances;
242Whom having wounded, back again they go,
243Carrying compassion to their lovely foe;
244Who, seeing her fair eyes' so sharp effect,
245Cures all their sorrows with one sweet aspect.
246In which how many wonders do they rede
247To their conceit, that others never see,
248Now of her smiles, with which their souls they feed,
249Like gods with nectar in their banquets free;
250Now of her looks, which like to cordials be;
251But when her words' embássade forth she sends,
252Lord, how sweet music that unto them lends.
253Sometimes upon her forehead they behold
255Sometimes within her eyelids they unfold
257Do seem like twinkling stars in frosty night;
258But on her lips, like rosy buds in May,
259So many millions of chaste pleasures play.
260All those, O Cytherea, and thousands more
261Thy handmaids be, which do on thee attend,
262To deck thy beauty with their dainties' store,
263That may it more to mortal eyes commend,
264And make it more admir'd of foe and friend:
265That in men's hearts thou may'st thy throne install,
266And spread thy lovely kingdom over all.
268Advance the banner of thy conquest high,
269That all this world, the which thy vassals bene,
270May draw to thee, and with due fealty
271Adore the power of thy great majesty,
272Singing this hymn in honour of thy name,
273Compil'd by me, which thy poor liegeman am.
274In lieu whereof grant, O great sovereign,
275That she whose conquering beauty doth captive
276My trembling heart in her eternal chain,
277One drop of grace at length will to me give,
278That I her bounden thrall by her may live,
279And this same life, which first fro me she reaved,
280May owe to her, of whom I it received.
281And you, fair Venus' darling, my dear dread,
282Fresh flower of grace, great goddess of my life,
283When your fair eyes these fearful lines shall read,
284Deign to let fall one drop of due relief,
285That may recure my heart's long pining grief,
286And shew what wondrous power your beauty hath,
287That can restore a damned wight from death.


1] First published in 1596 in Fowre Hymnes, with the statement that it and the Hymn in Honour of Love were composed "in the greener time of youth". This and certain literary characteristics have led some scholars to place the poems in the years 1576-9, but other arguments have been adduced to show that they were written early in 1590. The two later complementary hymns are In Hymne of Heavenly Love, and An Hymne of Heavenly Beautie. This poem has been shown to be largely a paraphrase from the Discourse on Love of the Florentine Platonist, Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499). Back to Line
8] A reference to the Hymn in Honour of Love. Back to Line
24] ghost. Spirit. Back to Line
39] deflore. Deflower. Back to Line
47] thereafter. Accordingly. Back to Line
49] empight. Implanted. Back to Line
66] temperament of pure complexions. Combination of healthy burnouts. Medieval physiology assumed the existence of four humours, blood, phlegm, choler, and melancholy, on the proper combination or temperament of which depended a person's physical and mental qualities. The word "complexion", usually equivalent to "temperament", is here applied to the humours individually. Back to Line
73] stour. Conflict. Back to Line
84] limning. Portraying. Back to Line
105] parcel. Part. Back to Line
108] whilom. Of old. Back to Line
114] Eft enraced. Afterwards implanted. Back to Line
135] corpse. Body. Back to Line
137] with fair conditions thewed. Trained in good moral qualities. (O.E. þ{_e}aw, custom). Back to Line
143] kind. Nature. Back to Line
171] bland. Flatter. Back to Line
198] consent. See note on Epithalamion, 83. Back to Line
228] fantasy. Imagination. Back to Line
254] masking. Revelling. Back to Line
256] belgards. Loving looks. (Italian bel guardo). Back to Line
267] Iö, triumph. Latin Iö Triumphe, an exclamation used at Roman triumphs. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP 1.129.