The Purple Island

Original Text: 
Phineas Fletcher, The Purple Island; or, TheIsle of Man (Cambridge: Printers to the University of Cambridge, 1633).PR 2274 P7 1633A Robarts Library
1.205Receivers of the customary rent;
1.206On each side four (the foremost of the band)
1.207Whose office to divide what in is sent;
1.208    Straight other four break it in pieces small;
1.209    And at each hand twice five, which, grinding all,
1.210Fit it for convoy, and this city's arsenal.
1.212Delivers all unto near officers,
1.213Of nature like himself and like agility;
1.214At each side four, that are the governors
1.215    To see the vict'als shipped at fittest tide;
1.216    Which straight from thence with prosp'rous channel slide
1.217And in Koilia's port with nimble oars glide.
1.219Opens itself to all that entrance seek;
1.220Yet if aught back would turn and thence depart,
1.221With thousand wrinkles shuts the ready creek;
1.222    But when the rent is slack, it rages rife,
1.223    And mut'nies in itself with civil strife:
1.227Common to all; therefore in middle space
1.228Is quarter'd fit, in just proportion;
1.229    Whence never from his labour he retires;
1.230    No rest he asks, or better change requires;
1.231Both night and day he works, ne'er sleeps, nor sleep desires.
1.232That heat which in his furnace ever fumeth,
1.233Is nothing like to our hot parching fire,
1.234Which, all consuming, self at length consumeth,
1.235But moist'ning flames a gentle heat inspire,
1.236    Which sure some inborn neighbour to him lendeth;
1.237    And oft the bord'ring coast fit fuel sendeth,
1.238And oft the rising fume, which down again descendeth.
1.239Like to a pot, which under-hovering
1.240Divided flames, the iron sides entwining,
1.241Above is stopp'd with close-laid covering,
1.242Exhaling fumes to narrow straits confining;
1.243    So doubling heat his duty doubly speedeth;
1.244    Such is the fire Concoction's vessel needeth,
1.245Who daily all the isle with fit provision feedeth.
2.2Of blazing air, upon the flow'ry banks,
2.4And all the grove perfume) in wonted ranks
2.5    Securely sit them down, and sweetly play:
2.6    At length thus Thirsil ends his broken lay,
2.7Lest that the stealing night his later song might stay.
2.8Thrice, O thrice happy shepherd's life and state,
2.10His cottage low and safely humble gate
2.11Shuts out proud Fortune and her scorns and fawns.
2.12    No feared treason breaks his quiet sleep;
2.13    Singing all day, his flocks he learns to keep,
2.14Himself as innocent as are his simple sheep.
2.16Draw out their silken lives; nor silken pride.
2.17His lambs' warm fleece well fits his little need,
2.19    No empty hopes, no courtly fears him fright,
2.20    No begging wants his middle fortune bite,
2.21But sweet content exiles both misery and spite.
2.22Instead of music and base flattering tongues,
2.23Which wait to first salute my lord's uprise,
2.24The cheerful lark wakes him with early songs,
2.25And birds' sweet whistling notes unlock his eyes.
2.26    In country plays is all the strife he uses,
2.27    Or song or dance unto the rural Muses;
2.29His certain life, that never can deceive him,
2.30Is full of thousand sweets and rich content.
2.31The smooth-leav'd beeches in the field receive him
2.32With coolest shades, till noon-tide's rage is spent.
2.33    His life is neither toss'd in boist'rous seas
2.34    Of troublous world, nor lost in slothful ease.
2.35Pleas'd and full blest he lives, when he his God can please.
2.36His bed of wool yields safe and quiet sleeps,
2.37While by his side his faithful spouse hath place.
2.38His little son into his bosom creeps,
2.39The lively picture of his father's face.
2.40    Never his humble house or state torment him;
2.41    Less he could like, if less his God had sent him;
2.42And when he dies, green turfs, with grassy tomb, content him.


1.204] "The Purple Island. (Or, The Isle of Man)," an allegorical poem in twelve cantos first published in 1633, describing the body and mind of man, and the conflict for his soul between the powers of good and evil. The body is described under the form of an island, its rivers, caves, and mountains (Cantos I-IV), the mind, by an account of the island's governor and his counsellors (Canto VI), and the contest for the soul, by an allegorical siege, led by the World, the Flesh, and the Devil with their trains (Cantos VII-XII). The influence of Spenser's Faerie Queene is obvious throughout. The "Isle of Man" is called purple because it was formed by the Creator out of purple dust taken from the new-born earth.
In Canto II, after outlining the three provinces of the island, the head, the breast, and the abdomen, the poet proceeds to describe the "six goodly cities" of the latter region, with their dependencies. The first city is Koilia, or the stomach, which is supplied by a steward, Gustus, dwelling in a cave (the mouth) at the foot of Mount Cephal (the head).
twice sixteen porters. "In either chap are sixteen teeth; four cutters, two dog-teeth, or breakers, ten grinders." (Fletcher's note). Back to Line
1.211] groom. "The tongue with great agilitie delivers up the meat (well-chewed) to the instruments of swallowing: eight muscles serving to this purpose which instantly send the meat through the Oesophagus or meat-pipe into the stomack." (ibid.) Back to Line
1.218] haven, "The upper mouth of the stomack hath little veins, or strings circular, to shut in the meat, and keep it from returning." (ibid.) Back to Line
1.224] a little groom. "Vas breve, or the short vessel, which sending in a melancholy humour, sharpens the appetite." (ibid.) Back to Line
1.225] "In the bottome of the stomack (which is placed in the midst of the belly) is concoction perfected." (ibid.) Back to Line
1.226] Concoction. Digestion. Back to Line
2.1] These lines are part of the pastoral framework of the poem. The whole account of the Purple Island is supposed to be sung by the shepherd Thirsil to a group of swains, who, while their sheep are feeding, assemble to listen to their fellow's song. The narrative is extended over several days, and each canto is introduced by a brief description of the occasion--morning, noon, or evening--of the shepherds' meeting. Back to Line
2.3] damask. Silk woven with a floral pattern. The noun is here used as a verb. Back to Line
2.9] When courts are the unhappy pledges (i.e. securities) of happiness, i.e. Kings secure the happiness of peasants at the expense of their own. Back to Line
2.15] Serian. Chinese (Lat. sericus). Back to Line
2.18] Sidonian tincture. Tyrian purple, a precious dye, once obtained from Tyre and Sidon in Phoenicia. Back to Line
2.28] but. Except. An allusion to the singing matches commonly found in pastoral poetry. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP.1.293; RPO 1996-2000.