sea-shouldring whales


But th’heedfull Boateman strongly forth did stretch
His brawnie armes, and all his body straine,
That th’vtmost sandy breach they shortly fetch,
Whiles the dred daunger does behind remaine.
Suddeine they see from midst of all the Maine,
The surging waters like a mountaine rise,
And the great sea puft vp with proud disdaine,
To swell aboue the measure of his guise,
As threatning to deuoure all, that his powre despise.

The waues come rolling, and the billowes rore
Outragiously, as they enraged were,
Or wrathfull Neptune did them driue before
His whirling charet, for exceeding feare:
For not one puffe of wind there did appeare,
That all the three thereat woxe much afrayd,
Vnweeting, what such horrour straunge did reare.
Eftsoones they saw an hideous hoast arrayd,
Of huge Sea monsters, such as liuing sence dismayd.

Most vgly shapes, and horrible aspects,
Such as Dame Nature selfe mote feare to see,
Or shame, that euer should so fowle defects
From her most cunning hand escaped bee;
All dreadfull pourtraicts of deformitee:
Spring-headed Hydraes, and SEA-SHOULDRING WHALES,
Great whirlpooles, which all fishes make to flee,
Bright Scolopendraes, arm’d with siluer scales,
Mighty Monoceroses, with immeasured tayles.

— Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene: Book II, Canto xii


It was an image, which, figuratively speaking (according to my former professor Aileen Ward’s magnificent biography), overpowered the future poet John  Keats in his late teens when he began to read avidly.

I took an English course in college (in which I somehow got the grade of B) — Literature of Transition: Classic to Romantic — in which we read The Faerie Queene. I could not get into Spenser and did not appreciate The Faerie Queene.

What a magnificent image. A man shoulders his way through a crowd, brushing aside others in his way. The whale swims the ocean, shouldering aside the waves.

– posted by Roger w. Smith

   June 2022

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