Edmund Spenser (c. 1552 - January 13, 1599) was an English poet, and a contemporary of William Shakespeare.
The first poem to earn him notability was a collection of eclogues called The Shepheardes Calender , written from the point of view of various shepherds throughout the months of the year. It has been suggested that the poem is an allegory, or at least is meant to symbolize the state of humanity at large in a universal sense, as implied by the its cyclical structure. The diversity of forms and meters, ranging from accentual-syllabic to purely accentual, and including such departures as the sestina in "August," gave Spenser's contemporaries a clue to the range of his powers and won him a good deal of praise in his day.
The Faerie Queene is his major contribution to English poetry. It is mostly a poem seeking (successfully) the favour of Queen Elizabeth I. The poem is a long allegory of Christian virtues, tied into England's mythology of King Arthur. In form, the poem is an epic.
The language of his poetry is purposely antique. As such, it is supposed to remind readers of such earlier works as The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer, whom Spenser greatly admired. It also says much about Spenser's attitude towards the degeneration of the world in time and the moral superiority of England's past compared with its present time. It should be noted, however, that Spenser's language seems much more antique to us than it did to the Elizabethans, for whom standardization was not yet in strict practice.
Faerie Queene. Book v. Proem. St. 3.
Let none then blame me, if in discipline
Of vertue and of civill uses lore,
I doe not forme them to the common line
Of present dayes, which are corrupted sore,
But to the antique use which was of yore,
When good was onely for it selfe desyred,
And all men sought their owne, and none no more;
When Justice was not for most meed out-hyred,
But simple Truth did rayne, and was of all admyred.
Spenser's Epithalamion is the most admired of its type in the English language. It was written on the occasion of his wedding to his young bride, Elizabeth Boyle.
Spenser's effort to match the epic proportions of the Aeneid earned his place in English literature. He devised a verse form for The Faerie Queene that has come to be known as the "Spenserian stanza," and which has since been applied in poetry by the likes of William Wordsworth, John Keats and Alfred Lord Tennyson, to name a few.
The number of english poets influencced by Spenser are manifest, but he is often overshadowed by his immediate succesor, William Shakespeare. For a revitalizing look at Spenser, look to Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae.
Two poets who became influenced by Edmund Spenser were John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, and John Keats.
Faerie Queene. Book iii. Canto xi. St. 54.
And as she lookt about, she did behold,
How over that same dore was likewise writ,
Be bold, be bold, and every where Be bold,
That much she muz'd, yet could not construe it
By any ridling skill, or commune wit.
At last she spyde at that roomes upper end,
Another yron dore, on which was writ,
Be not too bold; whereto though she did bend
Her earnest mind, yet wist not what it might intend.
Spenser in Ireland
Edmund Spenser came to Ireland in the 1570s, during the Elizabethan re-conquest of the country, hoping to acquire land and wealth there. From 1579 to 1580, he served with the English forces during the second of the Desmond Rebellions, and afterwards was awarded lands in Cork that had been confiscated from the rebels. In the early 1590s he wrote a prose pamphlet titled, A View on the Present State of Ireland. This piece has become very influential and famous since it was published in the mid seventeenth century, although it was not published in Spenser's lifetime, being thought too inflamatory. The pamphlet argued that Ireland would never be totally pacified until its indigenous language and customs had been utterly destroyed, if necessary by violence. He recommended using scorched earth tactics which Spenser himself had seen used in the Desmond Rebellions, to create famine. For this reason, some people see the "View" as bordering on genocidal in intent. However it has also been highly regarded as a polemical piece of prose and as a historical source on 16th century Ireland. Ironically, Spenser was driven from his home by Irish rebels during the Nine Years War in 1598. He died the following year.