Creation of an epic – 5

Reading The Fairie Queene turned out to be an adventure and enjoyment.  I was at last mature enough to appreciate the artistry of the poetry and the nature of the characters who, despite being allegorical, representing the virtues and the vices, were through their descriptions interesting in themselves.

Then I read his biography.  And the universe shifted a little.  Spenser spent most of his professional life in Ireland, where he saw first-hand the conflict between the native Irish and colonial English.  It seemed both logical and intriguing that he worked out his epic poem in this conflicted setting.

But then a revelation hit me.  This poet, singing with the tongue of an angel as he wrote his epic textbook for the right conduct of Elizabethan courtiers, simultaneously wrote a treatise essentially advocating the genocide of the Irish by starvation to force final submission to England. I was stunned.  How could this great poet simultaneously hold in his mind the great virtues and the ultimate sin?

It has taken me over a quarter of a century to deal with this paradox.

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