The Faerie Queene

by Edmund Spenser
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"Hard Is To Teach An Old Horse Amble True"

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 281

Context: Florimell, beset by a villainous forester in the woods, escapes his clutches and flees, eventually taking refuge in the hut of a witch and her loutish son. The son becomes enamored of Florimell, who decides to fly before his love becomes too violent for her to control. She therefore decamps early one morning. The witch, upon discovering her departure, sets on her trail a savage beast much like a hyena; the beast pursues her until her horse falls from weariness on the seashore. Florimell had thought to drown herself in the sea to escape being devoured by the beast, but finding a small boat occupied by an old sleeping fisherman drawn up on the shore, she enters it and poles her way out into the water. The beast does not follow; instead, it eviscerates her horse. Florimell's movement of the boat wakes the old fisherman, who at first is dazed by her beauty. The old man finally becomes fully awake and leers horribly at Florimell; although aged, he begins to feel the stirrings of foul lust. He leaps at her, but she scornfully repulses his madness. He, however, pays scant attention to her rebuff. Today we say: You can't teach an old dog new tricks.

But he, that neuer good nor maners knew,
Her sharpe rebuke full litle did esteeme;
Hard is to teach an old horse amble trew.
The inward smoke, that did before but steeme,
Broke into open fire and rage extreme;
And now he strength gan adde vnto his will,
Forcing to doe, that did him fowle misseeme:
Beastly he threw her downe, ne cared to spill
Her garments gay with scales of fish, that all did fill.

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