The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

January. Colin, forlorn and rejected by his beloved Rosalind, compares his mood with the wintry landscape:

Thou barrein ground, whome winters wrath hath wasted,Art made a mirror to behold my plight:Whilome thy fresh spring flowrd, and after hastedThy summer proud with daffadillies dight,And now is come thy winters stormy state,Thy mantle marred wherein thou maskedst late.

At the end of this poem, Colin breaks his shepherd’s pipes and resolves to write no more poetry.

February. An impudent young shepherd, Cuddie, complains of the wintry blasts to the elderly Thenot, and he scorns the old man’s philosophical view that one must learn to endure the long succession of misfortunes that this world brings and be concerned only with the safety of the flock. Tired of Cuddie’s rudeness, Thenot tells the fable of an old oak and a proud briar bush. The briar persuades a farmer to cut down the tree to show off its own beauty. All is well until winter comes; the briar then dies without the protection of the oak against wind and frost. Cuddie is unmoved by this parable of youth and age and breaks it off abruptly.

March. Two young shepherds welcome spring as a time for love. They describe Thomalin’s encounter with Cupid. Thomalin tells a friend how, while he was hunting on one shepherds’ holiday, he heard a rustling in the bushes:

With that sprung forth a naked swainWith spotted wings like peacock’s train,And laughing lope to a tree,His gylden quiver at his back,And silver bow, which was but slack,Which lightly he bent at me.

April. Thenot finds Hobbinol grieving over the sorrows of his friend Colin Clout and mourning that Colin’s unrequited love deprived all the shepherds of his poems. Thenot asks Hobbinol to recite one of Colin’s verses to while away the hours as their flocks graze, and he complies with an ode on “Fair Elisa, queen of shepherds all.” Colin calls upon the muses, the graces, the sun, and the moon as he begins his praise of the daughter of Pan, the shepherds’ god, and Syrinx. Then Colin describes Elisa’s beauty:

See, where she sits upon the grassie green, (O seemly sight!)Yclad in scarlet, like a maiden queen And ermines white.Upon her head a cremosin coronet,With damask leaves and daffadillies...

(The entire section is 1233 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

MacCaffrey, Isabel. “Allegory and Pastoral in The Shepheardes Calender.” ELH 36, no. 1 (March, 1969): 88-109. Insightful discussion of how Spenser integrates the mode of allegory into the pastoral genre. Offers a sensible working definition of allegory.

Miller, David L. “Authorship, Anonymity, and The Shepheardes Calender.” Modern Language Quarterly 40, no. 3 (September, 1979): 219-236. An early poststructuralist analysis of the poem and its ambitions. Argues that Spenser deliberately created a poem that would stake his claim as a major poet.

Nelson, William. The Poetry of Edmund Spenser: A Study. New York: Columbia University Press, 1963. A concise, insightful introduction to the poem and its place in Spenser’s career and in English literary history.

Sacks, Peter J. The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre from Spenser to Yeats. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985. Excellent analysis of Spenser’s use of the elegy form in the context of the elegiac tradition in English poetry. Discusses the genre as a literary expression of the psychology of grief and consolation.