"He That Strives To Touch The Stars, Oft Stumbles At A Straw"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The Shepheardes Calender was Spenser's first poetical work of any note; it is a series of unconnected pastoral idyls unified only by the device of giving each one the name of a month. The language is consciously archaic, imitative of Chaucer's work, although the spelling and the grammar often depart from strict Middle English usage. There is also a great deal of alliteration, which Chaucer avoids. The argument of the eclogue is conducted by Thomalin, a good shepherd, and Morrell, a proud and ambitious goatherd. Morrell tells Thomalin to ascend the mount upon which he is seated, but Thomalin replies that he has no desire to climb. Morrell thereupon recites the names of a number of saints and other holy men who have dwelt on mounts, but Thomalin still refuses to leave his accustomed ground. The eclogue probably was written to show the virtue of the Protestant clergy, represented by Thomalin, as contrasted with the proud Catholic divines, as represented by Morrell; Spenser himself was an ardent Protestant. Says the quoted proverb: The nearer to the church, the farther from God. When in the eclogue Morrell says that hills are nearer heaven than are the lowlands, Thomalin replies:

Syker, thou speakes lyke a lewde lorrell,
Of Heauen to demen so:
How be I am but rude and borrell,
Yet nearer wayes I knowe.
To Kerke the narre, from God more farre,
Has bene an old sayd sawe.
And he that striues to touch the starres,
Oft stombles at a strawe,
Alsoone may shepheard clyme to skye,
That leades in lowly dales,
As Goteherd prowd that sitting hye,
Vpon the Mountaine sayles.