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Time, Change, and the Uses of the Imagination in Edmund Spenser’s Last Major Poems


The aim of this study is to examine Spenser’s last major poems— Prothalamion, Fowre Hymnes, and Mutability Cantos-—to show that though they differ greatly from one another, they all, like the second half of the Faerie Queen, share a retrospective quality, looking back on the earlier poetry from the perspective of middle age. They deal in various ways with time, change, and the uses of the imagination, where in each, the speaker works through a sequence of imaginings toward a more comprehensive, if not to a final, vision. Fowre Hymnes was published in 1596 with a reprint of Daphna Ida. In the dedication to the Countesses of Cumberland and Warwick, Spenser asserts that he wrote the first two in honor of earthly love and beauty in the “greener times of [his] youth,” but finding “that the same loo much pleased those of like age and disposition, which being too vehemently carried with that kind of affection, do rather suck out poison to their strong passion, than honey to their honest delight, I was moved by the one of you two most excellent Ladies, to call in the same” (YESP 690). Since too many copies of these hymns had got abroad for them to be recalled, he “resolved at least to amend, and by way of retractation to reform them” with two hymns of heavenly love and beauty The dedication thus, as William Oram reflects in “Introduction: Spenser’s Para texts,” gives the four poems a biographical structure (xxi): the first two are the work of youth, while the second pair embody the second thoughts—the revision—of wiser age. It raises questions of biography (how accurate is this account of their genesis?) and of meaning (how are the first hymns opposed to the later ones?).

Keywords: Change, Imagination, Time, edmund spenser

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