The Faerie Queene

We are just about to wrap up discussions of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene.

I must mention here that whenever an epic poem appears on the horizon in my little homeschooling world, I start to feel a bit itchy and hope it gets sort of magically “covered” without too much suffering on my part.  And when it was The Odyssey , and I had to read it aloud to my pups, they all surprised the stuffing out of me by being all involved and explaining it back to me in such a way that I was able to fully comprehend what I had just read.  Whew!
Then it turned out they had been listening to Derek Jacobi reading The Odyssey since they were toddlers.  David would turn the cassette on when they all crawled into bed back in California when we had five kids sharing the one bedroom, and they would listen until they fell asleep.

Last year,  I read the Aeneid, and it was almost like that, only not quite as satisfying as it was the first go-round for Virgil at our house.  I was thinking at the time…”should have listened to this one on tape when they were younger….”

So now as we’re winding up   The Faerie Queene, I am completely persuaded that listening to these epic poems on audio-tape is the way to go.    The FQ is available free at Librivox, and I have been turning this on for a little while some mornings so I can hear somebody who knows what they are doing reading it better than I can.  And I can tell you that washing the breakfast dishes is  just way more satisfying if you’ve got a man with a perfect English accent reading Edmund Spenser, loudly in order to drown out the dish clatter.

If I had  played this as background noise in the car or the playroom a few years ago, I could have saved myself a pile of work today.
The kids would be teaching the poem to me now.
As it is though, all three boys heard the name of this poem and they  recoiled a bit because they expected  herds of feminine fairies.
Actually, Audrey and Helen also expected fairies.  And only Helen thought fairies might be a good idea.

But as they have discovered knights and monsters and evil shape changing villains, and lots of sneaky allusions to the Catholic church, my guys joined in with a bit more gusto.
They would have LOVED the story when they were smaller,

And if they were, today, completely familiar with the story,  we could just slap on some good explanations about meter, pastoral mode, characteristics of allegorical Renaissance poetry, and the Spenserian stanza….and we’d have this one nailed.

So, if you are reading this and you have small children, I am just saying:  Fine Literature on Audio is the way to go.  And it seems to be everywhere.

Spenser, Milton, Melville and Machiavelli

Just after lunch today, I read aloud from Canto One of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene. The boys were super leary of this selection before we started reading it.  But they  warmed up as we go into it.

Then I lost Helen at the point in the fight with the dragon where the Red Cross Knight finally gets the upper hand.  Here is what caused her to nearly lose her lunch:

“Therewith she spewd out of her filthy maw
A floud of poyson horrible and blacke,
Full of great lumpes of flesh and gobbets raw,
Which stunck so vildly, that it forst him slacke
His grasping hold, and from her turne him backe:
Her vomit full of bookes and papers was,
With loathly frogs and toades, which eyes did lacke,
And creeping sought way in the weedy gras:
Her filthy parbreake all the place defiled has.”

So, sweet dear Helen (who was  perched on the edge of her seat waiting for those little fairies to trot out in poetic beauty) immediately recoiled in horror.

Daniel, meanwhile, perked right up and engaged with this piece of poetry in a way quite unique for him.  Leaning forward whispering “yeah, man yeah…”.

Canto Two after Monday lunch.

I am reading Paradise Lost, myself.  The introduction alone was worth the price of the book.  Amazing to learn that Milton’s own doctrinal statements, found over 200 years after his death, refute the Nicene council’s statements on Christ’s divinity.  And that once orthodox theologians began to understand Milton’s ideas in this matter, their acceptance of Paradise Lost as commendable Christian poetry and a  theological work of art came to an end.  Even though these ideas  are nowhere to be seen in Paradise Lost.  He is seen to be in grave error,  his work now considered heretical, even though it was once much beloved and quoted form pulpits of well educated reformed ministers.  How the mighty are fallen…..

Meanwhile, I have a couple of kids who are reading Machiavelli’s The Prince, and I expect I’ll send one up here for a little discussion of the book next week.

And I am, FINALLY, reading Moby Dick aloud to the whole bunch of kids.  So far, they love it.    I believe this is my my fifth reading of Moby Dick…..And that first appearance of Queequay the harpooner is funny every time.