Prothalamion

C.S. Lewis described Spenser’s view of Nature as in part symbolizing the divine. This observation fits in well with Kohak’s discussion of metaphors being used to convey universal human experiences in a way that can allow for one human to say to another “I see it as well.” In the same sense that Nature can stand for a symbol for the divine, metaphors stand for an expression of the ultimate truth of Being. Humans, being a part of Nature, can come to know themselves by acknowledging this oneness of Being. As Kohak puts it, “In encountering them, we are not looking past reality or away from the “world”: we are shifting our vision from the appearance to the reality of what is, from the fact to the metaphor… For there is Being, and it is not nothing. Experience, even at this primordial level, is not inchoate: there is a fundamental truth to it, and, as our reflection on the metaphor as a tool of philosophic discourse sought to show, humans can not only know the truth, but communicate it as well” (Kohak 63). Following this form of logic, if humans are a part of Nature, which stands as a symbol for the divine, humans themselves are also a symbol for the divine. This idea is present in Spenser’s work, where the natural and the supernatural mold together in an expression of what appears to be a surreal and mystical world.

In Spenser’s Prothalamion, the voice of the poet describes a beautiful Meadow filled with a myriad of flowers and natural beauty. In this description of the Meadow, already the supernatural and natural begin to intertwine: “There, in a Meadow, by the Rivers side, A Flocke of Nymphes I chaunced to espy, All louely Daughters of the Flood, With goodly greenish locks all loose vntyde” (19-22). The Nymphes themselves are a living metaphorical personification of the spirit of the forest, the divine. The Being of the forest takes on a humanoid form, still with distinctly Nature characteristics- they have literally green hair. Nature here is depicted as an intermediary between perception and reality, natural and supernatural, earthly and divine. As Kohak would put it, by seeing the spirit of the forest personified in Nymphes is “not looking past reality or away from the “world”: we are shifting our vision from the appearance to the reality of what is, from the fact to the metaphor.” This Nymphe scene in the poem wonderfully depicts this complicated duality between what a human perceives and what really is so. Spencer has demonstrated what Kohak believes: more often than we think, we are capable of seeing the truth because “the truth, the sense of being, even the moral sense of life, is not a construct but a given of lived experience. They can speak about it because… words are not only designators but also metaphors capable of evoking experience and its sense” (Kohak 66). The reader gets more of a sense of what it means to be a Being in the forest with a description of the Nymphes than if Spenser were to try to describe to us in factual terms what the unity of Being feels like within the forest.

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