Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 It is now 1981-82, my second and last year as Temporary Lecturer in English at the University of Georgia, teaching a full load of Freshman Composition while writing my dissertation.  The dissertation was on Edmund Spenser.  Can you tell?  Dr. Ewbank was my faculty adviser for my undergraduate degree in English.

Edmund Spenser


On Spenserian Stanza

For Two Teachers: Edmund Spenser and Frances Ewbank.


When Spenser wrote The Faerie Queene, he made

A brand new stanza up in which to frame

The glorious knights and ladies he portrayed

Triumphant over villains full of shame.

Ever different, yet still the same,

It had to hold up through the spacious land

Of Faerie from end to end, and flame

More bright with virtue there than e’er the hand

Of author had achieved, in verses quaint or grand.


Ottava Rima had the flow he needed,

But seemed in live a lady far too light

To shadow forth the gallant knights who heeded

The Code of Maidenheed and served the bright

And gracious Gloriana truly.  Might

A pensive sonnet cycle then avail?

But that would never serve to show the flight

Of narrative events in time.  The tale,

It seemed, must then be dight in wholly different mail.

Una and the Lion, from Spenser's Fairie Queene
Una and the Lion, from Spenser’s Fairie Queene

Yet if the two could somehow be combined—

Could move with supple dignity, but yet

Be not in short, concise quatrains confined

Nor have its forward movement always let,

Caught in the closing couplet’s double net;

And yet still pause for needed contemplation—

With light impediment, enough to whet

The reader’s appetite for exploration—

Now that would truly be a gallant innovation!


Suppose we take Ottava Rima, add,

To slow its headlong plunge, a single line,

Rhyming with the last, but subtly clad

With just one extra foot to be a sign

Of need to sip with care such heady wine—

So came The Fairie Queene.  And there has been

No poem in which the Glory seemed to shine

More brightly since the storied epoch when

The Sweet Singer of Israel wielded the sword and the pen.

Redcrosse Knight (St. George of Merry England) Slaying the Dragon
Redcrosse Knight (St. George of Merry England) Slaying the Dragon

And thou, doctor mihi carissima,

Who showed me how to look with eyes undim

Upon the bright, the ars dulcissima

Of sacred Poesy, and thence to skim

Cream, not of just aesthesis, nor of whim,

But of the Truth well imaged forth, displayed,

Filling the cup of wisdom to the brim;

If worthily I now wield Spenser’s blade,

The praise is thine, who long hast labored, taught, and prayed.

Spenser's Tomb
Spenser’s Tomb

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Donald T. Williams, PhD


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