Two Views of Midsummer from
Spenser's Shepheardes Calendar for Iune
But frendly Faeries, met with many Graces,
And lightfote Nymphes can chace the lingring night,
With Heydeguyes, and trimly trodden traces,
Whilst systers nyne, which dwell on Parnasse hight,
Doe make them musick, for their more delight:
And Pan himselfe to kisse their christall faces,
Will pype and daunce, when Phoebe shineth bright:
Such pierlesse pleasures haue we in these places.
Of Muses Hobbinol, I conne no skill:
For they bene daughters of the hyghest Ioue,
And holden scorne of homely shepheards quill.
For sith I heard, that Pan with Phoebus stroue,
Which him to much rebuke and Daunger droue:
I neuer lyst presume to Parnasse hyll,
But pyping lowe in shade of lowly groue,
I play to please my selfe, all be it ill.
The urge to idealise from Hobbinol is here opposed by Colin (Spenser's alter ego) who rejects the urge to join the gods on Parnassus but prefers instead to play his pipe in a 'lowly grove'. I'm reminded of the modern poet R.S Thomas who said he "played a small pipe by the side of the road" and affected to prefer an unfenced Welsh mountain to the ordered gardens of a London park. Neither Spenser nor Thomas could be said to have absolutely resisted the preferments of high office but both embody this urge in at least some of what they wrote and Thomas maintained his aloofness from the establishment to the end.
The value of a life lived away from the cut and thrust of the city, the court, the high table, the Parnassian heights has been the stuff of a pastoral ideal in many periods of history that has at times been a major impetus and at others seemed like an odd aberration. But not to me.