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The Hidden
Short-Line Runes
Edmund Spensers
Texts © 1987, 2005

by Roy Neil Graves
Link posted December 2005

(Shown left and right:
Title pages to the poems.)



          In his book Short Time’s Endless Monument: The Symbolism of the Numbers in Edmund Spenser’s “Epithalamion” and “Prothalamion” (New York: Columbia UP, 1960; rpt. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1972), A. Kent Hieatt reveals Spenser long-lost, calendar-based numerological scheme in Epithalamion, an elaborate marriage ode. Hieatt also argues that a counsciously embedded pattern of numerologically grounded parallelism lies hidden in the structure of Prothalamion.
          My discovery in the early 1980s of Hieatt’s book about Spenser’s arcane dabblings in sprezzatura—that is, “suppressed design” of the sometimes perverse sort that Renaissance aesthetics encouraged—gave me a heartening contemporary parallel of sorts to what I had unearthed in 1979 in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, all the hidden, numerologically based materials that are the reason for this site to exist. (I remain indebted to my colleague Martha Battle for telling me first about Hieatt’s discoveries.)

          In the 1987 issue of Spenser Studies, published at Princeton University and edited by Thomas P. Roche, Jr., , I published a long exposition arguing for the existence of what I called the Short-Line Runes in Epithalamion and Prothalamion. I retained copyright control over these texts and reprint them here.
          My findings in Spenser owe a great deal to Hieatt’s deduction that the 68 “short lines” in Epithalamion were likely to have been functional in Spenser’s elaborate numbers scheme. Hieatt observed that 68 is the sum of “the total of the seasons [4], months [12], and weeks [52],” and he speculates about other numerologic meanings that the short lines might have. Hieatt comments that these problematic 68 short lines

seem obviously contrasted in role, as well as in length, to the long ones. The purpose that [Spenser] made them serve may have been marginal to his design, but once it is granted that the long lines [have special significance], it is necessary for us to suppose that Spenser gave a contrasting role to his short lines [...], like an undersong [my emphasis], accompanying the remarkable audible music of the Epithalamion-stanza. (Hieatt 65)

          The short of a long story is that Hieatt’s findings prompted me to find and recompose what I believe are hidden compositions inside Epithalamion and Prothalamion. Here I reproduce these reconstituted texts for others including knowing Spenserians (a title I cannot claim) to evaluate. At this reprinting these poems go back in my own experience almost twenty years.These poems are tangential rather than strategic in my arguments about Shakespeare, but I believe that they do reflect a kind of contemporary parallel.
          Here I will let the texts themselves make their own case, advising interested readers to consult the expanded argument in its originally published form: “Two Newfound Poems by Edmund Spenser: The Buried Short-Line Runes in Epithalamion and Prothalamion.” Spenser Studies VII (AMS Press, 1987): 199-238. The essay has a good bit of discussion about my findings in Shakespeare, including my speculations about coterie activities and practice in Will’s and Edmund’s
          I remain grateful to editor Thomas Roche and his staff for that publication. (It was a real bear to set up in type, with A, B, and C variants of the Short-Line Rune in Epithalamion, along with double-columned materials, extensive line notes, and a paraphrase.) For convenience I reproduce here the forms of the copyrighted texts originally published in Spenser Studies.
       Below are the primary texts of the Short-Line Epithalamion Rune, set up in the variants that I have deduced. For the Runic Prothalamion, I offer a stichic text and an edited version.
       In general, all three textual variants of the Epithalamion Rune use the figurative Bride as a conceit for the buried poem itself; we as recompositors are helping, in effect, to prepare her for her initial public appearance. Like Shakespeares Mistress, “she” surely must have had complex coterie implications that seemed in some measure conventional in the Renaissance—with latent puns on Ms. and Mysteries likely to have been operative in reader/players minds.
       A part of my argument is that these hidden texts offer playful earthiness that coterie male readers might have been expected to seek out and enjoy. Puns are likely to have helped advance the sense of the hidden texts.

of the article on Spensers Short-Line Runes
in the 1987 volume of Spenser Studies

Available at
The Spenser Studies
home page, accessed 7 December 2005 at <>, where the following summary appears:

Roy Neil Graves
Two Newfound Poems by Edmund Spenser: The Buried Short-Line Runes in Epithalamion and Prothalamion

       A. Kent Hieatt, in Short Time's Endless Monument: The Symbolism of the Numbers in Edmund Spenser's "Epithalamion" (Columbia University Press, 1960; rpt. Port Washington, N. Y.: Kennikat Press, 1972), explicates the pervasive, previously undetected numerological scheme that undergirds Spenser's famous marriage poem. In a complex "suppressed design" of the sort that Renaissance artists enjoyed, a system into which other formal details fit neatly, Hieatt finds Spcnser's 68 "short lines" problematical but still assumes that they are formally significant—"like an undersong," he says, using Spenser's word. Pursuing Hieatt's hint, within the larger context of my ten-year investigation into lost coterie writings embedded in medieval and Renaissance texts, my essay recomposes, "edits," annotates, and comments on the previously unknown "Short-Line Rune" systematically tucked into Epithalamion, a complicated and playful 68-line poem that likens itself to a "bride" in Hades whom members of a lusty "band" are to help "prepare" for an initial reappearance in the upper world. Puns and bawdry (and a double-columned arrangement congruent with Hieatt's scheme) complicate the recomposed poem, as do extravagant conceits and slippery wit. My essay also establishes an edited 41-line text for the lost "Short-Line Rune" in Spenser's Prothalamion, cautiously reading the rune (or round) as a comic account of an "Outing" in which subtextual urinary bawdry expands on the "watery excursion" of the apparent text. The two newfound poems, concrete artifacts inviting study, are somewhat like erased palimpsestic strata. Finding them invites revaluation of details (especially arcane allusions to the embedding game) in the larger works that they share lines with, calls into question purely sober readings of the surface poems they undercut, and invites general reconsideration of Spenser's tone—of Spenser as humorist. No witty aberrations, the two subtexts reappear as conventional examples of a long-established but practically-lost medieval "mystery," the practice of writing secretly to entertain peers (and pull the long leg of the world) that I have discussed elsewhere, especially in essays which offer newly recomposed metrical artifacts from the Anglo-Saxon riddles, the works of the Pearl/Gawain poet, and Shakespeare's sonnets as evidence of a pervasive coterie practice in earlier English literature.

Spenser Studies: A Renaissance Poetry Annual (New York: AMS Press, Inc.), vol. VII (1987), pp. 199-238.


A Recomposition of the Short-Line Rune in Spensers Epithalamion
in stichic, edited, and paraphrased forms

            The poem comprises the 68 short lines in sequence as they occur in the longer poem. The right-hand column below continues the left, in a two-columned format that is not meaningful except as a means of saving space by printing the text in a clustered form. Lines 3 and 68 are iambic tetrameter, the others, trimeter.
            I believe that Spenser may have consciously composed the text so that it can assume at least three variant forms, which I call the A, B, and C texts; the
last two are quite similar. These variants occur below. The possibility that the B and C variants of the runic text may be authorized is a deduction that grows out of Hieatts findings about division and parallelism in the full text of Epithalamion. The Spenser Studies essay expands and clarifies this point.
            The version below, in stichic and then edited and paraphrased forms, is what I label runic Text A.

          Below is an edited version of the 68-line text recomposed above. S
tanza breaks at full stops after lines 30 and 38 effect a three-part editorial organization. (The mode of reproduction on this site may tend
to generate other, unintended breaks between lines. Readers can ignore these.

One possible interpretation of the text allows the paraphrase below.
Readers can ignore some of the spacings between lines,
the incidental results of the mode used here to reproduce the text.
As in the edited text above, only the editorial spacings after lines 30 and 38
have intentional meaning in the paraphrase as signals of textual organization.


Recomposed below is an edited version of the B variant
of the same hidden runic composition, with line glosses. The Spenser Studies article explains the logic of the arrangements of lines in the B and C variants.


Recomposed below is a recomposition of the C variant of the Rune in Epithalamion,
showing stichic and edited forms of the poem.


Spensers Runic Prothalamion

     The “undersong” subtext in Prothalamion is in many respects similar to that in Epithalamion. As shown below, the Rune comprises in sequence the 41 short lines that occur in the ten stanzas of the poem. All but one of the short lines are iambic trimeter, and the aberrational line—whose teasing metrical ambiguity hinges wittily on the word “variable”—occurs in the full text as line 13, a numerologically emphatic point that seems to me likely to be consciously contrived.
     The article in Spenser Studies explores some of the implications and challenges of this text.

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