Study Guide

The Faerie Queene Book 2, Canto 12

By Edmund Spenser

Book 2, Canto 12

  • Back to Guyon, who is on his way to facing a pretty serious challenge in the Bower of Bliss.
  • He and the Palmer, along with a Ferryman, have been sailing for two days and on the third day they hear a rather alarming roar.
  • The Boatman advises the Palmer to steer a steady course since they have to avoid the Gulf of Greediness on one side, where ships are swallowed up, and the Magnes on the other, which is a cliff that draws ships to it and then crushes them. No biggie.
  • They proceed ahead, seeing both the horrible mouth of the Gulf of Greediness and the bleak and treacherous rocks of Magnes, also called the Rock of Vile Reproach.
  • Once they pass safely, the Palmer remarks that they've seen examples of how dangerous luxury and indulgence can be.
  • Soon, they see Islands ahead, and Guyon says they ought to steer toward them, thinking he's seen land.
  • But the Ferryman explains that those are actually the Wandering Islands, not actually tied to land, and anyone who steps on them will never be able to leave.
  • On one of the islands they spot Phaedria, who follows them in her boat trying to be flirtatious, but the Palmer sends her away and they pass through the Wandering Islands without other problems.
  • The Ferryman then warns them that they're coming up to a dangerous section full of mermaids who will try and tempt them, but even before that is some hidden quicksand.
  • They pass the hidden quicksand of Unthriftiness, where they see a ship full of riches stuck fast, and then they see a dangerous whirlpool, the Whirlpool of Decay.
  • This is the worst cruise ever.
  • But the Ferryman does a good job navigating and they make it through, only to suddenly come upon some horrible sea monsters. Oops.
  • But the Palmer urges them to remain calm and hitting the sea with his staff, causes them all to flee in fear.
  • Next they see a woman crying for help, whom Guyon wants to go and aid but the Palmer tells him not to listen to her, that she is just luring him with her cries for help.
  • Now, they come to mermaids, who sing to Guyon to come rest with them, and again, Guyon wants to go to them, but the Palmer advises against it.
  • They finally spot land when all of a sudden a thick fog covers the ship and they are attacked by violent birds.
  • But the birds are not able to make them turn away from their course and soon the weather clears and they reach land.
  • Guyon arms himself and he and the Palmer head off.
  • They begin to hear the roaring of beasts and suddenly see a huge number heading toward them, hungry.
  • But the Palmer repels them with his staff, a magic staff made from the same wood as Mercury's Caduceus.
  • They now arrive at the Bower of Bliss itself, and boy, it is a pretty nice spot full of the most beautiful imitations of nature.
  • There's a wall surrounding the bower and a gate, decorated with the story of Jason and Medea, that's pretty vividly depicted, but they don't spend a lot of time on it.
  • Instead, they see someone sitting on the porch, called Genius, who might be mistaken for a good and wise spirit (Genius means "spirit" in Latin) but is actually one of destruction and falsehood.
  • He entices Guyon to enter, but Guyon throws down the Genius' bowl of wine and breaks his staff.
  • Once inside the Bower, it is really amazing: beautiful plains, flowers, no bad weather. It might be the most beautiful garden ever.
  • But Guyon doesn't let the beauty go to his head and heads to the next gate, which is made entirely of grape branches that tempt visitors with their delicious fruit—some of the grapes are even golden.
  • Nearby stands a lady, named Excess (a bit immodestly dressed), who is crushing grapes into a golden goblet and making wine.
  • She offers it to Guyon, who throws it to the ground and breaks it, which upsets Excess but Guyon pays no attention to her and continues on his way.
  • He comes to yet another incredibly beautiful place, so beautiful it almost looks as if Nature and Art were competing.
  • At the center is a huge fountain, decorated with pictures of young boy playing.
  • In the fountain are two women, completely naked, bathing, playing, and wrestling with each other and Guyon finds himself getting very distracted by them.
  • They continue to catch his attention, and beckon him to come to them, but the Palmer sternly intervenes and they head straight for the center of the Bower of Bliss.
  • They begin to hear the most incredible, unique, and beautiful music they have ever heard and they follow its source to Acrasia herself.
  • Acrasia has a new lover whom she has lulled to sleep and whom she is now sucking the soul out of while someone sings a seductive song.
  • The Palmer and Guyon silently make their way forward toward Acrasia, who they see is lying practically naked on a bed of roses while her lover, clearly a former knight, lies helplessly with his arms and shield hung up away from him.
  • Suddenly, the Palmer and Guyon jump out and catch Acrasia and her lover in a net, that, we're told, the Palmer has made earlier for just this purpose.
  • Acrasia and her lover try their best to escape, but it's impossible, and they put Acrasia in chains and let her lover, named Verdant, go free, but with some advice.
  • Then Guyon, furious, destroys the Bower of Bliss, leveling every garden and breaking every object until it looks super ugly.
  • They take Acrasia and Verdant out of the Bower, and are again attacked by the wild beasts, but the Palmer pacifies those bad boys again.
  • Guyon asks what those beasts are and the Palmer replies that they used to be men and were transformed by Acrasia.
  • Guyon feels bad for the men and so the Palmer uses his staff to change them back.
  • However, they are barely men when they change back. Some are even angry that they've been changed and that Acrasia is a captive.
  • The Palmer says that it's a shame to see men want to be beasts, but they can't do anything about it, and so they go their way.