In this post, I discuss the poem by Edmund Spenser “Like as a Huntsman” and the Law of Reversed Effort.
Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) was an innovative English poet, and his most famous poem was The Faerie Queene.
The Amoretti is a sonnet cycle written by Spenser and first published in 1595. It deals with Spenser’s courtship of and marriage to Elizabeth Boyle. The poem that I will discuss here is part of the Amoretti and is titled “Like as a Hunstman.” Here is the poem:
Amoretti LXVII: Like as a Huntsman
By Edmund Spenser
Like as a huntsman after weary chase,
Seeing the game from him escap’d away,
Sits down to rest him in some shady place,
With panting hounds beguiled of their prey:
So after long pursuit and vain assay,
When I all weary had the chase forsook,
The gentle deer return’d the self-same way,
Thinking to quench her thirst at the next brook.
There she beholding me with milder look,
Sought not to fly, but fearless still did bide:
Till I in hand her yet half trembling took,
And with her own goodwill her firmly tied.
Strange thing, me seem’d, to see a beast so wild,
So goodly won, with her own will beguil’d.
The poem is in the form of a Spenserian sonnet (named after Spenser himself), which is similar to the English or Shakespearean sonnet. The Spenserian sonnet has 14 lines, and it has the following rhyme scheme: abab bcbc cdcd ee (where the same letters represent the same rhyming sound at the end of the line). The Spenserian sonnet has 3 interlocking quatrains (four-line stanzas) and one concluding couplet (two-line stanza). The sonnet can be written with or without blank lines between the stanzas.
“Like as a Hunstman” deals overtly with a deer hunt. At the beginning of the poem, a huntsman is resting after having failed to capture any deer. The hunter and his hounds were “beguiled of their prey,” or deprived of their deer by deception or trickery (or maybe simply by speed and concealment). But just when the hunter has given up on success, the deer returns to a nearby stream to have a drink. The deer has lost its fear of the hunter, and the hunter easily takes the deer and ties her up. The hunter thinks that it is odd that the wild deer was captured so easily.
While this poem deals with a deer hunt, it can also be interpreted as a man pursuing a woman. The woman is like the deer, which at first deprived the suitor of what he wanted, but finally the woman gave in easily. This phenomenon can be seen as an example of the Law of Reversed Effort. Aldous Huxley described this law as it relates to obtaining true understanding, but the law can be applied to many other things as well:
There is a Law of Reversed Effort. The harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed.
The Law of Reversed Effort can also be found in the classic Chinese book Tao Te Ching, in which the Tao (or Way) does nothing but accomplishes everything:
The Way is ever without action,
Yet nothing is left undone.
The value of teaching without words
And accomplishing without action
Is understood by few in the world.
—Tao Te Ching (explained by Stefan Stenudd)
Sometimes we make a great effort to get what we want. However, what we really need might be available for no effort at all. Does water make an effort, or does it effortlessly rise as vapor and fall as rain in its natural cycle? Water goes through many transformations, but it blesses the earth and the life within it simply by being in tune with the Way of the universe.