Spenser alludes frequently to ships at sea, and the need for skillful pilots to guide their vessels through danger. Book I of The Faerie Queene includes two notable examples, and they occur in the first stanza of Canto VI and the last stanza of Canto XII. The first suggests a ship that has escaped danger, whose passenger still fears further danger (1.6.1). Not surprisingly, at this point the Red Cross Knight is near the point of encountering the giant Orgoglio. The final image is of a ship settling into port after a long journey, and this suggests the favorable resolution of his adventure (1.12.42).
The references in Book II continue the conceit of steering through peril. Being dedicated to the virtue of Temperance, Book II includes many episodes and themes from Homer’s Odyssey. For this reason, it is not surprising to find references to storms, whirlpools, and steering an even course between extremes.
In Book III the sea and ship analogies become less epic in nature. Britomart’s lament for her own aching heart expresses a tumultuous emotional state (3.4.8). Flormell’s admonition to the lustful old boatman (guide the cock-bote well) even has a definite tinge of bawdiness to it (3.8.24). Rather than abstract ideas of holiness and moderation, Spenser seems to shift toward expressions of human passions.
|As when a ship, that flyes fayre vnder sayle, An hidden rocke escaped hath vnawares, That lay in waite her wrack for to bewaile
|Now strike your sailes yee iolly Mariners, For we be come vnto a quiet rode, Where we must land
|As a tall ship tossed in troublous seas, Whom raging windes threatnening to make to pray of the rough rockes
|Better safe port, then be in seas distrest.
|As Pilot well expert in perilous waue, That to a stedfast starre his course hath bent…Vpon his card and compas firmes his eye, The maysters of his long experiment
|Said then the Boteman, Palmer stere aright, And keep an euen course; for yonder way…That is the Gulf of Greedinesse
|Huge sea of sorrow…Wherein my feeble barke is tossed long…my feeble vessell crazd, and crackt, cannot endure…it must be wrackt On the rough rocks
|Haue care, I pray, to guide the cock-bote well, Least worse on sea then vs on land befall