There is nothing lost

Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility is full of poetry. Cowper, Shakespeare, Spenser: all the poets the Dashwood sisters would have read, and Marianne in particular would have relished. Towards the end, as she recovers from her great disappointment, she listens tranquilly as Colonel Brandon reads from a small brown volume the size of a hymn book. We only hear a few lines:

Nor is the earth the less, or loseth ought,
For whatsoever from one place doth fall,
Is with the tide unto another brought:
For there is nothing lost, that may be found, if sought.

I always liked them but never recognised them. They come from Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (Book V Canto II), which, though unfinished, consisted of over 2000 ‘Spenserian’ stanzas of nine lines each. (Colonel Brandon, then, probably reads from an abridged edition, or perhaps a book of elegant extracts.) They are part of a dialogue between the heroic knight Artegall and a wicked Giant who wants to practice a kind of radical equality that would raze the mountains and hold back the sea from encroaching on the land. Artegall’s answer is a lovely embrace of mutability: though everything returns to dust or fades away, there is after all nothing lost.

Of things vnseene how canst thou deeme aright,
Then answered the righteous Artegall,
Sith thou misdeem’st so much of things in sight?
What though the sea with waues continuall
Doe eate the earth, it is no more at all:
Ne is the earth the lesse, or loseth ought,
For whatsoeuer from one place doth fall,
Is with the tide vnto an other brought:
For there is nothing lost, that may be found, if sought.

Likewise the earth is not augmented more,
By all that dying into it doe fade.
For of the earth they formed were of yore;
How euer gay their blossome or their blade
Doe flourish now, they into dust shall vade.
What wrong then is it, if that when they die,
They turne to that, whereof they first were made?
All in the powre of their great Maker lie:
All creatures must obey the voice of the most hie.