The Faerie Queene, Book I, Canto IX, Stanzas 43-44
“The lenger life, I wote the greater sin,
The greater sin, the greater punishment:
All those great battels, which thou boasts to win,
Through strife, and bloud-shed,, and auengement,
Now praysd, hereafter deare thou shalt repent:
For life must life , and bloud must bloud repay.
Is not enough thy euill life forespent?
For he, that once hath missed the right way,
The further he doth goe the further he doth stray.
Then do not further goe, no further stray,
But here lie downe, and to thy rest betake,
Th’ill to preuent, that life enswen may.
For what hath life, that may it loued make,
And giues not rather cause it to forsake?
Feare, sicknesse, age, losse, labour, sorrow, strife,
Paine, hunger, cold, that makes the harth to quake;
And euer fickle fortune rageth rife,
All which and thousands mo do make a loathsome life.”
This passage is from Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, book one, which follows Red Cross. In this canto, we meet Despair who convinces Red Cross to kill himself. This passage is striking to me because Spenser is talking about suicide and reasons why it makes sense to commit in the mind of the desperate. This particular argument is only one of many, but the one which I remember best of all. Despair is saying, basically: ‘You have wandered so far from your chosen path that now, there is no way you will ever end up back upon it. You might as well just kill yourself now and be done with it before you cause more strife and toil. You would be less of a pain if you were dead.’ For me, this seems like something that suicidal people would need to rationalize, and the best way to get over despair is to face this thought head-on, like how Spenser presents Red Cross facing it. Red Cross doesn’t hide behind his shield, or try to sidestep the question, he considers what Despair is saying and attempts to rebut his argument. He doesn’t succeed in the end, Una has to help him, but it is still important that he has this trial and learns what to say/think when he feels this way.
In my own experience, the best rebuttal for this argument is that I must error in order to learn the path to travel best, and now that I can recognize the errors I have made in my life, I can overcome them and watch for them to avoid making the same mistakes again. I may not be perfect, but I am good enough for life. I deserve the chance to try to do better in life. Those who I have wronged will get their blood when they choose to take it, and I try to live my life upon the least harmful path.