The narrator of the poem calls out to a muse, imitating the style of other famous and renowned poems like Virgil’s Aeneid and Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. He promises to tell of the great battles and loves of knights and ladies. He asks the Muse Clio in particular to help him tell the story better, as well as the gods Cupid and Mars. He ends by praising Queen Elizabeth of England.
A “proem” is a type of introduction that was particularly popular in ancient Greek and Latin epic poetry. The narrators of these poems often asked the Muses (goddesses who inspired art, science, and poetry) to help them tell their stories. The narrator makes this connection to classical poems even clearer by mentioning Virgil’s Aeneid, which was from ancient Rome. Orlando Furioso actually was not an ancient poem—it would’ve been published only a few decades before The Faerie Queene—but it, too, looked to the past for inspiration. This shows how, while Spenser had a lot of admiration for past poets, he also read peers and more contemporary works.