1667 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Abraham Cowley

John Denham, On Mr. Abraham Cowley his Death and Burial amongst the Ancient Poets (1667) 1-4.



Old Chaucer, like the morning Star,
To us discovers day from far,
His light those Mists and Clouds dissolv'd,
Which our dark Nation long involv'd;
But he descending to the shades,
Darkness again the Age invades.
Next (like Aurora) Spencer rose,
Whose purple blush the day foreshews;
The other three, with his own fires,
Phoebus, the Poets God, inspires;
By Shakespear, Johnson, Fletcher's lines,
Our Stages lustre Rome's outshines:
These Poets neer our Princes sleep,
And in one Grave their Mansion keep;
They liv'd to see so many days,
Till time had blasted all their Bays:
But cursed be the fatal hour
That pluckt the fairest, sweetest flower
That in the Muses Garden grew,
And amongst wither'd Lawrels threw.
Time, which made them their Fame outlive,
To Cowley scarce did ripeness give.
Old Mother Wit, and Nature gave
Shakespear and Fletcher all they have;
In Spencer, and in Johnson, Art,
Of slower Nature got the start;
But both in him so equal are,
None knows which bears the happy'st share;
To him no Author was unknown,
Yet what he wrote was all his own;
He melted not the ancient Gold,
Nor with Ben Johnson did make bold
To plunder all the Roman stores
Of Poets, and of Orators:
Horace his wit, and Virgil's state,
He did not steal, but emulate,
And when he would like them appear,
Their Garb, but not their Cloaths, did wear:
He not from Rome alone, but Greece,
Like Jason brought the Golden Fleece;
To him that Language (though to none
Of th' others) as his own was known.
On a stiff gale (as Flaccus sings)
The Theban Swan extends his wings,
When through th' aetherial Clouds he flies,
To the same pitch our Swan doth rise;
Old Pindar's flights by him are reacht,
When on that gale his wings are stretcht;
His fancy and his judgment such,
Each to the other seem'd too much,
His severe judgment (giving Law)
His modest fancy kept in awe:
As rigid Husbands jealous are,
When they believe their Wives too fair,
His English stream so pure did flow,
As all that saw, and tasted, know.
But for his Latin vein, so clear,
Strong, full, and high it doth appear,
That were immortal Virgil here,
Him, for his judge, he would not fear;
Of that great Portraicture, so true
A Copy Pencil never drew.
My Muse her Song had ended here,
But both their Genii strait appear,
Joy and amazement her did strike,
Two Twins she never saw so like;
Such a resemblance of all parts,
Life, Death, Age, Fortune, Nature, Arts,
Then lights her Torch at theirs, to tell,
And shew the world this Parallel,
Fixt and contemplative their looks,
Still turning over Natures Books:
Their works chast, moral, and divine,
Where profit and delight combine;
They guilding dirt, in noble verse
Rustick Philosophy rehearse;
Nor did their actions fall behind
Their words, but with like candour shin'd,
Both by two generous Princes lov'd.
Who knew, and judg'd what they approv'd
Yet having each the same desire,
Both from the busie throng retire;
Their Bodies to their Minds resign'd,
Car'd not to propagate their Kind:
Yet though both fell before their hour,
Time on their off-spring hath no power,
Nor fire, nor fate their Bays shall blast,
Nor Death's dark vail their day o'recast.