1652 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Benlowes

William Davenant, "To the Author upon his Divine Poem" Benlowes, Theophila (1652) sig. (c2)-(d)v.



Till now I gues'd but blindly to what Height
The Muses Eagles could maintain their flight!
Though Poets are, like Eaglets, bred to soar,
Gazing on Starrs at Heav'ns mysterious Pow'r,
Yet I observe they quickly stoop to ease
Their Wings, and pearch on Palace-Pinacles:
From thence more usefully they Courts discern;
The Schools where Greatnesse does Disguises learn;
The Stages where She acts to vulgar sight
Those Parts which States-men as her Poets write;
Where none but those wise Poets may survay
The private practise of her publick Play;
Where Kings, GODS Counterfeits, reach but the Skill
In study'd Sceans to act the Godhead ill:
Where Cowards, smiling in their Closets, breed
Those Wars which make the vain and furious bleed:
Where Beauty playes not meerly Natures part,
But is, like Pow'r, a Creature form'd by Art;
And, as at first, a Pow'r by Consent was made,
And those who form'd it did themselves invade:
So harmlesse Beauty (which has now far more
Injurious Force than States or Monarchs Power)
Was by consent of Courts allow'd Arts Aid;
By which themselves they to her Sway betray'd.
Twas Art, not Nature, taught excessive Power;
Which whom it lists does favour or devour:
Twas Art taught Beauty the imperial Skill
Of ruling, not by Justice, but by Will.
And, as successive Kings scarce seem to reign,
Whilst lazily they Empires Weight sustain;
Thinking because their Pow'r they Native call
Therefore our Duty too is Naturall;
And by presuming that we ought obay,
They lose the craft and exercise of Sway:
So, when at Court a native Beauty reigns
O're Love's wilde Subjects, and Arts help disdains;
When her presumptuous Sloth findes not why Art
In Pow'rs grave Play does act the longest part;
When, like proud Gentry, she does levell all
Industrious Arts with Arts mechanicall;
And vaunts of small inheritance no lesse
Than new States boast of purchas'd Provinces;
Whilst she does every other Homage scorn,
But that to which by Nature she was born:
Thus when so heedlessly She Lovers swayes,
As scarce she findes her Pow'r ere it decayes;
Which is her Beauty, and which unsupply'd
By what wise Art would carefully provide,
Is but Loves Lightning, and does hardly last
Till we can say it was ere it be past;
Soon then when Beautie's gone she turns her face,
Asham'd of that which was erewhile her Grace;
So, when a Monarch's gone, the Chair of State
Is backward turn'd where He in Glory sate.

The secret Arts of Love and Pow'r; how these
Rule Courts, and how those Courts rule Provinces,
Have been the task of very noble Muse;
Whose Aid of old nor Pow'r nor Love did use
Meerly to make their lucky Conquests known
(Though to the Muse they owe their first Renown;
For She taught Time to speak, and ev'n to Fame,
Who gives the Great their Names, She gave a Name)
But they by studying Numbers rather knew
To make those happy whom they did subdue.

Here let me shift my Sails! and higher bear
My Course than that which moral Poets steer!
For now (best Poet!) I Divine would be;
And only can be so by studying Thee.
Those whom thy Flights do lead shall pass no more
Through darkning Clouds when they to Heav'n would sore;
Nor in Ascent fear such excess of Light
As rather frustrates than maintains the Sight;
For thou dost clear Heav'ns darkned Mysteries,
And mak'st the Luster safe to weakest Eyes.
Noiselesse, as Planets move, thy Numbers flow,
And soft as Lovers Whispers when they woo!
Thy labourd Thoughts with Ease thou dost dispence,
Clothing in Mayden Dresse a Manly Sence.
And as in narrow Room Elixir lies;
So in a little thou dost much comprise.
Here fix thy Pillars! which as Marks shall be
How far the Soul in Heav'ns discovery
Can possibly advance; yet, whilst they are
Thy Trophies, they but warrant our Despair:
For, humane Excellence hath this ill Fate
That where it Vertue most doth elevate
It bears the blot of being singular;
And Envy blasts that Fame it cannot share:
Ev'n good Examples may so Great be made
As to discourage whom they should perswade.
WILL. DAVENANT.
TOWER, May 13th
1652.