1688 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edmund Waller

Thomas Rymer, "On Mr. Waller" Poems to the Memory of that incomparable Poet Edmond Waller (1688) 4-9.



Waller is dead; and lofty Number's lost.
Now English Verse (with nothing left to boast)
May hobble on, and vex good Pindar's Ghost.
What was it Three and Eighty Years to live?
Short is the Boon to what the Muses give:
They so Insur'd his Immortality,
That scarce he knew, in any kind, to dye.
Two Ages he the Sacred Garland bore;
Peerless in this, and Prince of that before.
Rare Genius, his; alike their Glory made,
In glittering Courts, and in the Country Shade.
There, by four Kings belov'd, how high he shone!
Inseparable Jewel of the Crown;
Yet thence no borrow'd Heat, or Lustre got,
Warm of himself; and Sun he wanted not.
And if the Diamond stood hard Fortunes shock,
Thanks to his old Hereditary Rock.
For all the Court, for all the Muses Snares;
Our Journals also tell his publick Cares.
From James to James, they count him ore and ore,
In four Successive Reigns, a Senator.
On him, amidst the legislative Throng,
Their Eyes, and Ears, and every Heart they hung.
Within those Walls if we Apollo knew,
Less could he warm, nor throw a Shaft so true.
What Life, what Lightning blanch'd around the Chair?
(It was no House, if Waller was not there:)
And that Respect still to his Speech, or Nods,
As he had come from Councils of the Gods.
How would he tune their contradicting Notes?
With ready Wit facilitate the Votes?
As in his Verse, so ev'ry where display
An Air of something Great, and something Gay?
And, like Amphion, when he form'd a Town,
Put Life in ev'ry Stock, and ev'ry Stone?
Oh! had he liv'd one Meeting more to Sit,
How would the Times his generous Mind have hit?
What he so long contested for, in vain,
Set loose from all Ecclesiastick Chain,
With Transport he would find Religion, free,
And now no longer a Monopoly.

"Watch Home, and Harbour; nay, shut up the Sea:
But who shall ere with Heav'n our Traffick stay?
Or there erect a Block-house in the way?
Our stubborn Body is not us'd to ill;
It must no Rack (that foreign Engine) feel;
And yet they bring poor Conscience to the Wheel.
Error they scourge; so Children whip the Top;
The certain, only, means to keep it up."

Thus would he play, and many a pointed Jest
Still fling against the persecuting Breast.
Easie to run in endless Histories,
Tracing a Life of one who never dyes.
How he the Orbs of Courts and Councils mov'd:
But, Muses, how he Sung, and how he Lov'd.
What Spirit fills his Verse, your Care defines;
Amongst the Stars how Sacharissa shines:
How still her Altars fume with Sacrifice,
When gone are all the Goddesses of Greece.
Language and Wit he rais'd to such an height,
We should suspect, with him, the Empire's Fate,
Did not Auspicious James support the Weight.
This Northern Speech refin'd to that degree,
Soft France we scorn, nor envy Italy:
But for a fit Comparison must seek
In Virgil's Latin, or in Homer's Greek.

Anger is Mad; and Choler, mere Disease:
His Muse sought what was sweet, and what would please:
Still led where Natures beauteous Rays entice;
Not touching vile Deformities, or Vice.
Here no Chimera skips, no Goblin frights;
No Satyr's here, nor Monster else, that bites.
Sweetness his very Vinegar allaid;
And all his Snakes in Ladies Bosom play'd.
Nature rejoic'd beneath his charming power;
His lucky hand made very thing a Flower.
So every Shrub to Jessamin improves;
And rudest Holts, to goodly Myrtle Groves.
Some, from a Sprig he carelessly had thrown,
Have furnish'd a whole Garden of their own.
Some, by a Spark that from his Chariot came,
Take Fire, and blaze, and raise a deathless Name.
Others a luckless Imitation try;
And, whilst thy soar, and whilst they venture high,
Flutter and flounce, but have not Wing to fly.
Some, in loose Words their empty Fancies bind,
Which whirl about, with Chaff, before the Wind.
Here, brave Conceits in the Expression fail:
There, big with Words, but with no Sense at all.
Still Waller's Sense might Waller's Language trust;
Both pois'd, and always bold, and always just.
None ere may reach that strange Felicity,
Where Thoughts are easie, Verse so sweet, and free,
Yet not descend one Step from Majesty.