1667 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Abraham Cowley

Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery, "On the Death of Mr. Abraham Cowley, and his Burial in Westminster-Abbey" 1667 ca.; A Collection of Poems (1701) 370-75.



Our Wit, till Cowley did its lustre raise,
May be resembled to the first three Days,
In which did shine only such streaks of Light
As serv'd but to distinguish'd Day from Night:
But Wit breaks forth in all that he has done,
Like Light when 'twas united in the Sun.

The Poets formerly did lie in wait
To rifle those whom they would imitate:
We Watch'd to rob all Strangers when they writ,
And learnt their Language but to steal their Wit.
He from that Need his Country does redeem,
Since those who want may be supply'd from him;
And Foreign Nations now may borrow more
From Cowley, than we could from them before:
Who though he condescended to admit
The Greeks and Romans for his Guides in Wit;
Yet he those Ancient Poets does pursue,
But as the Spaniards great Columbus do;
He taught them first to the New World to steer,
But they possess all that is precious there.

When first his Spring of Wit began to flow,
It rais'd in some, Wonder and Sorrow too,
Thus God had so much Wit and Knowledge lent,
And that they were not in his Praises spent.

But those who in his Davideis look,
Find they his Blossoms for his Fruit mistook;
In diff'ring Ages diff'rent Muses shin'd,
His Green did Charm the Sense, his Ripe the Mind.
Writing for Heaven, he was inspir'd from thence,
And from his Theam deriv'd his Influence.
The Scripture will no more the Wicked fright;
His Muse does make Religion a Delight.

O how severely Man is us'd by Fate!
The Covetous toil long for an Estate;
And having got more than their Life can spend,
They may bequeath it to a Son, or Friend:
But Learning (in which none can have a share,
Unless they climb to it by Time and Care,
Learning, the truest Wealth which Man can have)
Does, with his Body, perish in his Grave:
To Tenements of Clay it is confin'd,
Tho' 'tis the Noblest Purchase of the Mind:
Oh, why can we thus leave our Friends possest
Of all our Acquisitions but the best?

Still when we study Cowley, we lament,
That to the World he was no longer lent;
Who, like a Lightning, to our Eyes was shown,
So bright he shin'd, and was so quickly gone.
Sure he rejoyc'd to see his Flame expire,
Since he himself could not have rais'd it higher;
For when wise Poets can no higher flie,
They would, like Saints, in their perfection die.

Though Beauty some Affection in him bred,
Yet only Sacred Learning he would wed;
By which th' Illustrious Offspring of his Brain,
Shall over Wit's great Empire ever Reign:
His Works shall Live, when Pyramids of Pride
Shrink to such Ashes as they long did hide.

That Sacrilegious Fire (which did last Year
Level those Piles which Piety did rear)
Dreaded near that Majestick Church to flie,
Where English Kings, and English Poets lie:
It at an awful distance did expire,
Such pow'r had Sacred Ashes o'er that Fire;
Such as it durst not near that Structure come
Which Fate had order'd to be Cowley's Tomb;
And 'twill be still preserv'd, by being so,
From what the rage of future Flames can do.
Material Fire dares not that place infest,
Where he who had immortal Flame does rest.

There let his Urn remain; for it was fit
Amongst our Kings to lay the King of Wit:
By which the Structure more renown'd will prove,
For that part bury'd, than for all above.