A love-complaint in seven double-quatrain stanzas: Colin berates himself for having the folly "To think that a beauty so gay, | So kind and so constant wou'd prove; | Or go clad like our maidens in grey, | And live in a cottage on love?" The characterization of the unhappy swain likely derives from Spenser's Colin Clout, possibly at many removes. "Colin's Complaint" became one of the most popular of all eighteenth-century pastoral lyrics, especially after it was imitated by William Shenstone in his "Pastoral Ballad."
While Nicholas Rowe's famous lyric is thought to have been written in 1712 and first published in a broadside, it seems more likely that it was first published in this anthology edited by John Oldmixon that contains poems by John Hughes and others in his Whig coterie. "Collin's Complaint" was not collected in early editions of Rowe's poems, and it seems to have dropped out of sight; early biographies of Rowe do not mention the poem. In 1744 it was printed anonymously in the London Magazine with a Latin translation, suggesting that it was well known at that date, possibly by circulation in songbooks. In the life of Addison, Johnson reports that Rowe's "Despairing Shepherd" was written on the occasion of Addison's unequal marriage to the Countess of Warwick.
Oliver Goldsmith: "This, by Mr. Rowe, is better than any thing of the kind in our language" Beauties of English Poesy (1767) 2:159.
In the same measure, compare An Answer to Collin's Complaint, in London Magazine 5 (December 1736) 695-96, and Collin's Complaint in London Magazine 13 (October 1744) 514. Another sequel was published in the Edinburgh Magazine or Literary Amusement 51 (15 March 1781) 305.
W. J. Courthope: "Nicholas Rowe, the author of [The Fair Penitent], a member of an old Devonshire family, was born at Little Barford, Bedfordshire, in 1674. He was elected King's Scholar at Westminster in 1688, and while at school read, for his own amusement, a large amount of English literature, including ballads, plays, and romances. He was called to the Bar as a member of the Middle Temple in 1689. Having inherited from his father John Rowe, a barrister, a fortune of £300 a year, he was in easy circumstances, and seems to have become a playwright from inclination. His first tragedy The Ambitious Stepmother, acted in 1700, was followed by Tamerlane in 1702, The Fair Penitent in 1703, and Ulysses in 1706. His last three plays, The Royal Convert (1707), Jane Shore (2nd February 1713-14), Lady Jane Grey (20th April 1715) show an increasing disposition to rely on English historical subjects. He died on the 6th of December 1718, and was buried in Westminster Abbey" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 5:434.
Rowe's authorship was not generally known for some decades. The attribution appears early, however. Susanna Centlivre, "Alluding to Mr. Rowe's excellent Song, call'd Colin's Complaint," refers to Rowe as Colin in her pastoral elegy included in Musarum Lachrymae: or Poems to the Memory of Nicholas Rowe (1719) p. 33.
Despairing, beside a clear Stream,
A Shepherd forsaken was laid,
And while a false Nymph was his Theme,
A Willow supported his Head.
The Wind that blew over the Plain,
To his Sighs with a Sigh did reply;
And the Brook, in return to his Pain,
Ran mournfully murmuring by.
Alas silly Swain that I was!
Thus sadly complaining, he cry'd;
When first I beheld that Fair Face,
'Twere better by far I had dy'd.
She talk'd, and I bless'd the Dear Tongue;
When She smil'd 'twas a Pleasure too great;
I listen'd, and cry'd while She sung,
Was Nightingale ever so sweet?
How foolish I was to believe,
She cou'd doat on so homely a Clown;
Or that her fond Heart wou'd not grieve,
To forsake the Fine Folk of the Town!
To think that a Beauty so Gay,
So Kind and so Constant wou'd prove,
To go clad like our Maidens in Grey,
And live in a Cottage on Love.
What tho' I have Skill to complain,
Tho' the Muses my Temples have crown'd;
What tho' when they hear my soft Strain,
The Virgins sit weeping around.
Ah Colin! thy Hope is in vain,
Thy Pipe and thy Lawrel resign;
Thy Fair One inclines to a Swain,
Whose Musick is sweeter than thine.
And you, my Companions so dear,
Who sorrow to see me betray'd;
Whatever I suffer, forbear,
Forbear to accuse the false Maid.
Tho' thro' the wide World I should range,
'Tis in vain from our Fortune to fly;
'Twas Hers to be false and to change,
'Tis Mine to be constant and dye.
If while my Hard Fate I sustain,
In her Breast any Pity is found,
Let Her come with the Nymphs of the Plain,
And see me laid low in the Ground:
The last humble Boon that I crave,
Is to shade me with Cypress and Eugh;
And when She looks down on my Grave,
Let her own that her Shepherd was true.
Then to her New Love let her go,
And deck her in Golden Array;
Be Finest at ev'ry Fine Show,
And frolick it all the long Day:
While Colin, forgotten and gone,
No more shall be talk'd of, or seen;
Unless that beneath the pale Moon,
His Ghost shall glide over the Green.