Cowley, Abraham . The Third Part of the Works of Mr. Abraham Cowley Being his Six Books of Plants
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Helleborus Niger, or, Christmas Flower

I Mean not now my Beauty to oppose
To that of Lilies, or the blushing Rose;
Old Proetus Daughters me from that do feare,
Who once with Juno durst their face compare,
Mad with Conceit, each thought her self a Cow;
Just judgment! teaching all themselves to know.
My noble Plant banish'd this wild caprice,
And gave 'em back their human voice and speech.
Melampus by my aid soon brought relief,
And for the care had one of 'em to Wife.
And none will charge me with that blindness, sure,
Or the same folly I pretend to cure.
The Goddesses above a Beauty claim       240
Lasting and firm as their immortal frame,
Which time can't furrow, or Diseases wrong;
To be immortal is, to be for ever young.       [Latin: 240]
In Flow'rs or Girls Beauty's a transient thing;
Expect as well the whole year will be Spring.
Ye flow'ry Race, that open to the sky,
And there have seen a Cloud of curious Dye,
The gaudy Phantome now with pride appears,
Look up again, 'tis strait dissolv'd in tears;
Such is the short-liv'd glory Flowers have,
Bending, they point still toward their womb and grave.
The wind and rain aim at their tender Head,
Besides the Stars their baneful influence shed;
Like the fam'd Semele, they die away [image] [image]
In the embraces of the God of Day.
Expos'd to Air, to Heat an open prey,
Colds though their tender fibres force their way:
The Swallow or the Nightingale abhors
Not Winter more, than do th'whole race of Flow'rs.
If among these a Flow'r you can descry       260
(Fitter to be transplanted to the Sky)
Which is so hardy, as to stand the threat
Of storms and tempests that around her beat;       [Latin: 260]
That with contending winds dare boldly strive,
Scorns Cold, and under heaps of Snow can live,
To this, great Goddess, to this noble Plant
You ought the Empire of the `Garden grant.
Kings are Joves Image; and if that be true,
To Virtue onely Sovereign sway is due.
Trusting to this, and not the empty Name
Of Beauty, I the flowry Empire claim.
Nor will this soft, luxurious, pamper'd Race
Of Flow'rs, were things well weigh'd, deny me place;
For lo! the Winter's come; what change is there,
What looks, what dismal aspect of the year!
The winds from Prison break; no mercy yield,
But spoil the native Glories of the Field.
First on the Infant Boughs they spend their rage,
And scarcely spare the poor trunks reverend age;
Either with swelling Rains, the ground below       280
Is drown'd, or covered thick in beds of Snow;
Or stiff with Frost; the streams Ic'd o'r
Are pent within a bank, unknown before.       [Latin: 280]
Each Nymph complains, and every River God
Feels on his shoulders an unusual load;
Nature a Captive now to Frost become
Lies fairly buried in a Marble tomb.
And can you wonder then that Flow'rs shou'd die,
Or hid within their beds, the danger fly?
D' ye see the Sun, how faint his looks; that tell
The God of Plants himself i' n't over-well.
Now let me see the Violet, Tulip, Rose.
Or any of 'em their fine face disclose,
Ye Lilies with your snowy Tresses now
Come forth, this is the proper time for Snow.
Deaf to the call, none of 'em all appear,
But close in Bed they lie half dead with fear.
I onely in this Universal dread
Of Nature dare exalt my fearless head;
Winter with thousand several arms prepar'd       300
To be my death, still finds me on my Guard.
Great Umpire of this harmless fray,
If you are fix'd to crown some Plant to Day,
Let all appear and take the Field, let all
Agree to give the chiefest Plant the ball;       [Latin: 300]
Let it in Winter be, though, I desire;
That season does a hardy Chief require.
If any of these tender, dainty Dames
Deck'd with their rich Perfumes and gaudy Names,
Dare but at such a time shew half an Eye,
I'll frankly yield, and strait let fall my plea.
Not a Plant's seen, I'll warrant you; they hate
to gain a Kingdom at so dear a rate;
They fear th'unequal trial to sustain;
None dare appear, but those that fill my train,
And none of these are so ambitious grown,
To stand themselves, but beg for me the Crown.
These numerous hardships I can undergo;
I'll tell you now, fair Judg, what I can do,
My Virtue's both active and passive too.       320
Kings get no fame by conquering at home,
That from some forein vanquish'd Land must come.
If equal to my triumphs, names I bore
And every vanquish'd Foe increast the store,
Old Rome's most haughty Champion I'd defie
With me in Honours, Titles, Names to vie.       [Latin: 320]
I act such wonders, I may safely say
the twelve Herculean labours were mere play.
The spreading Cancer my blest Plant does chase,
And new skins o'r the Leper's monstrous face.
The lingring Quartan-Fever I oblige
To draw his forces off and raise the Siege.
Swimmings i' th'Head that do from vapours come,
I exorcise strait by my Counter-fume.
In every swelling part when Dropsies reign,
I dry the Fen, the standing waters drein.
The Falling sickness too, to wave the rest,
Though sacred that Disease, by some confest.
Why in these Cures thus trifle I my breath?
Death yields to me, the Apoplectick Death.       340
Into each part my Plant new vigour sends,
And quickly makes the Soul and Body friends.
These are great things, you'll say, and yet the rest
That follow, must much greater be confest,
I do compose the minds distracted frame,
A gift the Gods and I alone can claim;
Madmen and Fools are cast beneath my power,
What to my grandeur can the Gods add more? [image]
Who thus can do; the world his Province is,
Cæsar can't boast a larger sway than this.       [Latin: 340]

She spoke; her train with shouts the Area fill'd,
Nay Winter (if you will believe it) smil'd.

Next the gay Spring draws out his warlike bands,
Which to the Scene a grateful shadow lends,
Homer, though well the Grecian Camp he paints,
Wou'd fail, I fear, in mustering up these Plants.
Bright Spring, what various Nations dost thou boast?
The Xerxes of a numerous flowry Host;
Which cou'd (since Flow'rs without due moisture die)
Like his, I fansie, drink whole Rivers dry.       360
His flowry troops made the same stately shew,
Whose painted arms a dazling lustre threw;
Then a gay Flow'r, for shape, the Trumpet nam'd 125
Blew thrice, and with a strenuous voice proclaim'd,
That all but Candidates shou'd quit the place;       [Latin: 360]
First, as they went, bowing with awful grace.

And now the pleasure of the Goddess known,
The Herb, call'd Ragwort, pass'd before the Throne,
A bunchy stalk, and painted Bees she bore
With several foolish fancies on her Flow'r,
Ragwort the Satyrs and Priapus love,
Venus her self and the fair Judg approve. [image] [image] [image]
Dogs-tooth pass'd next, to Ragwort near ally'd,
A faithful friend to Love, and often try'd;
Next Hyacinths, of violet-kind, proceed, [image]
A noble, powerful and a numerous breed,
They wanted courage, though, to keep the place,
Labouring alas! under a late disgrace;
Of noble House themselves they did pretend,
From Ajax bloud directly to descend,       380
The cause in Flora's Court of Chivalry
Was heard, where they fail'd to make out their plea,
They bore no Coat of Arms, nor cou'd they show
Those mournful Notes said from his bloud to flow.       [Latin: 380]
The next akin, a Flow'r, which Greeks of old 126
From Excrements of Birds descended hold,
Which Britain, Nurse of Plants, a milder Clime,
Gentilely calls the Star of Bethlehem.
The Daizy next march'd off in modest wise,
Dreading to wait the issue of the Prize;
Though the Spring don't a trustier party know,
After, before and in the Spring they grow,
Quick in the charge, and in retreating slow.
They dare not venture, though the Sons of Art
The name of Binders to 'em do impart;
They cure all wounds, yet make none; which you grant
Is the true Office of a warlike Plant.
Next spotted Sanicle and Navel-wort.
Though both have signs of bloud, forsake the Court.
Moon-wort goes next born on its reddish stalk,       400
And after that does gently Cranebil walk;
They all gave way; 'tis nat'ral in a Flow'r
More in its form to trust than worth and pow'r;       [Latin: 400]
Nay more than that, the Corn flag quits the Field,
Though made Sword-wise, does to the Tulip yield,
Though, like some Tyrant, rounded with the same,
Yet to affected Empire waves all claim;
How much this Sword-flow'r differs, as to harm,
From those which we on mortal Anvils form!
Nature on this an Unguent has bestow'd,
Which, when ours make it issue, stops the bloud.
Next you might see the gaudy Columbine.
Call'd sometimes Lions-mouth, desert the Scene,
Though of try'd courage, and of high renown,
In other things, curing Diseases, known.
The Sea-gull Flow'r express'd an equal fear,
The Tygers more and prettier spots don't bear;
These Beauty-spots she ought to prize like Gold;
Citron held hers at dearer rates, of old,
The Persian Lily of a ruddy hue;       420       [Latin: 420]
And next the Lily of the Vale, withdrew, [image]
Lilies o' th'Vale such looks and smell retain,
They're fit to furnish Snuff for Gods and Men;
Nor a Plant kinder to the Brain does live;
A glass of Wine does less refreshment give.
Next Periwinkle or the Ladies bow'r
Weakly, and halting crept along the floor.
All kinds of Crow-foot pass'd and bow'd their head,
The worst run wild, the best in Gardens bread;
Day-Lily next, the Root by Hesiod lov'd, [image]
Although not for the chiefest Dish approv'd.
Then came a Flow'r, of a far differing look,
Which on it thy lov'd Name, Adonis, took;
But Celandine, thy genuine offspring stil'd,
They tell us, at the proud Usurper smil'd.
Stock-gillow-flow'r the Years Companion is, [image]
Which the Sun scarce in all his rounds does miss;       [Latin: 440]
Officious Plant! which every month can bring;
But rather wou'd be reckon'd to the Spring.
This pass'd along with a becoming mien,       440
And in her train the Wall-flow'r wou'd be seen.
The constant Marigold next these went out, [image]
And Ladies-slipper fit for Flora's foot.
The goats beard, which each Morn abroad does peep,
But shuts its Flower at Noon, and goes to sleep.
Then Ox-eye did its rowling Eyeball spread,
Such as Joves Wife and Sister had, they said.
Next Viper-grass, full of a milky juice,
Good against Poison, which curst Stepdames use.
Then Hollow-root, cautious and full of fear,
Whiich neither Summers heat, nor cold can bear,
Comes after Spring, before it does retire.
Then Sattin-flower, and Moth-mullein withdraw,
Worthy a noble Title to enjoy.
The Ladies-smock, and Lugwort went their way,
With several more too tedious here to say;       [Latin: 460]
With many an humble Shrub these took their leaves,
To which the Garden entertainment gives;
As Honey-suckle, Rosemary and Broom,
That Broom which does of Spanish Parent come;       460
Both sorts of Pipe-tree; neat in either dress,
White or sky-colour'd, whether please you best;
Next, the round-headed Elder-rose, which wears
A Constellation of your little stars;
The Cherry; ours and Persian Apple add
Proud of the various Flowers adorn'd its head.
Nature has issue, Eunuch-like, deny'd,
But (like them too) by a fine face supply'd.
These and a thousand more were fain to yield,
And left the Candidates to keep the Field.
Each Flower appear'd with all its kindred, drest,
Each in its richest Robes of gaudiest Vest;       [Latin: 480]
The Violet first, Springs Usher, came in view,
From whose sweet Lips these pleasing accents flew.


[125] A Plant of the Tribe of Pseudo-narcissi Juncifolii, from the shape of a Tube in the midst of the Flower, called Trumpets


[126] The vast price of Citron Tables, see Plin. l. 13.