The Abraham Cowley
Cowley's Plantarum 4.1-48 / "The Country Life.
Libr. 4. Plantarum"
| [Poemata Lat. 1668]
FOelix, quem miserâ procul ambitione remotum,
Parvus Ager placidè, parvus et Hortus, alit.
Præbet Ager quicquid frugi Natura requirit,
Hortus habet, quicquid luxuriosa petit,
Cætera sollicitæ speciosa incommoda Vitæ,
Permittit Stultis quærere, habere Malis.
Talis erat magni memoratu digna Maronis
Corycii quondam vita beata Senis.
Talis (crediderim) tam lætus et impiger hortis
Dives in exiguis Abdolominus erat, 10
Illum damnosas runcantem gnaviter herbas
Ecce ab Alexandro Rege satelles adit,
Accipe Sidonii, Vir magne, Insignia regni,
Sceptrum, ait, et Mitram, Sidoniámque togam:
Missus in imperium tantum (quis credat?) amatam
Dicitur invitus deseruisse casam.
Respicit ille gemens Hortum; Meliora relinquo.
Heu, ait, inflix, Deteriora sequor.
Talis erat generi humano vix nomine notus
Aglaus, in parvo Diis benè notus agro. 20
Námque Gyges Lydas, Regum ditissimus olim,
Impius et scelerum prosperitate tumens,
Ecquis, ait, toto, me fortunatior orbe est?
Hic Clarium est ausus voce rogare Deum.
Numen adulari nescit; flicior, inquit,
Aglaus; Ille furens, Aglaus iste quis est?
An sit eo quisquam Rex nomine quærit? At illo
Rex certè dictus nomine nullus erat.
An sit eo quisquam Dux belli nomine clarus,
Aut superis tractâ nobilitate potens? 30
Anne aliquis prædives opum nullóque periclo
Inter inexhaustas luxuriosus opes?
Nullus erat talis generis splendore, vel armis,
Divitiísve potens; Aglaus iste quis est?
At tandem Arcadiæ vix notâ in valle repertus,
(Arcadas alta quies umbráque densa tegit)
Strenuus exigui cultor prope Ptophida fundi
(Ptophida sed tantùm viderat ille semel)
Invidiâ regum dignissimus ille repertus,
Teste Deo flix, Aglaus ille fuit. 40
Talis, magne Deus (si te mihi dicere fas sit
Ridiculorum inter nomina vana Deûm)
Talis, Vere Deus, nunc inclinantibus annis
Sit, precor, ætatis Scena suprema meæ,
Finis inutilium mihi sit precor illa laborum,
Jactatæ statio firma sit illa rati.
Sic mea clestem prægustet Vita quietem;
Dormiat, et Mortem discat amare suam.
Plantarum 4.1-48 [trans. DK]
Happy the man who far from dire ambition
lives peacefully on a little field and garden;
the field contents all frugal Nature's needs,
the garden all indulgent Nature's wants,
leaving the rest of troubled life's entrapments
for fools to yearn for, and for knaves to get.
Such the happy life led by Corycus' old man,
worthy even the notice of great Virgil;
such a one, I suppose, Abdulominus was,
just so glad and so keen, rich in his tiny garden; 10
in the midst of his diligent weeding, a man came
dispatched there by King Alexander, to tell him,
"Great sir, take up these the regalia of the state of
Sidon, the scepter, the crown, and the Sidonian
mantle." Called to such a great rule, he is said, of
all things, to have left his beloved hut unwillingly;
looking back at his garden, he said with a sigh,
"Woe is me; I leave better to go after worse."
Such in his little field was Aglaus, barely known to
men even by name, but well-known to the gods; 20
for once Lydian Gyges, a very rich king, impious
and puffed up with ill-gotten prosperity, asked if
any on earth were more fortunate than he; he dared
then ask this question of Clarian Apollo. But a god
does not know how to flatter. Came the answer, "Aglaus
is happier." Outraged Gyges asked then, "Just who is
that Aglaus? Some king called by that name?"
(There in fact was no king by that name.)
"Is there some famous general by that name,
some man mighty through his divine lineage, 30
or some man with an opulent fortune, living high
on a pile of vast wealth?" (There was no such
man mighty through his noble birth, or through arms
or through wealth.) "Just who is that Aglaus?" At long
last he was found in a barely-known valley of Arcadia
(for Arcadians live whelmed deep in peaceful obscurity),
being the diligent tiller of a small farm near
Psophis (although he had seen Psophis just once);
yet according to God, that Aglaus was happy,
and worthiest of all of the envy of kings. 40
Such a one, O great God--if here I may well name
you amid these vain titles of laughingstock-gods--
Oh, I pray the true God, as my years now decline,
such a plot be laid out as my life's final scene,
and let that be the end of my unfruitful labors
and afford a sure anchorage for my battered boat;
let my life have that foretaste of heavenly peace;
let it sleep, and so learn how to love its own death.
Blest be the man (and blest he is) whom 'ere
(Plac'd far out of the roads of Hope or Fear)
A little Field, and little Garden feeds;
The Field gives all that Frugal Nature needs,
The wealthy Garden liberally bestows
All she can ask, when she luxurious grows.
The specious inconveniences, that wait
Upon a life of Business, and of State,
He sees (nor does the sight disturb his rest)
By Fools desir'd, by wicked men possest. 10
Thus, thus (and this deserv'd great Virgils praise)
The old Corycian Yeoman past his daies,
Thus his wise life Abdolonymus spent:
Th'Ambassadours which the great Emp'rour sent
To offer him a Crown, with wonder found
The reverend Gard'ner howing of his Ground,
Unwillingly and slow and discontent,
From his lov'd Cottage, to a Throne he went?
And oft he stopt in his triumphant way,
And oft lookt back, and oft was heard to say 20
Not without sighs, Alas, I there forsake
A happier Kingdom than I go to take.
Thus Aglaüs (a man unknown to men,
But the gods knew and therefore lov'd him Then)
Thus liv'd obscurely then without a Name,
Aglaüs now consign'd t' eternal Fame.
For Gyges, the rich King, wicked and great,
Presum'd at wise Apollos Delphick seat
Presum'd to ask, Oh thou, the whole Worlds Eye,
See'st thou a Man, that Happier is than I? 30
The God, who scorn'd to flatter Man, reply'd,
Aglaüs Happier is. But Gyges cry'd,
In a proud rage, Who can that Aglaüs be?
We have heard as yet of no such King as Hee.
And true it was through the whole Earth around
No King of such a Name was to be found.
Is some old Hero of that name alive,
Who his high race does from the Gods derive?
Is it some mighty General that has done,
Wonders in fight, and God-like honours wone? 40
Is it some man of endless wealth, said he?
None, none of these; who can this Aglaus bee?
After long search and vain inquiries past,
In an obscure Arcadian Vale at last,
(The Arcadian life has always shady been)
Near Sopho's Town (which he but once had seen)
This Aglaüs who Monarchs Envy drew,
Whose Happiness the Gods stood witness too,
This mighty Aglaus was labouring found,
With his own Hands in his own little ground. 50
So, gracious God, (if it may lawful be,
Among those foolish gods to mention Thee)
So let me act, on such a private stage,
The last dull Scenes of my declining Age;
After long toiles and Voyages in vain,
This quiet Port let my tost Vessel gain,
Of Heavenly rest, this Earnest to me lend,
Let my Life sleep, and learn to love her End.
|Both the Latin and English are based on texts owned by the editor and comprising these errors, which are duly corrected above: Latin 10: Abdalonimus for Abdolominus (corrected in source-text Errata);
37-38: Ptophida . . . Ptophida for Psophida . . . Psophida (corrected from Cowley's own note on line 20 above);
48: Mortem for Montem (corrected in source-text Errata); English 12: Yeomen for Yeoman; 41: men for man; 43: been. for been). Ampersands have been silently expanded in both texts, and long "s" and italicized punctuation have been normalized throughout. Anecdotes cited here are from Virgil (Georg. 4.127-46), Quintus Curtius (Alexander 4.1), and Pliny the Elder (Nat. Hist. 8.151, a tale also in Valerius Maximus). The English rendering of these Latin lines first appeared in Cowley's posthumous Works (1668), at the end of the essay, "Of Agriculture"; the Latin source-text, from close to the midpoint of Cowley's Plantarum, takes up themes which are prominent in many of the Essays, as well, so that one Essays critic is moved to describe the lines paraphrased by Cowley as a "central twelfth poem, placed off-center behind the fourth of the eleven essays" (David H. Radcliffe, Forms of Reflection: Genre and Culture in Meditational Writing [Baltimore, 1993], 77). The same lines are presented as a ruralist manifesto of sorts or as a program for tempering workaday urban ambitions in Addison's Spectator 610 and Stephen Switzer's
Ichnographia rustica, or, The nobleman, gentleman, and gardener's recreation, 3 vols. (London, 1718), 1.92-93; also see Johnson's bilious critiques of Cowley's rural retirement in Rambler 6 (April 7, 1650) and his Preface to Cowley 24, 42-45.
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