The Abraham Cowley Text and Image Archive

In Cowley's Shade (ca. 1760)

William Thompson,
Ingeniosissimo Poetarum
Qui flores, qui plantas, qui arbores,
Tam felici curâ coluit,
Et culta cecinit,
Non umbram, non unum nemus,
Sed hortum
D. D.
SHALL poets dignify my walks and bowers,
Cowley forgot? forbid it, rural powers!
Ye rural powers, your choicest treasures shed,
To form a garland for your Cowley's head:
Collect the radiance of the showery bow,
The rose's scarlet, and the lily's snow,
To emulate his works, confusedly bright,
Where glories rise on glories, light on light.
The prism of wit! Apollo, once before,
So gilded Donne, but so could gild no more.  10
Our moderns flow, 'tis true, in easy rhymes;
But will our moderns flow through future times?
Warm distant ages with their glorious fire,
Inspired themselves, and potent to inspire?
Cowley, this praise is thine!--an age is pass'd,
Yet still you charm the present as the last:
Your thoughts, your verse, their pristine lustre hold,
Like rows of jewels ranged on cloth of gold:
Aeneas' passport thus, the golden bough,
Solid and bright at once, resembles you;  20
Like that you lead us to Elysium too.
No muddy streams of dull pollution run
In your chaste lines; each wanton hint you shun,
Save when a transient Venus blots the sun.
You sung each flower that spreads the vivid hue,
Each healing plant that sips the silver dew,
Each tree that decks the garden, or the grove;
You sung, but never felt, the fires of love *:
For love too witty and from passion free,
You had your mistress, but no lover she:  30
Goaded with points, Love never wept so sore,
Though wounded by a Muse's bee before.
    O master of the many-chorded lyre,
Whom all the Nine, with all their gifts, inspire!
Next Spenser's bower, accept this humble shed,
He charm'd you living, and you join him dead.
But far I place thee from coy Daphne's tree;
The tree that hates Apollo, loves not thee:
Yet had Apollo sung so well, the maid
Had yielded, nor been turn'd into a shade.†

* In a clever convergence proleptic of Johnson's "Life of Cowley" § 123, Thompson hints that Plantarum as well as The Mistress is in its own way antidotal to love; for the further programmatic suggestion (not far from a Cowleian topos, recharted in Marvell's "The Garden") that passion is more than an equal for herbal correctives, see Ovid, Met. 1.523 ("nullis amor est sanabilis herbis"), with the last several lines (targeting a supposed aphrodisiac, rocket) of Cowley's Plantarum Book I, recapped in Thompson's Gondibert and Birtha: a Tragedy (1757):
Ipse Cupido meā latitat, velut Anguis, in herbā;
     Et tingit succis igneus arma Deus....
Quis tantam viridis Flammam sub tegmine Vitæ,
     Assiduo pastam rore, manere putet?
Quid mirum est, si densa inter convivia Regum
     Luxuriæ regnet certa Libido Comes?
Illam inter medias latitantem repperit Herbas
     Cum Bove Convivâ Pythagoræa Fames.
Cupid lurks in my leaves like a snake;
the firebrand dips his darts in my juice ...
Who would think such a flame fed with copious moisture
could burn on under cover of this living green?
Now no wonder that passion, sure partner of luxury,
holds court in the overdone banquets of kings;
vegetarian hunger with her dinner-partner, a cow,
found it lurking right there in the herbiage.
Plantarum 1.1247-48, 1309-12 [tr. DK]
In vain I wander through the Shades and Gardens
For Peace; the Shades and Gardens nourish Love.
O Love, thou Serpent hid beneath the Flowr's
Of rural Innocence, to sting our Quiet!
Gondibert and Birtha 6.1-4

† Copy-text: Thompson's "Garden Inscriptions," published with his Poems (1757) in The British Poets, 54 (Chiswick: Whittingham, 1822), 188-202. "Shed" in line 35 is most likely an echo of line 1 of Cowley's own "Living Author's Epitaph" as translated in 1689. Thompson's Oxfordshire garden of verses is briefly surveyed by David Coffin (The English Garden: Meditation and Memorial [Princeton, 1994], 172); writers honored include Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Chaucer, Jeremy Taylor of Golden Grove fame, Addison, Virgil, Thomson, and Philips. The vicissitudes of Cowley's reputation in better-known texts are effectively sketched in the following:
Bate, W. Jackson. Samuel Johnson. New York, 1977.
Eliot, T. S. The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry, ed. Ronald Schuchard. London, 1993.
Johnson, Samuel. Rambler 6 (1750); Adventurer 39 (1753); Tour of the Hebrides (1773); Lives of the Poets (1779).
Loiseau, Jean. Abraham Cowley's Reputation in England. Paris, 1931.
Mack, Maynard. The Garden and the City: Retirement and Politics in the Later Poetry of Pope. Toronto, 1969.
Nethercot, Arthur H. The Reputation of Abraham Cowley (1660-1800), New York, 1923; repr. 1970.
Radcliffe, David H. Forms of Reflection: Genre and Culture in Meditational Writing. Baltimore, 1993.
Riquelme, John P. Harmony of Dissonances: T. S. Eliot, Romanticism, and Imagination. Baltimore, 1991.
Rostvig, Maren-Sofie. The Happy Man: Studies in the Metamorphoses of a Classical Ideal, 2nd ed., 2 vols. Oslo, 1962.
Scodel, Joshua. The English Poetic Epitaph: Communication and Conflict from Jonson to Wordsworth. Ithaca, 1991.
Spence, Joseph. Anecdotes, Observations and Characters of Books and Men, 2 vols. Oxford, 1966.
Weinbrot, Howard D. Britannia's Issue: The Rise of British Literature from Dryden to Ossian. Cambridge, 1993.
Wittreich, Joseph A. The Romantics on Milton. Cleveland, 1970.

This text normalized in the same way as Cowley's "Hymn to Light."

Poets' Pantheon (Paul's Walden, ca. 1730) // Elegies on the Death // Poems Commending Plantarum // Other Poems on Cowley
Prosary, or a Critical Garland // The Plantarum and Virtual Gardening // Texts, Editions, and Early Illustrations