The Abraham Cowley
Text and Image Archive

Cowley's "Hymnus in Lucem" / "Hymn. To Light"
Hymnus In Lucem. [Poemata Lat. 1668]

PUlchra de nigrâ soboles Parente,
Quam Chaos fertur peperisse primam,
Cujus ob formam benè risit olim
Massa severa!
Risus ô Terræ Sacer et polorum!
Aureus verè Pluvius Tonantis!
Quæque de cœlo fluis inquieto
Gloria rivo!
O salus rerum, et Decus omne, salve;
Vita Naturæ vigil actuosæ!   10
Omnium Mater bona cum Calore
Juncta Marito!
Unde, momento, quibus è Pharetris
per totum jacularis orbem?
Præpotens, divésque Deíque Verbum
Fassa paternum?
Carceres ipsos simùl, atque Metam
Linquis, attingísque, Animi Sagittis
Ocyor strictis, rapidâ Angelorum
Ocyor alâ.   20
Aureo Lunæ benè læta Curru
Auream Astrorum peragrare Sylvam, et
Vere nocturno reparata semper
Visere prata,
Regiam gaudens habitare Solis
in æternum Scythico vagantem, et
Divitem Mundi redeunte gyro
Ducere Pompam:
Inter et tantos humilis Triumphos
dignata animare caudas,   30
Pauperes dignata hilarare parvâ
Lampade Vepres.
Te fugit nigris comitata Pullis
Nox, et adverso latitat sub Axe,
Te fugit pennâ trepidans inerti
Noctua somnus.
Discolorato glomerans racemo
Turba pictorum vaga Somniorum
Avolat; mixtas sine more formas
Trudit et urget.   40
Quin et obscœnas repetunt latebras
Sœcla Serpentum malè consciorum,
Nec tibi Natura pudens sinistrum
Objicit Omen.
Ad tuos quondam Dolor ipse vultus
Fertur invitam recreasse frontem;
Cura subrisit, pepulítque rugas
Ore maligno.
Ad tuos quondam Timor ipse vultus
Excutit turpem genubus tremorem;   50
Pallor ignescit; capite insolenti
Cornua vibrant.
Inverecundi Dominator oris
Te tamen testem metuit Cupido;
Flamma cognatis rotat in Tenebris
Sordida fumo.
Tu, Dea, Eoi simùl atque cœli
Exeris pulchrum caput è Rosetis,
In tuas laudes volucrum canoris
Personat hymnis   60
Aula gaudentis reserata Mundi;
Spectra discedunt, Animæque noctis,
Vana discedúntque Tenebrionum
Monstra Deorum.
Te bibens Arcus Jovis ebriosus
Mille formosos revomit colores,
Pavo cœlestis; variámque pascit
Lumine Caudam.
In Rosâ pallam indueris rubentem,
In Croco auratam indueris lacernam,   70
Supparum gestas quasi nuda rallum
Lilia complens.
Fertilis Floræ sobolem tenellam
Purpurâ involvis Violas honestâ
Veste segmentata operis superbas
Larga Tulippas.
Igne concreto fabricata Gemmas
Floreum immisces solidúmque fucum;
Invidet pictus, fragilésque damnat
Hortus honores.   80
Parcior fulvis utinam fuisses
Diva largiri pretium Metallis!
Parcior, quantis hominum allevasses
Pectora curis!
Mî quidem Solis nitor, et Diei
Innocens fulgor magìs allubescit,
Pars quota humani generis sed Aurum
Non Tibi præfert!
Ætheris gyros per inexplicatos,
Aëris campos per et evolutos,   90
Æquoris per regna laboriosi
Flumine vivo
Lucidum trudis properanter agmen,
Sed resistentum super ora rerum
Lenitèr Stagnas, liquidóque inundas
Cuncta Colore.
At Mare immensum, Oceanúsque Lucis
Jugiter Cœlo fluit Empyræo,
Hinc inexhausto per utrumque Mundum
Funditur ore.   100
 Hymn To Light. [trans. DK]

The lovely child of mother black,
of Chaos firstborn, states the tale,
whose comely form gave that stern mass first
good cause for smiling!
Mirific smile of earth and sky,
the Thunderer's truly golden shower,
glory that pours from heaven in one long
shimmering effusion!
Glory and health of all things, hail!
Prolific Nature's wakeful life,   10
all things' good mother, matched with heat your
husband to sire them!
Say from what sudden quivers, whence
the darts you launch throughout the world,
mighty, abounding, showing that God's
Word was your father?
No sooner do you leave the gates
than reach the goal, you, swifter than
the soul's drawn arrows, swifter than the
quick wing of angels,   20
glad in moon's golden car to course
the golden forest of the stars
and meadows ever freshening in the
spring of the nighttime;
pleased to attend the regal sun,
forever wandering, Scythian-like,
and in the world's revolving course to
lead your procession;
among such triumphs deigning too
to light the humble tails of worms,   30
to brighten lowly brambles with their
own little lantern.
Night flees you with her whole black brood
and hides in the Antipodes,
and owl-like Sleep flees you alarmed, its
slack wings aflutter.
In parti-colored teeming swarm
the wandering crowd of painted dreams
flits off pell-mell, haphazard, shapes all
rudely confounded.   40
The guilty serpents' race as well
returns to its unwholesome lairs,
and shamefast Nature guards from you the
sinister omen.
One time, on seeing you, Grief itself
was, grudging, said to smooth its brow;
Care smiled, and drove the creases from its
ill-favored countenance.
One time, on seeing you, Fear itself
drove shameful trembling from its knees;   50
its pallor glowed; horns bristled on its
brow unexpected.
Cupid, the lord of shameless looks,
still fears you as a witness, and
his flame comes rolled in matching shadows,
smutty and smoke-stained.
Goddess, you raise your fair head from
the rose-beds of the eastern sky;
birds' tuneful hymns resound at once to
your greater glory   60
all through the glad world's open court;
ghosts and night-spirits go their ways;
so do the empty figments of the
gods that love darkness.
On tippling you, Jove's drunken bow
heaves up a thousand pretty hues,
a sky-peacock, with light regaling
its dapple plumage.
In rose you wear a gown of red,
in crocuses a cloak of gold,   70
but scanty linens, nearly nude, when
you fill the lily.
To fertile Flora's littlest brood
you give their seemly violet dress
and lavish on proud tulips state-robes
covered with flounces.
In solid fire you gems embud,
with blush of flowers commingling fixed;
the gaudy garden envious scorns its
own fleeting honors.   80
Ah goddess, would had bestowed
less lavish lustrousness on gold;
less lavish, hearts of men from what grief
you might have guarded!
The sunshine and day's guiltless glow
for me, at least, hold more appeal;
but what small part of mankind does not
prize gold above you?
Throughout the ether's mazy round
and through the air's expansive reach    90
and through the churning sea's realm like an
animate river,
swiftly you thrust, a wave aglow,
while on the face of things opaque
you gently pool, and flood all things with
luminous color,
but from on high there always wells
an ocean and vast sea of light,
poured thence across worlds old and new in
endless abundance.   100
Hymn. To light. [Works 1668]

|1| First born of Chaos, who so fair didst come
From the old Negro's darksome womb!
Which when it saw the lovely Child,
The melancholly Mass put on kind looks and smil'd,
|2| Thou Tide of Glory which no Rest dost know,
But ever Ebb, and ever Flow!
Thou Golden shower of a true Jove!
Who does in thee descend, and Heav'n to Earth make Love!
|3| Hail active Natures watchful Life and Health!
Her Joy, her Ornament, and Wealth!
Hail to thy Husband Heat, and Thee!
Thou the worlds beauteous Bride, the lusty Bridegroom He!
|4| Say from what Golden Quivers of the Sky,
Do all thy winged Arrows fly?
Swiftness and Power by Birth are thine:
From thy Great Sire they came, thy Sire the word Divine.
|5| 'Tis, I believe, this Archery to show,
That so much cost in Colours thou,
And skill in Painting dost bestow,
Upon thy ancient Arms, the Gawdy Heav'nly Bow.
|6| Swift as light Thoughts their empty Carriere run,
Thy Race is finisht, when begun,
Let a Post-Angel start with Thee,
And Thou the Goal of Earth shalt reach as soon as He:
|7| Thou in the Moons bright Chariot proud and gay,
Dost thy bright wood of Stars survay;
And all the year dost with thee bring
Of thousand flowry Lights thine own Nocturnal Spring.
|8| Thou Scythian-like dost round thy Lands above
The Suns gilt Tent for ever move,
And still as thou in pomp dost go
The shining Pageants of the World attend thy show.
|9| Nor amidst all these Triumphs dost thou scorn
The humble Glow-worms to adorn,
And with those living spangles gild,
(O Greatness without Pride!) the Bushes of the Field.
|10| Night, and her ugly Subjects thou dost fright,
And sleep, the lazy Owl of Night;
Asham'd and fearful to appear
They skreen their horrid shapes with the black Hemisphere.
|11| With'em there hasts, and wildly takes the Alarm,
Of painted Dreams, a busie swarm,
At the first opening of thine eye,
The various Clusters break, the antick Atomes fly.
|12| The guilty Serpents, and obscener Beasts
Creep conscious to their secret rests:
Nature to thee does reverence pay,
Ill Omens, and ill Sights removes out of thy way.
|13| At thy appearance, Grief it self is said,
To shake his Wings, and rowse his Head.
And cloudy care has often took
A gentle beamy Smile reflected from thy Look.
|14| At thy appearance, Fear it self grows bold;
Thy Sun-shine melts away his Cold.
Encourag'd at the sight of Thee,
To the cheek Colour comes, and firmness to the knee.
|15| Even Lust the Master of a hardned Face,
Blushes if thou beest in the place,
To darkness'Curtains he retires,
In Sympathizing Night he rowls his smoaky Fires.
|16| When, Goddess, thou liftst up thy wakened Head,
Out of the Mornings purple bed,
Thy Quire of Birds about thee play,
And all the joyful world salutes the rising day.
|17| The Ghosts, and Monster Spirits, that did presume
A Bodies Priv'lege to assume,
Vanish again invisibly,
And Bodies gain again their visibility.
|18| All the Worlds bravery that delights our Eyes
Is but thy sev'ral Liveries,
Thou the Rich Dy on them bestowest,
Thy nimble Pencil Paints this Landskape as thou go'st.
|19| A Crimson Garment in the Rose thou wear'st;
A Crown of studded Gold thou bear'st,
The Virgin Lillies in their White,
Are clad but with the Lawn of almost Naked Light.
|20| The Violet, springs little Infant, stands,
Girt in thy purple Swadling-bands:
On the fair Tulip thou dost dote;
Thou cloath'st it in a gay and party-colour'd Coat.
|21| With Flame condenst thou dost the Jewels fix,
And solid Colours in it mix:
Flora her self envyes to see
Flowers fairer then her own, and durable as she.
|22| Ah, Goddess! would thou could'st thy hand withhold,
And be less Liberall to Gold;
Didst thou less value to it give,
Of how much care (alas) might'st thou poor Man relieve!
|23| To me the Sun is more delightful farr,
And all fair Dayes much fairer are.
But few, ah wondrous few there be,
Who do not Gold preferr, O Goddess, ev'n to Thee.
|24| Through the soft wayes of Heaven, and Air, and Sea,
Which open all their Pores to Thee;
Like a cleer River thou dost glide,
And with thy Living Stream through the close Channels slide.
|25| But where firm Bodies thy free course oppose,
Gently thy source the Land oreflowes;
Takes there possession, and does make,
Of Colours mingled, Light, a thick and standing Lake.
|26| But the vast Ocean of unbounded Day
In th' Empyræan Heaven does stay.
Thy Rivers, Lakes, and Springs below
From thence took first their Rise, thither at last must Flow.

Both the Latin and English are based on texts owned by the editor and comprising these errors, which are duly corrected above: Hymnus 41: obscœnus for obscœnas; Hymn st. 11: pointed for painted; st. 12: om. way; st. 16: jouful for joyful. Hymnus 13 (momento) is more metrically correct than memento, the reading in Grosart, but memento is closer to "Say" in Cowley's English; the sense of the Latin itself probably involves both. Ampersands have been silently expanded in both texts, and long "s" and italicized punctuation have been normalized throughout. The original italics make it difficult to print the three texts in strict parallel; Cowley's Latin is in 25 stanzas and 100 lines and his English in 26 stanzas and 104 lines, with stanzas 5 and 18 of the English corresponding to stanza 17 (ll. 65-68) of the Latin. The Latin poem was first published posthumously in the Carminum Miscellaneorum Liber concluding the Poemata Latina of 1668; the English poem, part of Cowley's English Works, first appeared that same year as an addendum to his Verses Written on Several Occasions. Though the hymn precedes his "Solitudo" in the Carminum Miscellaneorum Liber, it may actually be written later; click here for details. A brief but rich essay in mythic revision, Cowley's hymn starts by daringly conflating Gen. 1:2-3 with Hesiod's Theogony 116-24 (Chaos cited as nondescript forbear of Eros, the "fairest among the deathless gods"; Night as mother of Aither and Day); also see Related Links and more generally Milton, PL 3.1-12.
Related Links: First Things / Ethereal Preening / Charles II in 1651: A Luciferan Dawnstar's Return

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