The Abraham Cowley Text and Image Archive

The Complaint
from Works (1668; editor's copy)

In a deep Vision's intellectual scene,
    Beneath a Bow'r for sorrow made,
    Th' uncomfortable shade,
    Of the black Yew's unlucky green,
Mixt with the mourning Willow's careful gray,
Where Reverend Cham cuts out his Famous way,
    The Melancholy Cowley lay:
And Lo! a Muse appear'd to' his closed sight,
(The Muses oft in Lands of Vision play)  10
Bodied, arrayed, and seen, by an internal Light,
A golden Harp, with silver strings she bore,
A wondrous Hieroglyphick Robe she wore,
In which all Colours, and all figures were,
That Nature or that Fancy can create,
    That Art can never imitate;
And with loose Pride it wanton'd in the Air.
In such a Dress, in such a well-cloath'd Dream,
She us'd, of old, near fair Ismenus Stream,
Pindar her Theban Favourite to meet;
A Crown was on her Head, and wings were on her Feet.  20


She touch'd him with her Harp, and rais'd him from the Ground;
The shaken strings Melodiously Resound.
    Art thou return'd at last, said she,
    To this forsaken place and me?
Thou Prodigal, who didst so loosely waste
Of all thy Youthful years, the good Estate;
Art thou return'd here, to repent too late?
And gather husks of Learning up at last,
Now the rich harvest time of Life is past,
    And Winter marches on so fast?  30
But, when I meant t' adopt Thee for my Son,
And did as learn'd a Portion assign,
As ever any of the mighty Nine
    Had to their dearest Children done;
When I resolv'd t' exalt thy' anointed Name,
Among the Spiritual Lords of peaceful Fame;
Thou Changling, thou, bewitcht with noise and show,
Wouldst into Courts and Cities from me go;
Wouldst see the World abroad, and have a share
In all the follies, and the Tumults there,  40
Thou would'st, forsooth, be something in a State,
And business thou would'st find, and would'st Create:
    Business! the frivolous pretence
Of humane Lusts to shake off Innocence;
    Business! the grave impertinence:
Business! the thing which I of all things hate,
Business! the contradiction of thy Fate.


Go, Renegado, cast up thy Account,
    And see to what Amount
    Thy foolish gains by quitting me:  50
The sale of Knowledge, Fame, and Liberty,
The fruits of thy unlearn'd Apostacy,
Thou thought'st if once the publick storm were past,
All thy remaining Life should sun-shine be:
Behold the publick storm is spent at last,
The Sovereign is tost at Sea no more,
And thou, with all the Noble Company,
    Art got at last to shore.
But whilst thy fellow Voyagers, I see 60 
All marcht up to possess the promis'd Land,
Thou still alone (alas) dost gaping stand,
Upon the naked Beach, upon the Barren Sand.


As a fair morning of the blessed spring,
    After a tedious stormy night;
Such was the glorious entry of our King,
Enriching moysture drop'd on every thing:
Plenty he sow'd below, and cast about him light.
    But then (alas) to thee alone,
One of Old Gideons Miracles was shown,
For every Tree, and every Herb around,  70
    With Pearly dew was crown'd,
And upon all the quickned ground,
The fruitful seed of Heaven did brooding lye,
And nothing but the Muses Fleece was dry.
    It did all other Threats surpass,
When God to his own People said,
(The Men whom through long wandrings he had led)
    That he would give them ev'n a Heaven of Brass:
They look'd up to that Heaven in vain,  80
That Bounteous Heaven, which God did not restrain,
Upon the most unjust to Shine and Rain.


The Rachel, for which twice seven years and more,
    Thou didst with Faith and Labour serve,
And didst (if Faith and labour can) deserve,
    Though she contracted was to thee,
    Giv'n to another thou didst see,
    Giv'n to another who had store
Of fairer, and of Richer Wives before,
And not a Leah left, thy recompence to be.  90
Go on, twice seven years more, thy fortune try,
Twice seven years more, God in his bounty may
    Give thee, to fling away
Into the Courts deceitful Lottery.
    But think how likely 'tis, that thou
With the dull work of thy unweildy Plough,
Shouldst in a hard and Barren season thrive,
    Shouldst even able be to live;
Thou, to whose share so little bread did fall,
In the miraculous year, when Manna rain'd on all. 100


Thus spake the Muse, and spake it with a smile,
That seem'd at once to pity and revile.
And to her thus, raising his thoughtful head,
    The Melancholy Cowley said,
    Ah wanton foe, dost thou upbraid
    The Ills which thou thy self hast made?
When in the Cradle, Innocent I lay,
Thou, wicked Spirit, stolest me away,
    And my abused Soul didst bear,
Into thy new-found Worlds I know not where,
    Thy Golden Indies in the Air;  110
    And ever since I strive in vain
    My ravisht freedom to regain;
    Still I Rebel, still thou dost Reign,
Lo, still in verse against thee I complain.
    There is a sort of stubborn Weeds,
Which, if the Earth but once, it ever breeds.
    No wholsom Herb can near them thrive,
    No useful Plant can keep alive:
The foolish sports I did on thee bestow,
Make all my Art and Labour fruitless now;  120
Where once such Fairies dance, no grass doth ever grow.


When my new mind had no infusion known,
Thou gav'st so deep a tincture of thine own,
    That ever since I vainly try
    To wash away th' inherent dye:
Long work perhaps may spoil thy Colours quite,
But never will reduce the Native white:
    To all the Ports of Honour and of Gain,
    I often steer my course in vain,
Thy Gale comes cross, and drives me back again.  130
Thou slack'nest all my Nerves of Industry,
    By making them so oft to be
The tinckling strings of thy loose minstrelsie.
Who ever this worlds happiness would see,
    Must as entirely cast off thee,
    As they who only Heaven desire,
    Do from the world retire.
This was my Errour, This my gross mistake,
My self a demy-votary to make.
Thus with Saphira, and her Husbands fate,  140
(A fault which I like them, am taught too late)
For all that I gave up, I nothing gain,
And perish for the part which I retain.


Teach me not then, O thou fallacious Muse,
    The Court, and better King t' accuse;
The Heaven under which I live is fair;
The fertile soil will a full Harvest bear;
Thine, thine is all the Barrenness; if thou
Mak'st me sit still and sing, when I should plough,  150
When I but think, how many a tedious year
    Our patient Soveraign did attend
    His long misfortunes fatal end;
How chearfully, and how exempt from fear,
On the Great Soveraigns Will he did depend:
I ought to be accurst, if I refuse
To wait on his, O thou fallacious Muse!
Kings have long hands (they say) and though I be
So distant, they may reach at length to me.
    However, of all Princes thou
Shouldst not reproach Rewards for being small or slow;  160
Thou who rewardest but with popular breath,
    And that too after death.

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