The Abraham Cowley Text and Image Archive

Life and Fame
from Pindarique Odes  [X.],  Poems (1656; editor's copy)

1    OH Life, thou Nothings younger Brother!
    So like, that one might take One for the other!
2            What's Some Body, or No Body?
3    In all the Cobwebs of the Schoolmens trade,
    We no such nice Distinction woven see,
            As 'tis To be, or Not to Bee.
4    Dream of a Shadow! a Reflection made
    From the false glories of the gay reflected Bow,
            Is a more solid thing then Thou.
5    Vain weak-built Isthmus, which dost proudly rise      10
               Up betwixt two Eternities;
            Yet canst nor Wave nor Wind sustain,
    But broken and orewhelm'd the endless Oceans meet again.
    And with what rare Inventions do we strive,
               Our selves then to survive?
    Wise, subtle Arts, and such as well befit
               That Nothing Mans no Wit.
    Some with vast costly Tombs would purchase it,
    And by the proofs of Death pretend to Live.
            Here lies the Great -- False Marble, where?      20
    Nothing but small and sordid Dust lies there.
    Some build enormous Mountain Palaces,
            The Fools and Architects to please.
    A lasting Life in well-hew'en Stone they rear:
1            So he who on th' Egyptian shore,
    Was slain so many hundred years before,
    Lives still (Oh Life most happy and most dear!
2    Oh Life that Epicures envy to hear!)
    Lives in the dropping Ruines of his Ampitheater.
1    His Father in Law an higher place does claim      30
2    In the Seraphique Entity of Fame.
               He since that Toy his Death,
    Does fill all Mouths, and breathes in all mens Breath.
    'Tis true, the two Immortal Syllables remain,
            But, Oh ye learned men, explain,
            What Essence, what Existence this,
    What Substance, what Subsistence, what Hypostasis
            In Six poor Letters is?
    In those alone does the Great Cæsar live,
            'Tis all the Conquered World could give.      40
            We Poets madder yet then all,
    With a refin'ed Phantastick Vanitie,
    Think we not onely Have, but Give Eternitie.
            Fain would I see that Prodigal,
            Who his To-morrow would bestow,
    For all old Homers Life ere since he Dy'ed till now.

Click here for a facsimile sequence of Cowley's elaborate prose notes; the verse text has been normalized in the same way as Cowley's "Hymn to Light."
Pindarique Odes Preface  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  /   Return to The Works on the Web