The Abraham Cowley Text and Image Archive

Elegies on the Death of Cowley (1667)


By the Honourable Sir John Denham.

OLd Chaucer, like the morning Star,
To us discovers day from far,
His light those Mists and Clouds dissolv'd,
Which our dark Nation long involv'd;
But he descending to the shades,
Darkness again the Age invades.
Next (like Aurora) Spencer rose,
Whose purple blush the day foreshews;
The other three, with his own fires,
Phoebus, the Poets God, inspires;   10
By Shakespear, Johnson, Fletcher's lines,
Our Stages lustre Rome's outshines:
These Poets neer our Princes sleep,
And in one Grave their Mansion keep;
They liv'd to see so many days,
Till time had blasted all their Bays:
But cursed be the fatal hour
That pluckt the fairest, sweetest flower
That in the Muses Garden grew,
And amongst wither'd Lawrels threw.   20
Time, which made them their Fame outlive,
To Cowly scarce did ripeness give.
Old Mother Wit, and Nature gave
Shakespear and Fletcher all they have;
In Spencer, and in Johnson, Art,
Of slower Nature got the start;
But both in him so equal are,
None knows which bears the happy'st share;
To him no Author was unknown,
Yet what he wrote was all his own;   30
He melted not the ancient Gold,
Nor with Ben Johnson did make bold
To plunder all the Roman stores
Of Poets, and of Orators:
Horace his wit, and Virgil's state,
He did not steal, but emulate,
And when he would like them appear,
Their Garb, but not their Cloaths, did wear:
He not from Rome alone, but Greece,
Like Jason brought the Golden Fleece;   40
To him that Language (though to none
Of th' others) as his own was known.
On a stiff gale (as Flaccus sings)  [His pindarics.
The Theban Swan extends his wings,
When through th'ætherial Clouds he flies,
To the same pitch our Swan doth rise;
Old Pindar's flights by him are reacht,
When on that gale his wings are stretcht;
His fancy and his judgment such,
Each in the other seem'd too much,   50
His severe judgment (giving Law)
His modest fancy kept in awe:
As rigid Husbands jealous are,
When they believe their Wives too fair,
His English stream so pure did flow,
As all that saw, and tasted, know.
But for his Latin vein, so clear,
Strong, full, and high it doth appear, [His last work.
That were immortal Virgil here,
Him, for his judge, he would not fear;   60
Of that great Portraicture, so true
A Copy Pencil never drew.
My Muse her Song had ended here,
But both their Genii strait appear,
Joy and amazement her did strike,
Two Twins she never saw so like;*
Such a resemblance of all parts,
Life, Death, Age, Fortune, Nature, Arts,
Then lights her Torch at theirs, to tell,
And shew the world this Parallel,    70
Fixt and contemplative their looks,
Still turning over Natures Books:
Their works chast, moral, and divine,
Where profit and delight combine;
They guilding dirt, in noble verse
Rustick Philosophy rehearse;**
Nor did their actions fall behind
Their words, but with like candour shin'd,***
Both by two generous Princes lov'd,
Who knew, and judg'd what they approv'd   80
Yet having each the same desire,
Both from the busie throng retire;
Their Bodies to their Minds resign'd,
Car'd not to propagate their Kind:
Yet though both fell before their hour,
Time on their off-spring hath no power,
Nor fire, nor fate their Bays shall blast,
Nor Death's dark vail their day o'recast.
Licensed August 15, 1667, Roger L'Estrange
London, Printed for H. Herringman, at the Blew Anchor
in the Lower walk of the New Exchange. 1667.

[Huntington copy]
Denham's Poems (1668) adds the following verses:
*'Twas taught by wise Pythagoras,
One Soul might through more Bodies pass;
Seeing such Transmigration here,
She thought it not a Fable there.
**When Heroes, Gods, or God-like Kings
They praise, on their exalted wings,
To the Celestial orbs they climb,
And with the Harmonious sphears keep time;
***Each drew fair Characters, yet none
Of these they feign'd, excels their own;
Overall Denham's elegy (on which see Johnson's Cowley and Denham) bears comparison with another, anonymous poem published with the Plantarum in Works, Part III (1689).

And his Burial in

OUR wit, till Cowley did its lustre raise,
May be resembled to the first three daies,
In which did shine only such streaks of light
As serv'd but to distinguish Day from Night:
But wit breaks forth, in all that he has done,
Like Light when 'twas united in the Sun.
   The Poets formerly did lye in wait
To rifle those whom they would imitate:
We Watcht to rob all strangers when they writ
And Learnt their Language but to steal their Wit.   10
He from that need his Country does redeem,
Since those who want may be supply'd from him;
And Forreign Nations now may borrow more
From Cowley than we could from them before;
Who though he condescended to admit
The Greeks and Romans for his Guides in wit
Yet he those ancient Poets does pursue
But as the Spaniards great Columbus do;
He taught them first to the New World to steer,
But they possess all that is precious there.   20
   When first his spring of wit began to flow,
It rais'd in some, wonder and sorrow too,
That God had so much wit and knowledge lent,
And that they were not in his praises spent.
   But those who in his Davideis look,
Find they his Blossoms for his Fruit mistook:
In diff'ring Ages diff'rent Muses shin'd,
His Green did charm the Sense, his Ripe the Mind.
Writing for Heaven he was inspir'd from thence,
And from his Theam deriv'd his influence.   30
The Scripture will no more the wicked fright;
His Muse does make Religion a delight.
   Oh how severely Man is us'd by Fate!
The covetous toil long for an Estate;
And having got more than their life can spend,
They may bequeath it to a Son or Friend:
But Learning (in which none can have a share,
Unless they climb to it by time and care,
Learning, the truest wealth which man can have)
Does with his Body, perish in his Grave:   40
To Tenements of Clay it is confin'd,
Though 'tis the noblest purchase of the mind:
Oh why can we thus leave our friends possest
Of all our acquisitions but the best?
   Still when we study Cowley we lament
That to the world he was no longer lent;
Who, like a lightning, to our eyes was shown;
So bright he shin'd and was so quickly gone.
Sure he rejoic'd to see his flame expire,
Since he himself could not have rais'd it higher;   50
For when wise Poets can no higher flie,
They would, like Saints, in their perfection die.
   Though beauty some affection in him bred,
Yet only sacred learning would he wed;
By which th'illustrious off-spring of his brain
Shall over Wits great Empire ever reign:
His works shall live, when Pyramids of Pride
Shrink to such ashes as they long did hide.
   That sacrilegious fire (which did last year
Level those Piles which Piety did rear)   60
Dreaded neer that majestick Church to flye
Where English Kings and English Poets lye:
It at an awful distance did expire,
Such pow'r had sacred Ashes over fire;
Such as it durst not neer that Structure come
Which Fate had order'd to be Cowley's Tomb;
And 'twill be still preserv'd, by being so,
From what the rage of future Flames can do.
Material Fire dares not that place infest
Where he who had immortal flame does rest.   70
   There let his Urn remain, for it was fit
Amongst our Kings to lay the King of wit:
By which the Structure more renown'd will prove
For that part bury'd than for all above.
[Harvard copy]
Orrey's elegy absorbs much of his earlier tribute to Cowley's Davideis; see excerpts in Loiseau, 4-5.

Upon the Death of

  HE who would worthily adorn his Herse,
Should write in his own way, in his immortal Verse:
  But who can such majestick Numbers write?
    With such inimitable light?
    His high and noble flights to reach
  'Tis not the art of Precept that can teach.
  The world's grown old since Pindar, and to breed
  Another such did twenty ages need.
    At last another Pindar came,
  Great as the first in Genius and in Fame;  10
But that the first in Greek, a conquering Language, sung
  And the last wrote but in an Island Tongue.
  Wit, thought, invention in them both do flow
  As Torrents tumbling from the mountains go.
  Though the great Roman Lyrick do maintain
    That none can equal Pindar's strain;
  Cowley with words as full and thoughts as high
    As ever Pindar did, does flie;
  Of Kings and Heros he as boldly sings,
And flies above the Clouds, yet never wets his wings.  20
  As fire aspiring, as the Sea profound,
  Nothing in Nature can his fancy bound;
    As swift as Lightning in its course,
    And as resistless in his force.
  Whilst other Poets, like Bees who range the field
    To gather what the Flowers will yield,
    Glean matter with much toil and pain
  To bring forth Verses in an humble strain;
    He sees about him round,
  Possest at once of all that can be found:  30
    To his illuminated eye
  All things created open lye,
That all his thoughts so clear and so perspicuous be,
  That whatsoever he describes we see;
  Our Souls are with his passions fir'd,
And he who does but read him is inspir'd.
    Pindar to Thebes, where first he drew his breath,
    Though for his sake his race was sav'd from death
  By th' Macedonian Youth, did not more honour do
    Than Cowley does his Friends and Country too.  40
    Had Horace liv'd his wit to understand,
He ne're had England thought a rude inhospitable Land;
    Rome might have blush'd, and Athens been asham'd
    To hear a remote Britain nam'd,
  Who for his parts does match, if not exceed,
  The greatest men that they did either breed.
    If he had flourish'd when Augustus sway'd,
    Whose peaceful Scepter the whole world obey'd,
    Account of him Mecenas would have made;
    And from the Country shade,  50
    Him into th' Cabinet have tane
    To divert Cesar's cares and charm his pain:
    For nothing can such Balm infuse
Into a wearied mind as does a noble Muse.
  It is not now as 'twas in former days,
  When all the Streets of Rome were strow'd with Bays
  To receive Petrarch, who through Arches rode,
Triumphal Arches, honour'd as a Demy-God;
  Not for Towns conquer'd, or for Batels won,
    But for Victories which were more his own,  60
For Victories of Wit, and Victories of Art,
In which blind undiscerning Fortune had no part.
Though Cowley ne're such honours did attain,
As long as Petrarch's, Cowley's name shall reign;
    'Tis but his dross that's in the Grave,
    His memory Fame from Death shall save;
His Bayes shall flourish, and be ever green,
When those of Conquerors are not to be seen.
Nec tibi mors ipsa superstes erit.
Thomas Higgons.
London, printed for H. Herringman, at the Blew Anchor in the
Lower-walk of the New Exchange. 1667.

[Folger copy]
In Obitum Dignissimi Viri, A. Cow-
ley Armigeri, Poëtae celeberrimi.
by William Speede

Hic, Cowleie, jaces, ipso vel judice Phoebo,
In terris posthac non habiture parem.
Carmina dum vivant, vireat dum planta per agros,
Dum teneat Coelum sydera, sydus eris.
Atra licèt nobis jactet nox lumen ademptum,
Quae tenebras nobis, nox dedit astra tibi.
Te, pater, ut dignum, Coelo donavit Apollo,
Et statuit Musis annumerare suis.

[from Epigrammata Juvenilia (1669);
Bodleian copy]

Memory of the Incomparable Mr. Abraham Cowley,
lately Deceased.
by R[ichard] P[eers]


As when some matchless Monarch dies, straight all
  Adjoyning Kings resent his hasty fate:
With grave Solemnity deplore his fall,
  Which yet their Pow'r enlarges and their State:


So while the mighty Cowley yields his breath
  His Neighbours sorrow in Poetick guise;
In frequent Elegies lament his Death,
  Though on his Ruines they exspect to rise.


And I, whose small Estate will scarce support
  A mean Repute by Vulgar Poets won,  10
Like a profuse Retainer of the Court
  Must keep the Fashion though I be undone.


May he whose dawning light of early Day
  Outvy'd the splendour most Meridians have
Deign that a Tapers faint officious Ray
  Do a small act of Duty to his Grave.


Though vain's the Zeal which Richest Gums bestows,
  Or strews the Flowers of no common Verse,
For his each leaf does nobler sweets disclose,
  And his own Garden best adorn his Herse.  20


Those happy Simples rescue from the Grave,
  When Physicks Rules but empty succours bring.
From their fresh bloom his constant Glories have
  A lovely Verdure and a lasting Spring.


Nor him unwilling Histories record,
  'Mongst those who at great Fame not good arrive;
Whose Names are only read to be abhor'd,
  As Civil Wars and signal Plagues survive.


But such a blest Eternity attends
  His works, as if from Spciy Odours bred,  30
Which some fam'd Herbalist together blends
  At once to sweeten and preserve the dead.


A ruined Palace (1) first he rais'd, and then  [1667: ruin'd
  Describ'd a Garden worthy such a Pile.
To Build and Plant with failing Age in ken
  Deaths fatal Omen wise observers stile.


Yet must Experience cancel here her Laws;
  Those very works shall make him deathless grow:
Thence he new life and youthfull vigour draws;
  Themselves obstructing what they would foreshow.  40


Hence then we date our Mighty Lyricks Birth,
  While with him rival Emulation dies.
Heav'ns Harp ne'r sets, but seems to touch the Earth;
  Still brighter thence, and greater in its Rise.


In Solemn Duty to his Princely Grave,
  Concern and Prejudice do now expire:
With the observance of an Eastern slave
  First light his Pile, then leap into the fire.


For even they, who (while he liv'd) oppress'd
  His growing Merits and his worth defam'd,  50
Confess him now of Modern Wits the best,
  And next Immortal Spencer (2) to be nam'd.


So Romes repenting Senate Altars rears
  And their yet bleeding Romulus adore;
he their Devotions object straight appears
  Who fell the Victim of their Rage (3) before.


How just (ye Gods) was He! though oft arraign'd,
  Though oft condemn'd by Wars severest Laws;
His Hopes discarded, and his Honour stain'd
  For a too quick Surrender (4) of his Cause.  60


See what weak Crimes do his first Faith oppose,
  Which Interest and base design attest:
Like Pious David down his Harp he throws
  When those that hear him are by Rage possest.


For first in happy Verse he did design
  The seeds of Faction (5), and the source of War:
How Piety can with Ambition joyn,
  And more than Hell contrive, Religion dare.


But after Newburies (6) twice dismal Field
  Rebellions Conquest he no longer sings.  70
His measures unto wild disorder yield,
  And Englands weeping moisture cracks his strings.


Strong fate the vulgar unto Ruine led,
  Disease their Meat, distemper was their Drink:
Now o're the Body was it too far spred
  To deem the Tetter curable by Ink.


Bold Treasons matchlesse Triumphs he had seen,
  Ere from the War his Loyal Pen retir'd:
Though Poetry had real fury been,
  And no feign'd madness, now to be Inspir'd,  80


And therefore knowing Time alone defeats
  The force of Floods by hasty Torrents fed,
(Like a foyl'd Prince) with Rebels wisely treats:
  By feign'd Compliance unto conquest led.


Unhappy man, whose miseries ne'r cease!
  On whom kind Fortune scarce bestows one smile!
His Loyalty is paid with Court-disgrace,
  And a Retirement bitter as Exile.


Yet he's ne'r chang'd by Sorrows or by Time:
  His rever'd Prince does in his weeping Eyes  90
Appear more Sacred still, and more sublime;
  As heights at distance seem to reach the Skies.


He thought on Pious Davids mighty Name,
  Whom once his Muse so happily did Sing:
And deem'd it Treason 'gainst his Princely Theme
  Ought should divide the Poet and the King.


Curst those, who (like the German Monk (7) invent
  The seeds of Ruine in their fatal Cells:
Whose Leisure's on designs of Tumult bent,
  And on the Deaths of tardy Ages dwells.  100


While nought those Rebel discontented Souls
  But dismal thoughts of Stabs and Drugs possess,
By Physicks aid, Deaths Empire he controuls,
  And does those ills which they design, redress.


He from the Noise and Injuries of Court,
  Does only so to silent Groves repair,
As half-tir'd Passengers to Shades resort
  From the offensive fury of the Air.


Here his Pindarick Muse so bravely soar'd,
  Commended others and her own fate mourn'd,  110
Long absent vertue seem'd to Earth restor'd,
  And Poetry unto the Woods return'd.


Nor did the Learned World e're think him less;
  (The fate of all great Persons in disgrace)
None there did his commanding worth depress,
  Or his Supream Authority displace.


Him still their Guide succeeding Wits propound,
  And those that best approach him Fame commends.
His Royal stamp on basest Mettals found
  Together Value and resemblance lends.  120


So, near his Death some recluse Prince gives Law,
  Wehn Vertue's heightened by Romantique Lore:
His cloyster'd Majesty retains that aw
  By which his Edicts rul'd the world before.


1. Somerset House.
2. Buried between Chaucer and Spencer.
3. Fuisse quoque tum credo aliquos qui discerptum Regem Patrum manibus taciti arguerent Liv. [1.16]
4. Accus'd for his ready compliance with the late Usurpers.
5. A History of the Civil Wars.
6. In the Preface to his Book.

[from Four Small Copies of Verses (1667);
Huntington copy]

All texts normalized in the same way as Cowley's "Hymn to Light."
Prosary, or a Critical Garland // Poems Commending Plantarum // Other Verses on Cowley // Cowley's Urn and Epitaph, Westminster
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