The Abraham Cowley Text and Image Archive

Anon., Orpheus his Descerpcion (BL Thomason Tracts E541/8): On the Stuart King Charles I's Beheading
Come my Corinna lets goe stray
And entertain an harmelesse day.
Within Parnassus safe retreate
Upon whose verdure weel repeate
A sweeter tale
Then Nightingale
Did there ere chaunt: for att her throat
A thorne keepes time to every Note.
But harke, what means this shreek & Crie?
I see no trail of enemie;
And yet mee thinks this Lauriall mount
Discollours yellow round about;
Tho through these bayes
Phaebus displayes
His hottest beames, yet wee haue seen
His care to keep his owne Trees green.
See see wild Satyrs how they runne?
All smear'd with Blood, what haue they done?
The Muses in a rout do stray
Phaebus hath flung his harpe away.
And heer's a Crowne
Comes tumbling downe
The head rouls after which it did weare.
Whose Blood and plaints yet sad the aire.
Woe's mee! this is Apollion
Borne of the cleanest beames o'th' Sunne.
But with what gentle touch the Nine
His torne Joints gather for a Shrine
And euery Limme
Do deck and trimme
Whilst Griefe their Numbers wracks wherby
They promist him Eternity.
See how they fit him for an Vrne
And his fine Brands to dust do turne
According to that Art, wherby
Nighte may be day, by Chimistry;
So that calcind
Tho here hees shrin'd
Hee may spring out in purer light
And be disuellopt from this Night.
The Graces good[ly] did become
His life so well at Martyrdome
For hee a tottering stage betrod
Each steppe refining to a God
And tho each word
Could charme the sword

Which did vnsheath his soul, yet hee
Thus wasted out Mortallity.
These Graces which securely lay
And about his eyes did stray
Protected by his Majestie
Now weare his sable liuerie;
And strowe the flowers
Of these sweet bowers
Before his Course, whilst that the Nine
Their last notes sing unto his Shrine.
Softly softly lett us move
With these Crummes of Majestie
What know wee but the Gods aboue
All the rest now Deify?
No Caesar ere did sacrifice
Himself in Triumph & thus make
Attonement for his Enemies
At his Capitolian gate.
Bold hand! how couldst thou steddy aime
With a heart false like thy face
To loppe of a Diademe
About thy feet a dance to pace?
Maist thou not on a pillow lay
Thy owne head to be charmd with rest
But thy infernall Socia may
Be likewise lodged within thy brest.
These shades bereft of Patronage
As our fountaine of its Spring
Are now but a grave hermitage
The fate to Eccho of our King.
Yee Gods with whom he now doth stray
Let us who'ue lost the veine of verse
Whilst Hee doth tread the milky way
Stand still as Statues at his Herse.
Meethinks Corinna you and I
At these sad sights should petrify:
And what a Monument should we haue
If wee stood fixt nere such a graue?
But lets returne
Ever to mourne
Goe wee gett to our Grotts these grones
will bee imprest into our stones.
Just so the sand beneath doth take
Those figures which the waves do make.
An anonymous pastoral elegy on Charles I's beheading, preserved thanks to George Thomason, who hastily copied and entered it into his vast tract-collection in February of 1649; it is briefly discussed in Nigel Smith's Literature and Revolution in England, 1640-1660 (New Haven and London, 1994), 290. Though the poem's bias is patently royalist, its premise in more than one instance plays into the regicides' hands: Charles is not so much Orpheus as Orpheus manqué, while his patronym here, sc., "Apollion," links him to the pestilence-demon of Rev. 9:11 (see H. Grotius, Opera Theologica, 2 vols. [London, 1679], 2.1189, ad loc.). Stuart kings' Orphic mastery of a blissfully harmonized nature was a favorite pretension of royalist pageants and masques, with the bard's bad end carefully occluded; even as early as Strafford's bad end in May 1641, royalist poets like Cowley nonetheless began sensing and stressing the link between such strained pretenses of king-sustained calm and the Civil War chaos refuting them.

Related links:
Charles I on the Scaffold
Charles I as Royal Martyr
Famous Orpheus, The Gardener as Orpheus, and Orpheus beyond the Bacchantes

Return to Civil War England and Aftermath
Return to Texts, Editions, and Early Illustrations