The Abraham Cowley Text and Image Archive

Poems Commending Plantarum (1689)

To the Memory of the Incomparable
WIth artless Hand, and much disorder'd Mind
      (Pardon illustrious Man) I come,
To try, if worthy Thee I ought can find
  That groveling I might offer at thy Tomb;
For yet, nor yet thou never hadst thy due,
Tho courted by the understanding few,
  And they sometimes officious too:
Much more is owing to thy mighty Name,
Than was perform'd by noble Buckingham;
He chose a place thy sacred Bones to keep  10
Near that, where Poets, and where Monarchs sleep:
    Well did thy kind Mecoenas mean
To thee, and to himself, and may that Tomb
Convey your mutual Praise to Ages yet to come:
  But Monuments may betray their trust,
And like their Founders crumble into dust.
  Were I to advise Posterity
That should at all times acceptable be,
Quickly to comprehend their great concern,  19
COWLEY should be the first word all their Sons should learn.
  That charming Name would ever Grace inspire,
  Enflame their Souls with supernatural Fire,
And make them nothing, but what's truly good, admire;
  Early their tender Minds would be posses'd
  With glorious Images, and every Breast
Imbibe an Happiness not to be express'd:
    Of these (blest Shade!) when thou wert here
      An unreguarded Sojourner,
      Thou hadst so large a part,
That thou dost hardly more appear  30
      Accomplish'd where thou art
      But that thy radiant Brow,
Encircled with an everlasting Wreath,
  Shews thee triumphant now
  O'er Disappointments, and o'er Death.
When with Astonishment we cast an eye
    On thine amazing Infancy,
We envy Nature's Prodigality
      To Thee, and only Thee,
In whom (as in old Eden) still we see  40
    All things florid, fresh, and green,
Blossoms and Fruit at once on one immortal Tree.
Herculean Vigor hadst Thou when but young,
In riper years more than Alcides strong.
    Then who shall sing thy wondr'ous Song?
  For he that worthily would mention Thee
  Should be devested of Mortality,
  No meaner Offerings should he bring,
Than what a Saint might pen, an Angel sing,
Such as with chearfulness thy self hadst done,  50
    If in thy life-time thou hadst known
      So bright a Theme to write upon:
Tho thou hast sung of Heroes, and of Kings
      In mighty numbers mighty things.
      Enjoy (inimitable Bard!)
Of all thy pleasant Toil the sweet reward,
      And ever venerable be,
Till the unthinking World shall once more lye
Immerst in her first Chaös of Barbarity.
    A Curse now to be dreaded, for with Thee  60
Dy'd all the lovely Decencies of Poetry.
Tho. Flatman.

To the Memory of the Author.

To fertile Wits and Plants of fruitful kind
Impartial Nature the same Laws assign'd;
Both have their Spring before they reach their Prime,
A Time to blossom, and a bearing Time:
An early Bloom to both has fatal been,
Those soonest fade, whose Verdure first was seen.
Alone exempted from the common Fate,
The forward COWLEY held a lasting Date:
For Envy's Blast and powerful Time too strong,
He blossom'd early, and he flourisht long.  10
In whom the double Miracle was seen;
Ripe in his Spring, and in his Autumn green:
With us he left his gen'rous Fruit behind,
The Feast of Wit and Banquet of the Mind;
While the fair Tree transplanted to the Skies,
In Verdure with th Elysian Garden vies;
The Pride of Earth before, and now of Paradise.
  Thus faint our strongest Metaphors must be,
Thus unproportion'd to thy Muse and Thee.
Those Flowers that did in thy rich Garden smile,  20
Wither, transplanted to another Soil.
Thus Orpheus Harp that did wild Beasts command
Had lost its force in any other Hand.
Saul's Frantick Rage harmonious sounds obey'd,
His Rage was charm'd, but 'twas when David play'd.
The Artless since have touch'd thy sacred Lyre,
We have thy Numbers, but we want thy Fire.
Horace and Virgil where they brightest shin'd,
Prov'd but thy Oar and were by thee refin'd:
The Conqueror that from the general Flame,  30
Sav'd Pindar's Roof, deserv'd a lasting Name,
A greater Thou that didst preserve his Fame.
A dark and huddled Chaos long he lay,
Till thy diviner Genius powerful Ray
Dispers'd the Mists of Night, and gave him Day.
No Mists of Time can make thy Verse less bright,
Thou shin'st like Phoebus with unborrowed Light.
Henceforth no Phoebus we'll invoke but thee,
Auspicious to thy poor Survivers be!
Who unregarded plow the Muses Soil,  40
Our Labour all the Harvest of our Toil;
And in excuse of Fancies flag'd and tir'd,
Can only say; Augustus is expir'd.*
*Written just when King Charles was dead.  

  *Editor's note: This concluding 1689 sidenote may be wrong in equating the elegist's "Augustus" with Charles II (d. 1685) not Cowley; the Cowley equation is easier to square with the old guess (Perkin, 69; also see 91) that this poem was the one written on Cowley's death by his medical mentor and friend Dr. Charles Scarborough (1616-1694), who gave an inscribed copy of Cowley's Poëmata (Perkin, 50) to Hortorum poet René Rapin. In any case the present elegy shares more than one generative premise with Denham's, from 1667.
On Mr. COWLEY'S Juvenile POEMS, and the
Translation of his

WHen young Alcides in his Cradle lay,
      And graspt in both his Infant Hands,
      Broke from the Nurses feeble Bands,
        The bloody gasping Prey;
Aloft he those first Trophies bore,
And squeezes out their pois'nous Gore:
The Women shreekt with wild Amaze,
The Men as much affrighted gaze.
  But had the wise Tiresias come
  Into the crowded Room,  10
  With deep Prophetick Joy;
H'had heard the Conquests of the God-like Boy,
  And sung in sacred Rage
  What Monsters he must afterwards destroy,
  What ravenous Men and Beasts engage:
  Hence he'd propitious Omens take,
    And from the Triumphs of his Infancy
      Portend his future Victory
O'er the foul Serpent weltring wide in Lerna's dreadful Lake.
Alcides, Pindar, Pindar COWLEY sings,  20
  And while they strike their vocal strings,
  To either both new Honour brings.
But who shall now the mighty Task sustain?
  And now our Hercules is there,
  What Atlas can Olympus bear?
What Mortal undergo th'unequal Pain?
    But 'tis a glorious Fate
    To fall with such a Weight:
  Tho' with unhallowed Fingers, I
  Will touch the Ark, altho' I dy.  30
  Forgive me, O thou shining Shade,
  Forgive a Fault which Love has made.
  Thus I my sawcy kindness mourn,
    Which yet I can't repent,
  Before thy sacred Monument
And moisten with my Tears thy wondrous Urn.
Begin, begin, my Muse, thy noble Choir,
And aim at something worthy Pindar's Lyre,
Within thy Breast excite the kindling Fire,
    And fan it with thy Voice!  40
  COWLEY does to JOVE belong,
  JOVE and COWLEY claim my Song.
These fair first Fruits of Wit young Cowley bore,
  Which promis'd if the happy Tree
  Should ever reach Maturity,
To bless the World with better, and with more.
Thus in the Kernel of the largest Fruit,
  Is all the Tree in little drawn,
  The Trunk, the Branches, and the Root;
Thus a fair Day is pictur'd in a lovely Dawn.  50
Tasso, a Poet in his Infancy,
  Did hardly earlier rise than thee:
Nor did he shoot so far, or shine so bright,
Or in his dawning Beams or noon-day Light.
  The Muses did young COWLEY raise,
  They stole thee from thy Nurses Arms,
  Fed thee with sacred Love of Praise,
    And taught thee all their Charms.
As if Apollo's self had been thy Sire,
  They daily rockt thee on his Lyre.  60
Hence Seeds of Numbers in thy Soul were fixt,
  Deep as the very Reason there,
  No Force from thence could Numbers tear,
    Even with thy being mixt.
And there they lurk'd, till Spencer's sacred Flame
    Leapt up and kindled thine,
  Thy Thoughts as regular and fine,
    Thy Soul the same,
Like his, to Honor, and to Love inclin'd,
  As soft thy Soul, as great thy Mind.  70
Whatever COWLEY writes must please.
Sure, like the Gods he speaks all Languages.
Whaever Theme by COWLEY's Muse is drest,
    Whatever he'll essay;
Or in the softer, or the nobler way,
    He still writes best.
  If he ever stretch his Strings
  To mighty Numbers, mighty Things,
  So did Virgil's Heroes fight,
  Such Glories wore, though not so bright.  80
  If he'll paint his noble Fire,
  Ah what Thoughts his Songs inspire,
  Vigorous Love and gay Desire.
  Who would not, Cowley! ruin'd be?
Who would not love, that reads, that thinks of thee?
Whether thou in th' old Roman dost delight,
  Or English, full as strong, to write.
  Thy Master-strokes in both are shown,
  COWLEY in both excells alone,
Virgil of theirs, and Waller of our own.  90
But why should the soft Sex be robb'd of thee?
    Why should not England know,
  How much she does to COWLEY owe?
How much fair Boscobel's for ever sacred Tree?
  The Hills, the Groves, the Plains, the Woods,
  The Fields, the Meadows and the Floods,
  The Flowry World, where Gods and Poets use,
  To Court a Mortal or a Muse?
It shall be done. But who? ah who shall dare,
  So vast a Toil to undergo,  100
  And all the Worlds just censure bear,
  Thy Strength, and their own Weakness show?
Soft Afra who had led our Shepherds long,  [Mrs. A. Behn
  Who long the Nymphs and Swains did guide,
  Our Envy, her own Sexes Pride,
When all her Force on this great Theme she'd try'd,
She strain'd awhile to reach th' inimitable Song,
  She strain'd awhile, and wisely dy'd.
  Those who survive unhappier be,
Yet thus, great God of Poesie,  110
With Joy they sacrifice their Fame to thee.
S. Westley.

[from the editor's copy of Works, vol. III (1689); all texts normalized in the same way as Cowley's "Hymn to Light"]
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