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For, as for the Pindaric Odes, (which is the third part) I am in great doubt whether they will be understood by most readers; nay, even by very many who are well enough acquainted with the common roads and ordinary tracts of poesy. They either are, or at least were meant to be, of that kind of style which Dion. Halicarnasseus calls, Milanoquè; xai hồù μstà deivótnToc, and which he attributes to Alceus. The digressions are many, and sudden, and sometimes long, according to the fashion of all lyriques, and of Pindar above all men living: the figures are unusual and bold, even to temerity, and such as I durst not have to do withal in any other kind of poetry: the numbers are various and irregular, and sometimes (especially some of the long ones) seem harsh and uncouth, if the just mea sures and cadences be not observed in the pronunciation. So that almost all their sweetness and numerosity (which is to be found, if I mistake not, in the roughest, if rightly repeated) lies in a manner wholly at the mercy of the reader. I have briefly described the nature of these verses, in the Ode entituled, The Resurrection: and though the liberty of them may incline a man to believe them easy to be composed, yet the undertaker will find it otherwise
-Ut sibi quivis
Speret idem; sudet multùm, frustráque laboret
Ausus idem 5.
I come now to the last part, which is Davideis, or an heroical poem of the troubles of David: which I designed into twelve books; not for the tribes' sake, but after the pattern of our master Virgil; and intended to close all with that most poetical and excellent elegy of David on the death of Saul and Jonathan: for I had no mind to carry him quite on to his anointing at Hebron, because it is the custom of heroic poets (as we see by the examples of Homer and Virgil, whom we should do ill to forsake to imitate others) never to come to the full end of their story: but only so near, that every one may see it; as men commonly play not out the game, when it is evident that they can win it, but lay down their cards, and take up what they have won. This, I say, was the whole design: in which there are many roble and fertile arguments behind; as the barbarous cruelty of Saul to the priests at Nob; the several flights and escapes of David, with the manner of his living in the wilderness; the funeral of Samuel; the love of Abigail; the sacking of Ziglag; the loss and recovery of David's wives from the Amalekites; the witch of Endor; the war with the Philistines; and the battle of Gilboa: all which I meant to interweave, upon several occasions, with most of the illustrious stories of the Old Testament, and to embellish with the most remarkable antiquities of the Jews, and of other nations before or at that age.
But I have had neither leisure hitherto, nor have appetite at present, to finish the work, or so much as to revise that part which is done, with that care which I resolved to bestow upon it, and which the dignity of the matter well deserves. For what worthier subject could have been chosen, among all the treasuries of past times, than the life of this young prince; who, from so small beginnings, through such infinite troubles and oppositions, by such miraculous virtues and excellencies, and with such incomparable variety of wonderful actions and accidents, became the greatest monarch that ever sat on the most famous throne of the whole earth? Whom should a poet more justly seek to honour, than the highest person who ever honoured his profession? whom a Christian poet, rather than a man after God's own heart, and the man who had that sacred pre-eminence above all other princes, to be the best and mightiest of that royal race from whence Christ himself, according to the flesh, disdained not to descend?
When I consider this, and how many other bright and magnificent subjects of the like nature the holy Scripture affords and proffers, as it were, to poesy; in the wise managing and illustrating whereof the glory of God Almighty might be joined with the singular utility and noblest delight of mankind; it is not without grief and indignation, that I behold that divine science employing all her inexhaustible riches of wit and eloquence, either in the wicked and beggarly flattery of great persons, or the unmanly idolizing of foolish women, or the wretched affectation of scurril laughter, or at best on the confused antiquated dreams of senseless fables and metamorphoses. Amongst all holy and consecrated things, which the Devil ever stole and alienated from the service of the Deity; as altars, temples, sacrifices, prayers, and the like; there is none that he so universally, and so long, usurpt, as poetry. It is time to recover it out of the tyrant's hands, and to restore it to the kingdom of God, who is the father of it. It is time to baptize it in Jordan, for it will never become clean by bathing in the water of Damascus. There Hor. A. P. 240.
wants, methinks, but the conversion of that and the Jews, for the accomplishment of the kingdom of Christ. And as men, before their receiving of the faith, do not without some carnal reluctancies apprehend the bonds and fetters of it, but find it afterwards to be the truest and greatest liberty: it will fare no otherwise with this art, after the regeneration of it; it will meet with wonderful variety of new, more beautiful, and more delightful objects; neither will it want room, by being confined to Heaven.
There is not so great a lye to be found in any poet, as the vulgar conceit of men, that lying is essential to good poetry. Were there never so wholesome nourishment to be had (but alas! it breeds nothing but diseases) out of these boasted feasts of love and fables; yet, methinks, the unalterable continuance of the diet should make us nauseate it: for it is almost impossible to serve up any new dish of that kind. They are all but the cold-meats of the ancients, new-heated, and new set forth. I do not at all wonder that the old poets made some rich crops out of these grounds; the heart of the soil was not then wrought out with continual tillage: but what can we expect now, who come a gleaning, not after the first reapers, but after the very beggars? Besides, though those mad stories of the gods and heroes seem in themselves so ridiculous; yet they were then the whole body (or rather chaos) of the theology of those times. They were believed by all, but a few philosophers, and perhaps sorne atheists, and served to good purpose among the vulgar (as pitiful things as they are), in strengthening the authority of law with the terrours of conscience, and expectation of certain rewards and unavoidable punishments. There was no other religion; and therefore that was better than none at all. But to us, who have no need of them; to us, who deride their folly, and are wearied with their impertinencies; they ought to appear no better arguments for verse, than those of their worthy successors, the knights-errant. What can we imagine more proper for the ornaments of wit or learning in the story of Ducalion than in that of Noah? Why will not the actions of Sampson afford as plentiful matter as the labours of Hercules? Why is not Jeptha's daughter as good a woman as Iphigenia? and the friendship of David and Jonathan more worthy celebration than that of Theseus and Perithous? Does not the passage of Moses and the Israelites into the Holy Land yield incomparably more poetical variety than the voyages of Ulysses or Æneas? Are the obsolete thread-bare tales of Thebes and Troy half so stored with great, heroical, and supernatural actions (since verse will needs find or make such), as the wars of Joshua, of the Judges, of David, and divers others? Can all the transformations of the gods give such copious hints to flourish and expatiate on, as the true miracles of Christ, or of his prophets and apostles? What do I instance in these few particulars? All the books of the Bible are either already most admirable and exalted pieces of poesy, or are the best materials in the world for it.
Yet, though they be in themselves so proper to be made use of for this purpose; none but a good artist will know how to do it; neither must we think to cut and polish diamonds with so little pains and skill as we do marble. For, if any man design to compose a sacred poem, by only turning a story of the Scripture, like Mr. Quarle's, or some other godly matter, like Mr. Heywood of angels, into rhyme; he is so far from elevating of poesy, that he only abases divinity. In brief, he who can write a prophane poem well, may write a divine one better; but he who can do that but ill, will do this much worse. The same fertility of invention; the same wisdom of disposition; the same judgment in observance of decencies; the same lustre and vigour of elocution; the same modesty and majesty of number; briefly, the same kind of habit, is required to both: only this latter allows better stuff, and therefore would look more deformidly, ill drest in it. I am far from assuming to myself to have fulfilled the duty of this weighty undertaking: but sure I am, there is nothing yet in our language (nor perhaps in any) that is in any degree answerable to the idea that I conceive of it. And I shall be ambitious of no other fruit from this weak and imperfect attempt of mine, but the opening of a way to the courage and industry of some other persons, who may be better able to perform it thoroughly and successfully.
TO THE EDITION OF 1674.
THE following Poems of Mr. Cowley being much inquired after, and very scarce (the town hardly affording one book, though it hath been four times printed) we thought this fifth edition could not fail of be ng well received by the world. We presume one reason why they were omitted in the last collection, was,because the propriety of this copy belonged not to he same person that published those: but the reception they had found appears by the several impressions through which they had passed. We dare not say they are equally perfect with those written by the author in his riper years, yet certainly they are such as deserve not to be buried in obscurity. We presume the author's judgment of them is most reasonable to appeal to; and you will find him (allowing grains of modesty) give them no small character. His words are in the 3d page of his preface before his former published poems 6.
You find our excellent author likewise mentioning and reciting part of these poems, in his "Several Discourses by way of Essays in Verse and Prose, in the 11th Discourse treating of himself." These we suppose a sufficient authority for our reviving them; and sure there is no ingenuous reader to whom the smallest remains of Mr. Cowley will be unwelcome. His poems are every where the copy of his mind; so that by this supplement to his other volume you have the picture of that so deservedly eminent man from almost his childhood to his latest years, the bud and bloom of his spring; the warmth of his summer; the richness and perfection of his autumn. But, for the reader's further curiosity, we refer him to the author's following preface to them, published by himself.
See the Author's Preface above, p. 45.
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE AND RIGHT REVEREND FATHER IN GOD,
LORD BISHOP OF LINCOLN, AND DEAN OF WESTMINSTER.
I MIGHT well fear, lest these my rude and unpolished lines should offend your honourable survey;
but that I hope your nobleness will rather smile at the faults committed by a child, than censure them, Howsoever I desire your lordship's pardon, for presenting things so unworthy to your view; and to accept the good-will of him, who in all duty is bound to be
most humble servant,
(I know not yet whether gentle or no) some, I know, have been angry (I dare not assume the honour of their envy) at my poetical boldness, and blamed in mine, what commends other fruits, earliness: others, who are either of a weak faith, or strong malice, have thought me like a pipe, which never sounds but when it is blowed in, and read me, not as Abraham Cowley, but Authorem Anonymum. To the first I answer, that it is an envious frost which nips the blossoms, because they appear quickly: to the latter, that he is the worst homicide who strives to murder another's fame: to both, that it is a ridiculous folly to condemn or laugh at the stars, because the Moon and Sun shine brighter. The small fire I have is rather blown than extinguished by this wind. For the itch of poesy, by being angered, increaseth; by rubbing, spreads farther; which appears in that I have ventured upon this third edition. What though it be neglected? It is not, I am sure, the first book which hath lighted tobacco, or been employed by cooks and grocers. If in all men's judgments it suffer shipwreck, it shall something content me, that it hath pleased myself and the bookseller. In it you shall find one argument (and I hope I shall need no more) to confute unbelievers: which is, that as mine age, and consequently experience (which is yet but little) hath increased, so they have not left my poesy flagging behind them, I should not be angry to see any one burn my Piramus and Thisbe, nay, I would do it myself, but that I hope a pardon may easily be gotten for the errours of ten years age. My Constantius and Philetus confesses me two years older when I writ it. The rest were made since, upon several occasions, and perhaps do not belie the time of their birth. Such as they are, they were created by me: but their fate lies in your hands; it is only you can effect, that neither the bookseller repent himself of his charge in printing them, nor I of my labour in composing them. Farewell.
TO THE READER.
I CALLED the buskin'd muse, Melpomene,
And told her what sad story I would write:
If thou dislike these sorrowful lines, then know,
And, as she my unabler quill did guide,
If then unequal numbers be espied,
Oh, Reader! do not that my errour call;
But think her tears defac'd it, and blame then