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And many a story told in rhyme and prose.
But age has rusted what the poet writ,
Worn out his language, and obscured his wit;
In vain he jests in his unpolished strain,
And tries to make his readers laugh, in vain.
Old Spenser next, warmed with poetic rage,
In ancient tales amused a barb'rous age;
An age that, yet uncultivate and rude,
Where'er the poet's fancy led, pursued
Through pathless fields and unfrequented floods,
To dens of dragons and enchanted woods.
But now the mystic tale, that pleased of yore,
Can charm an understanding age no more;
The long-spun allegories fulsome grow,
While the dull moral lies too plain below.
We view well-pleased at distance all the sights
Of arms and palfreys, battles, fields, and fights,
And damsels in distress, and courteous knights;
But when we look too near, the shades decay,
And all the pleasing landscape fades away.
Great Cowley then, a mighty genius, wrote,
O’er-run with wit, and lavish of his thought:
His turns too closely on the reader press;
He more had pleased us, had he pleased us less.
But Milton next, with high and haughty stalks,
Unfettered in majestic numbers walks ;
No vulgar hero can his Muse engage,
Nor earth's wide scene confine his hallowed rage.
See, see! he upward springs, and tow'ring high
Spurns the dull province of mortality;
Shakes heav'n's eternal throne with dire alarms,
And sets th’ Almighty Thunderer in arms.
Whate'er his pen describes I more than see,
Whilst ev'ry verse, arrayed in majesty,
Bold and sublime, my whole attention draws,
And seems above the critic's nicer laws.
How are you struck with terror and delight
When angel with arch-angel copes in fight!
When great Messiah's outspread banner shines,
How does the chariot rattle in his lines !
What sounds of brazen wheels, what thunder, scare
And stun the reader with the din of war!
With fear my spirits and my blood retire,
To see the seraphs sunk in clouds of fire;
But when, with eager steps, from hence I rise,
And view the first gay scenes of Paradise,
What tongue, what words of rapture, can express
A vision so profuse of pleasantness?
But now, my Muse, a softer strain rehearse;
Turn ev'ry line with art, and smooth thy verse:
The courtly Waller next commands thy lays;
Muse, tune thy verse with art to Waller's praise.
While tender airs and lovely dames inspire
Soft, melting thoughts, and propagate desire,
So long shall Waller's strains our passion move,
And Sacharissa's beauties kindle love.
Behold in awful march and dreâd array
The long-extended squadrons shape their way!
Death, in approaching terrible, imparts
An anxious horrour to the bravest hearts;
Yet do their beating breasts demand the strife,
And thirst of glory quells the love of life.
No vulgar fears can British minds control:
Heat of revenge and noble pride of soul
O’erlook the foe, advantaged by his post,
Lessen his numbers, and contract his host;
Though fens and floods possessed the middle space,
That unprovoked they would have feared to pass,
Nor fens nor floods can stop Britannia's bands
When her proud foe ranged on their borders stands.
But, O my Muse, what numbers wilt thou find
To sing the furious troops in battle joined !
Methinks I hear the drum's tumultuous sound
The victor's shouts and dying groans confound,
The dreadful burst of cannon rend the skies,
And all the thunder of the battle rise !
'T was then great Marlbro's mighty soul was proved,
That, in the shock of charging hosts unm
Amidst confusion, horrour, and despair,
Examined all the dreadful scenes of war:
In peaceful thought the field of death surveyed,
To fainting squadrons sent the timely aid,
Inspired repulsed battalions to engage,
And taught the doubtful battle where to rage.
So when an angel by divine command
With rising tempests shakes a guilty land,
Such as of late o'er pale Britannia passed,
Calm and serene he drives the furious blast,
And, pleased th' Almighty's orders to perform,
Rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm.
TO A CHILD OF QUALITY FIVE YEARS OLD
Lords, knights, and squires, the num'rous band
That wear the fair Miss Mary's fetters,
Were summoned, by her high command,
To show their passions by their letters.
My pen amongst the rest I took,
Lest those bright eyes that cannot read
Should dart their kindling fires, and look
The power they have to be obeyed.
Nor quality nor reputation
Forbid me yet my flame to tell;
Dear five years old befriends my passion,
And I may write till she can spell.
For while she makes her silk-worms beds
With all the tender things I swear,
Whilst all the house my passion reads
In papers round her baby's hair,
She may receive and own my flame;
For though the strictest prudes should know it,
She 'll pass for a most virtuous danie,
And I for an unhappy poet.
Then, too, alas! when she shall tear
The lines some younger rival sends,
She 'll give me leave to write, I fear,
And we shall still continue friends;
For, as our diff'rent ages move,
'T is so ordained (would Fate but mend it!) That I shall be past making love
When she begins to comprehend it. 1704.
SHE REFUSING TO CONTINUE A DISPUTE WITH ME AND LEAVING ME IN
Why, fair one, would you not rely
On Reason's force with Beauty's joined ?
Could I their prevalence deny,
I must at once be deaf and blind.
Alas! not hoping to subdue,
I only to the fight aspired;
To keep the beauteous foe in view
Was all the glory I desired.
But she, howe'er of vict'ry sure,
Contemns the wreath too long delayed, And, armed with more immediate pow'r,
Calls cruel silence to her aid.
Deeper to wound, she shuns the fight;
She drops her arms, to gain the field; Secures her conquest by her fight,
And triumphs when she seems to yield.
So when the Parthian turned his steed
And from the hostile camp withdrew, With cruel skill the backward reed
He sent, and as he fled he slew.
Dear Thomas, didst thou never pop
Thy head into a tin-man's shop?
There, Thomas, didst thou never see
('T is but by way of simile)
A squirrel spend his little rage
In jumping round a rolling cage,
The cage, as either side turned up,
Striking a ring of bells a-top?
Moved in the orb, pleased with the chimes,
The foolish creature thinks he climbs;
But here or there, turn wood or wire,
He never gets two inches higher.
So fares it with those merry blades
That frisk it under Pindus' shades :
In noble songs and lofty odes,
They tread on stars and talk with gods;
Still dancing in an airy round,
Still pleased with their own verses' sound;
Brought back, how fast soe'er they go,
Always aspiring, always low.