Expansive Poetry & Music Online Classic Reprint



Three by
Abraham Cowley




A hugely popular poet in the 17th century, Cowley went into a long eclipse from which he periodically emerges. It is easy to tell why in reading Cowley's odes. Aloud, they are as vigorous as many speeches written for plays (note especially "On The Death Of Mr. William Hervey"). It was in Cowley, as well, where Wordsworth found a precedent for his use of irregular length but metrical lines, with what are sometimes called heroic rhymes, in what came to be known as the Cowlean or Great Ode, in which Wordsworth wrote "Intimations of Immortality....".



A Supplication
        (c. 1650)
   by Abraham Cowley

Awake, awake, my Lyre!
And tell thy silent master's humble tale
In sounds that may prevail;
Sounds that gentle thoughts inspire:
Though so exalted she
And I so lowly be
Tell her, such different notes make all thy harmony.

Hark, how the strings awake:
And, though the moving hand approach not near,
Themselves with awful fear
A kind of numerous trembling make.
Now all thy forces try;
Now all thy charms apply;
Revenge upon her ear the conquests of her eye.

Weak Lyre! thy virtue sure
Is useless here, since thou art only found
To cure, but not to wound,
And she to wound, but not to cure.
Too weak too wilt thou prove
My passion to remove;
Physic to other ills, thou'rt nourishment to love.

Sleep, sleep again, my Lyre!
For thou canst never tell my humble tale
In sounds that will prevail,
Nor gentle thoughts in her inspire;
all thy vain mirth lay by,
Bid thy strings silent lie,
Sleep, sleep again, my Lyre, and let thy master die



Cheer Up, My Mates (c. 1660) by Abraham Cowley (Sitting and drinking in the chair made out of the relics of Sir Francis Drake's ship.) Cheer up, my mates, the wind does fairly blow; Clap on more sail, and never spare; Farewell, all lands, for now we are In the wide sea of drink, and merrily we go. Bless me, 'tis hot! another bowl of wine, And we shall cut the burning Line: Hey, boys! she scuds away, and by my head I know We round the world are sailing now. What dull men are those who tarry at home, When abroad they might wantonly roam, And gain such experience, and spy, too, Such countries and wonders, as I do! But pr'ythee, good pilot, take heed what you do, And fail not to touch at Peru! With gold there the vessel we'll store, And never, and never be poor, No, never be poor any more.

On The Death Of Mr. William Hervey (c. 1660's) By Abraham Cowley It was a dismal and a fearful night: Scarce could the Morn drive on th' unwilling Light, When Sleep, Death's image, left my troubled breast By something liker Death possest. My eyes with tears did uncommanded flow, And on my soul hung the dull weight Of some intolerable fate. What bell was that? Ah me! too much I know! My sweet companion and my gentle peer, Why hast thou left me thus unkindly here, Thy end for ever and my life to moan? O, thou hast left me all alone! Thy soul and body, when death's agony Besieged around thy noble heart, Did not with more reluctance part Than I, my dearest Friend, do part from thee. My dearest Friend, would I had died for thee! Life and this world henceforth will tedious be: Nor shall I know hereafter what to do If once my griefs prove tedious too. Silent and sad I walk about all day, As sullen ghosts stalk speechless by Where their hid treasures lie; Alas! my treasure's gone; why do I stay? Say, for you saw us, ye immortal lights, How oft unwearied have we spent the nights, Till the Ledaean star, so famed for love, Wonder'd at us form above! We spent them not in toys, in lusts, olr wine; But search of deep Philosophy, Wit, Eloquence, and Poetry - Arts which I loved, for they, my Friend, were thine. Ye fields of Cambridge, our dear Cambridge, say Have ye not seen us walking every day? Was there a tree about which did not know The love betwixt us two? Henceforth, ye gentle trees, for ever fade; Or your sad branches thicker join And into darksome shades combine, Dark as the grave wherein my Friend is laid! Large was his soul: as large a soul as e'er Submitted to inform a body here; High as the place 'twas shortly in Heaven to have. But how and humble as his grave. So high that all the virtues there did come, As to their chiefest seat Conspiciuous and great; So low, that for me too it made a room. Knowledge he only sought, and so soon caught As if for him Knowledge had rather sought; Nor did more learning ever crowded lie In such a short mortality. Whene'er the skillful youth discoursed or writ, Still did the notions throng About his eloquent tongue; Nor could his ink flow faster than his wit. His mirth was the pure spirits of various wit, Yet never did his God or friends forget; And when deep talk and wisdom came in view, Retired, and gave to them their due. For the rich help of books he always took, Though his own searching mind before Was so with notions written o'er, As if wise Nature had made that her book. With as much zeal, devotion, piety, He always lived, as other saints do die. Still with his soul severe account he kept, Weeping all debts out ere he slept. Then down in peace and innocence he lay, Like the Sun's laborious light, Which still in water sets at night, Unsullied with his journey of the day. But happy Thou, ta'en from this frantic age, Where ignorance and hypocrisy does rage! A fitter time for Heaven no soul e'er chose - The place now only free from those. There 'mong the blest thou dost for ever shine; And whereso'er thou casts thy view Upon that white and radiant crew, See'st not a soul clothed with more light than thine. A.C.


Return to home page.