Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. II. Ben Jonson to Dryden
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. II. The Seventeenth Century: Ben Jonson to Dryden
 
Extract from Discourses by Way of Essays: On Solitude
By Abraham Cowley (1618–1667)
 
HAIL, old patrician trees, so great and good!
      Hail ye plebeian underwood!
      Where the poetic birds rejoice,
And for their quiet nests and plenteous food,
      Pay with their grateful voice.        5
 
Hail, the poor muse’s richest manor seat!
      Ye country houses and retreat,
      Which all the happy gods so love,
That for you oft they quit their bright and great
      Metropolis above.        10
 
Here nature does a house for me erect,
      Nature the wisest architect,
      Who those fond artists does despise
That can the fair and living trees neglect,
      Yet the dead timber prize.        15
 
Here let me careless and unthoughtful lying,
      Hear the soft winds above me flying
      With all their wanton boughs dispute,
And the more tuneful birds to both replying,
      Nor be myself too mute.        20
 
A silver stream shall roll his waters near,
      Gilt with the sunbeams here and there,
      On whose enamel’d bank I ’ll walk,
And see how prettily they smile, and hear
      How prettily they talk.        25
 
Ah wretched, and too solitary he
      Who loves not his own company!
      He ’ll feel the weight of ’t many a day
Unless he call in sin or vanity
      To help to bear ’t away.        30
 
O Solitude, first state of human-kind!
      Which blest remain’d till man did find
      Even his own helper’s company.
As soon as two (alas!) together join’d,
      The serpent made up three.        35
 
The god himself, through countless ages thee
      His sole companion chose to be,
      Thee, sacred Solitude alone,
Before the branchy head of number’s tree
      Sprang from the trunk of one.        40
 
Thou (though men think thine an unactive part)
      Dost break and tame th’ unruly heart,
      Which else would know no settled pace,
Making it more well manag’d by thy art
      With swiftness and with grace.        45
 
Thou the faint beams of reason’s scatter’d light,
      Dost like a burning-glass unite,
      Dost multiply the feeble heat,
And fortify the strength, till thou dost bright
      And noble fires beget.        50
 
Whilst this hard truth I teach, methinks, I see
      The monster London laugh at me,
      I should at thee too, foolish city,
If it were fit to laugh at misery,
      But thy estate I pity.        55
 
Let but thy wicked men from out thee go,
      And all the fools that crowd thee so,
      Even thou who dost thy millions boast,
A village less than Islington wilt grow,
      A solitude almost.        60
 
 
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