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 The Elegy on Cowley
By Sir John Denham (1615–1669)
 
OLD Chaucer, like the morning-star,
To us discovers day from far;
His light those mists and clouds dissolved
Which our dark nation long involved;
But he descending to the shades,        5
Darkness again the age invades.
Next, like Aurora, Spenser rose
Whose purple blush the day foreshows.
The other three, with his own fires,
Phoebus, the poets’ god, inspires;        10
By Shakespeare’s, Jonson’s, Fletcher’s lines
Our stage’s lustre Rome’s outshines.
These poets near our princes sleep,
And in one grave their mansion keep;
They lived to see so many days,        15
Till time had blasted all their bays;
But cursed be the fatal hour
That plucked the fairest, sweetest flower
That in the Muses’ garden grew,
And amongst withered laurels threw.        20
Time, which made them their fame outlive,
To Cowley scarce did ripeness give.
Old mother-wit and nature gave
Shakespeare and Fletcher all they have;
In Spenser and in Jonson art        25
Of slower nature got the start;
But both in him so equal are,
None knows which bears the happiest share;
To him no author was unknown,
Yet what he wrote was all his own.        30
He melted not the ancient gold,
Nor, with Ben Jonson, did make bold
To plunder all the Roman stores
Of poets and of orators.
Horace’s wit and Virgil’s state        35
He did not steal, but emulate,
And when he would like them appear,
Their garb, but not their clothes, did wear;
He not from Rome alone, but Greece,
Like Jason brought the golden fleece;        40
To him that language, though to none
Of th’ others, as his own was known.
On a stiff gale, as Flaccus sings,
The Theban swan extends his wings,
When through the ethereal clouds he flies,        45
To the same pitch our swan doth rise.
Old Pindar’s flights by him are reached,
When on that gale his wings are stretched.
His fancy and his judgment such,
Each to the other seemed too much,        50
His severe judgment, giving law,
His modest fancy, kept in awe,
As rigid husbands jealous are
When they believe their wives too fair.
 
 
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