Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
On the Death of Mr. William Hervey
By Abraham Cowley (1618–1667)
IT was a dismal and a fearful night;
Scarce could the moon disk 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,        5
        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,        10
Thy end forever, and my life to moan?
        Oh, thou hast left me all alone!
Thy soul and body, where death’s agony
        Besieged around thy noble heart,
        Did not with more reluctance part,        15
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.        20
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?
He was my friend, the truest friend on earth;        25
A strong and mighty influence joined our birth:
Nor did we envy the most sounding name
        By friendship given of old to fame.
None but his brethren he and sisters knew,
        Whom the kind youth preferred to me;        30
        And ev’n in that we did agree,
For much above myself I loved them too.
Say—for you saw us, ye immortal lights—
How oft unwearied have we spent the nights,
Till the Ledæan stars, so famed for love,        35
        Wondered at us from above!
We spent them not in toys, in lusts, or wine;
        But search of deep philosophy,
        Wit, eloquence and poetry;
Arts which I loved, for they, my friend, were thine.        40
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, forever fade;        45
        Or your sad branches thicker join,
        And into darksome shades combine,
Dark as the grave wherein my friend is laid!
Henceforth, no learnèd youths beneath you sing,
Till all the tuneful birds to your boughs they bring;        50
No tuneful birds play with their wonted cheer,
        And call the learned youths to hear;
No whistling winds through the glad branches fly:
        But all, with sad solemnity,
        Mute and unmovèd be,        55
Mute as the grave wherein my friend does lie.
To him my muse made haste with every strain,
Whilst it was new and warm yet from the brain:
He loved my worthless rhymes, and like a friend,
        Would find out something to commend.        60
Hence now, my Muse! thou canst not me delight:
        Be this my latest verse,
        With which I now adorn his hearse;
And this my grief, without thy help, shall write.
Had I a wreath of bays about my brow,        65
I should contemn that flourishing honor now,
Condemn it to the fire, and joy to hear
        It rage and crackle there.
Instead of bays, crown with sad cypress me;
        Cypress, which tombs does beautify;        70
        Not Phœbus grieved so much as I,
For him who first was near that mournful tree.
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,        75
        But low and humble as his grave:
So high, that all the Virtues there did come,
        As to their chiefest seat,
        Conspicuous and great;
So low, that for me too it made a room.        80
He scorned this busy world below, and all
That we, mistaken mortals! pleasure call;
Was filled with innocent gallantry and truth,
        Triumphant o’er the sins of youth.
He like the stars, to which he now is gone,        85
        That shine with beams like flame,
        Yet burn not with the same,
Had all the light of youth, of the fire none.
Knowledge he only sought, and so soon caught,
As if for him knowledge had rather sought:        90
Nor did more learning ever crowded lie
        In such a short mortality.
Whene’er the skillful youth discoursed or writ,
        Still did the nations throng
        About his eloquent tongue;        95
Nor could his ink flow faster than his wit.
So strong a wit did nature to him frame,
As all things but his judgment overcame;
His judgment like the heavenly moon did show,
        Tempering that mighty sea below;        100
Oh! had he lived in learning’s world, what bound
        Would have been able to control
        His overpowering soul!
We’ve lost in him arts that not yet are found.
His mirth was the pure spirits of various wit,        105
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        110
        Was so with notions written o’er,
As if wise nature had made that her book.
So many virtues joined in him, as we
Can scarce pick here and there in history;
More than old writers’ practice e’er could reach;        115
        As much as they could ever teach.
These did Religion, queen of virtues, sway;
        And all their sacred motions steer,
        Just like the first and highest sphere,
Which wheels about, and turns all heaven one way.        120
With as much zeal, devotion, piety,
He always lived, as other saints do die.
Still with his soul severe account he kept,
        Wiping all debts out ere he slept:
Then down in peace and innocence he lay,        125
        Like the sun’s laborious light,
        Which still in water sets at night,
Unsullied with his journey of the day.
Wondrous young man! why wert thou made so good,
To be snatched hence ere better understood?        130
Snatched before half of thee enough was seen!
        Thou ripe, and yet thy life but green!
Nor could thy friends take their last sad farewell;
        But danger and infectious death
        Maliciously seized on that breath        135
Where life, spirit, pleasure, always used to dwell.
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.        140
There ’mong the blest thou dost forever shine,
        And wheresoe’er thou cast thy view
        Upon that white and radiant crew,
Seest not a soul clothed with more light than thine.
And if the glorious saints cease not to know        145
Their wretched friends who fight with life below,
Thy flame to me does still the same abide,
        Only more pure and rarefied.
There, whilst immortal hymns thou dost rehearse,
        Thou dost with holy pity see        150
        Our dull and earthly poesy,
Where grief and misery can be joined with verse.

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