Verse > Anthologies > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of English Verse
Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900.
George Wither. 1588–1667
238. The Choice
ME so oft my fancy drew 
Here and there, that I ne'er knew 
Where to place desire before 
So that range it might no more; 
But as he that passeth by         5
Where, in all her jollity, 
Flora's riches in a row 
Do in seemly order grow, 
And a thousand flowers stand 
Bending as to kiss his hand;  10
Out of which delightful store 
One he may take and no more; 
Long he pausing doubteth whether 
Of those fair ones he should gather. 
First the Primrose courts his eyes,  15
Then the Cowslip he espies; 
Next the Pansy seems to woo him, 
Then Carnations bow unto him; 
Which whilst that enamour'd swain 
From the stalk intends to strain,  20
(As half-fearing to be seen) 
Prettily her leaves between 
Peeps the Violet, pale to see 
That her virtues slighted be; 
Which so much his liking wins  25
That to seize her he begins. 
Yet before he stoop'd so low 
He his wanton eye did throw 
On a stem that grew more high, 
And the Rose did there espy.  30
Who, beside her previous scent, 
To procure his eyes content 
Did display her goodly breast, 
Where he found at full exprest 
All the good that Nature showers  35
On a thousand other flowers; 
Wherewith he affected takes it, 
His belovèd flower he makes it, 
And without desire of more 
Walks through all he saw before.  40
So I wand'ring but erewhile 
Through the garden of this Isle, 
Saw rich beauties, I confess, 
And in number numberless. 
Yea, so differing lovely too,  45
That I had a world to do 
Ere I could set up my rest, 
Where to choose and choose the best. 
Thus I fondly fear'd, till Fate 
(Which I must confess in that  50
Did a greater favour to me 
Than the world can malice do me) 
Show'd to me that matchless flower, 
Subject for this song of our; 
Whose perfection having eyed,  55
Reason instantly espied 
That Desire, which ranged abroad, 
There would find a period: 
And no marvel if it might, 
For it there hath all delight,  60
And in her hath nature placed 
What each several fair one graced. 
Let who list, for me, advance 
The admirèd flowers of France, 
Let who will praise and behold  65
The reservèd Marigold; 
Let the sweet-breath'd Violet now 
Unto whom she pleaseth bow; 
And the fairest Lily spread 
Where she will her golden head;  70
I have such a flower to wear 
That for those I do not care. 
Let the young and happy swains 
Playing on the Britain plains 
Court unblamed their shepherdesses,  75
And with their gold curlèd tresses 
Toy uncensured, until I 
Grudge at their prosperity. 
Let all times, both present, past, 
And the age that shall be last,  80
Vaunt the beauties they bring forth. 
I have found in one such worth, 
That content I neither care 
What the best before me were; 
Nor desire to live and see  85
Who shall fair hereafter be; 
For I know the hand of Nature 
Will not make a fairer creature. 
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