Abraham Cowley

Titian. Nymph and Shepherd c1570-5.
Titian. Nymph and Shepherd, c1570-5.
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

from "The Mistress"


I'LL on; for what should hinder me
From loving and enjoying thee?
Thou canst not those exceptions make,
Which vulgar, sordid mortals take—
That my fate's too mean and low;
'T were pity I should love thee so,
If that dull cause could hinder me
In loving and enjoying thee.

It does not me a whit displease,
That the rich all honours seize;
That you all titles make your own,
Are valiant, learned, wise, alone:
But, if you claim o'er women too
The power which over men ye do;
If you alone must lovers be;
For that, Sirs, you must pardon me.

Rather than lose what does so near
Concern my life and being here,
I'll some such crooked ways invent,
As you, or your forefathers, went:
I'll flatter or oppose the king,
Turn Puritan, or any thing;
I'll force my mind to arts so new:
Grow rich, and love as well as you.

But rather thus let me remain,
As man in paradise did reign;
When perfect love did so agree
With innocence and poverty,
Adam did no jointure give;
Himself was jointure to his Eve:
Untouch'd with avarice yet, or pride,
The rib came freely back t' his side.

A curse upon the man who taught
Women, that love was to be bought!
Rather dote only on your gold,
And that with greedy avarice hold;
For, if woman too submit
To that, and sell herself for it,
Fond lover! you a mistress have
Of her that's but your fellow-slave.

What should those poets mean of old
That made their God to woo in gold?
Of all men, sure, they had no cause
To bind love to such costly laws;
And yet I scarcely blame them now;
For who, alas! would not allow,
That women should such gifts receive,
Could they, as he, be what they give?

If thou, my dear, thyself shouldst prize,
Alas! what value would suffice?
The Spaniard could not do't, though he
Should to both Indies jointure thee.
Thy beauties therefore wrong will take,
If thou shouldst any bargain make;
To give all, will befit thee well;
But not at under-rates to sell.

Bestow thy beauty then on me,
Freely, as nature gave't to thee;
'T is an exploded popish thought
To think that heaven may be bought.
Prayers, hymns, and praises, are the way,
And those my thankful Muse shall pay:
Thy body, in my verse enshrin'd,
Shall grow immortal as thy mind.

I'll fix thy title next in fame
To Sacharissa's well-sung name.
So faithfully will I declare
What all thy wondrous beauties are,
That when, at the last great assize,
All women shall together rise,
Men straight shall cast their eyes on thee
And know at first that thou art she.

Cowley, Abraham. The Works of Mr. A. Cowley. vol 2.
Richard Hurd, ed.
London: John Sharpe, 1809.  7-9.

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