Abraham Cowley

Palma Vecchio. Portrait of a Young Woman. c1520.
Palma Vecchio. Portrait of a Young Woman.,
c1520. Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.

from "The Mistress"


Though all thy gestures and discourses be
          Coin'd and stamp'd by modesty;
          Though from thy tongue ne'er slipp'd away
One word which nuns at th' altar might not say;
          Yet such a sweetness, such a grace,
          In all thy speech appear,
          That what to th' eye a beauteous face,
          That thy tongue is to th' ear:
      So cunningly it wounds the heart,
      It strikes such heat through every part,
That thou a tempter worse than Satan art.

Though in thy thoughts scarce any tracks have been
          So much as of original sin,
          Such charms thy beauty wears as might
Desires in dying confess'd saints excite:
          Thou, with strange adultery,
          Dost in each breast a brothel keep;
          Awake all men do lust for thee,
          And some enjoy thee when they sleep.
      Ne'er before did woman live,
      Who to such multitudes did give
The root and cause of sin, but only Eve.

Though in thy breast so quick a pity be,
          That a fly's death 's a wound to thee;
          Though savage and rock-hearted those
Appear, that weep not ev'n Romance's woes;
          Yet ne'er before was tyrant known,
          Whose rage was of so large extent;
          The ills thou dost are whole thine own;
          Thou 'rt principal and instrument:
      In all the deaths that come from you,
      You do the treble office do
Of judge, of torturer, and of weapon too.

Thou lovely instrument of angry Fate,
          Which God did for our faults create!
          Thou pleasant, universal ill,
Which, sweet as health, yet like a plague dost kill!
          Thou kind, well-natur'd tyranny!
          Thou chaste committer of a rape!
          Thou voluntary destiny,
          Which no man can, or would, escape!
      So gentle, and so glad to spare,
      So wondrous good, and wondrous fair,
(We know) ev'n the destroying-angels are.

Cowley, Abraham. The Works of Mr. A. Cowley. vol 2.
Richard Hurd, ed.
London: John Sharpe, 1809.  104-5.

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