Abraham Cowley

from "The Mistress"


Whilst what I write I do not see,
      I dare thus, ev'n to you, write poetry.
Ah, foolish Muse! which dost so high aspire,
      And know'st her judgment well,
      How much it does thy power excel,
Yet dar'st be read by, thy just doom, the fire.

      Alas! thou think'st thyself secure,
      Because thy form is innocent and pure:
Like hypocrites, which seem unspotted here;
      But, when they sadly come to die,
      And the last fire their truth must try,
Scrawled o'er like thee, and blotted, they appear.

      Go then, but reverently go,
      And, since thou needs must sin, confess it too:
Confess 't, and with humility clothe thy shame;
      For thou, who else must burned be
      An heretick, if she pardon thee,
Mayst like a martyr then enjoy the flame.

      But, if her wisdom grow severe,
      And suffer not her goodness to be there;
If her large mercies cruelly it restrain;
      Be not discourag'd, but require
      A more gentle ordeal fire,
And bid her by love's flames read it again.

      Strange power of heat! thou yet dost show
      Like winter-earth, naked, or cloth'd with snow:
But as, the quickening sun approaching near,
      The plants arise up by degrees;
      A sudden paint adorns the trees,
And all kind Nature's characters appear.

      So, nothing yet in thee is seen;
      But, when a genial heat warms thee within,
A new-born wood of various lines there grows;
      Here buds an A, and there a B,
      Here sprouts a V, and there a T,
And all the flourishing letters stand in rows.

      Still, silly paper! thou wilt think
      That all this might as well be writ with ink:
Oh, no; there's sense in this, and mystery—
      Thou now mayst change thy author's name,
      And to her hand lay noble claim;
For, as she reads, she makes, the words in thee.

      Yet — if thine own unworthiness
      Will still that thou art mine, not hers confess—
Consume thy self with fire before her eyes,
      And so her grace or pity move:
      The gods, though beasts they do not love,
Yet like them when they 're burnt in sacrifice.

Cowley, Abraham. The Works of Mr. A. Cowley. vol 2.
Richard Hurd, ed.
London: John Sharpe, 1809.  12-13.

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