Abraham Cowley

Gerrit van Honthorst. The Prodigal Son. 1623.
Gerrit van Honthorst. The Prodigal Son, 1623.
Staatsgalerie, Schleissheim, Germany.

from Poems, 1656



MARGARITA first possest,
        If I remember well, my brest,
        Margarita first of all;
But when awhile the wanton maid
With my restless heart had play'd,
         Martha took the flying ball.

Martha soon did it resign
        To the beauteous Catharine.
        Beauteous Catharine gave place
(Though loth and angry she to part
With the possession of my heart)
        To Eliza's conquering face.

Eliza till this hour might reign,
        Had she not evil counsels ta'en.
        Fundamental laws she broke,
And still new favorites she chose,
Till up in arms my passions rose,
        And cast away her yoke.

Mary then, and gentle Anne,
        Both to reign at once began;
         Alternately they sway'd;
And sometimes Mary was the fair,
And sometimes Anne the Crown did wear,
        And sometimes both I obey'd.

Another Mary then arose
        And did rigorous laws impose;
        A mighty tyrant she!
Long, alas! should I have been
Under that iron-scepter'd queen,
        Had not Rebecca set me free.

When fair Rebecca set me free,
        'Twas then a golden time with me:
        But soon those pleasures fled;
For the gracious princess dy'd,
In her youth and beauty's pride,
        And Judith reigned in her stead.

One month, three days, and half an hour,
        Judith held the soveraign power:
        Wondrous beautiful her face!
But so weak and small her wit,
That she to govern was unfit,
        And so Susanna took her place.

But when Isabella came,
        Arm'd with a resistless flame,
        And th' artillery of her eye;
Whilst she proudly march'd about,
Greater conquests to find out,
        She beat out Susan by the bye.

But in her place I then obey'd
        Black-ey'd Bess, her viceroy-maid;
        To whom ensu'd a vacancy:
Thousand worse passions than possest
The interregnum of my breast;
        Bless me from such an anarchy!

Gentle Henriette then,
        And a third Mary, next began;
        Then Joan, and Jane, and Audria;
And then a pretty Thomasine,
And then another Katharine,
        And then a long et cætera.

But should I now to you relate,
        The strength and riches of their state;
        The powder, patches, and the pins,
The ribbons, jewels, and the rings,
The lace, the paint, and warlike things,
        That make up all their magazines;

If I should tell the politic arts
        To take and keep men's hearts;
        The letters, embassies, and spies,
The frowns, and smiles, and flatteries,
The quarrels, tears, and perjuries
        (Numberless, nameless, mysteries!)

And all the little lime-twigs laid,
        By Machiavel the waiting-maid;
        I more voluminous should grow
(Chiefly if I like them should tell
All change of weathers that befell)
        Than Holinshed or Stow.

But I will briefer with them be,
        Since few of them were long with me.
        An higher and a nobler strain
My present Emperess does claim,
Heleonora, first o' th' name;
        Whom God grant long to reign!

Cowley, Abraham. The Works of Abraham Cowley. Vol 1.
J. Aikin, ed. London: G. Kearsley, 1806.  58-61.

Back to Abraham Cowley

Site copyright ©1996-2007 Anniina Jokinen. All Rights Reserved.
Created by Anniina Jokinen on January 5, 2007.