Old Chaucer, like the morning star,
To us discovers day from far;
His light those mists and clouds dissolved,
Which our dark nation long involved:
But he descending to the shades,
Darkness again the age invades.
Next (like Aurora) Spenser rose,
Whose purple blush the day foreshows;
The other three with his own fires
Phoebus, the poet’s god, inspires;
By Shakespeare’s, Jonson’s, Fletcher’s lines,
Our stage’s lustre Rome’s outshines:
These poets near our princes sleep,
And in one grave their mansion keep.
They lived to see so many days,
Till time had blasted all their bays:
But cursed be the fatal hour,
That pluck’d the fairest, sweetest flower
That in the Muses’ garden grew,
And amongst wither’d laurels threw!
Time, which made them their fame outlive,
To Cowley scarce did ripeness give.
Old mother Wit, and Nature, gave
Shakespeare and Fletcher all they have;
In Spenser, and in Jonson, Art
Of slower Nature got the start;
But both in him so equal are,
None knows which bears the happiest share;
To him no author was unknown,
Yet what he wrote was all his own;
He melted not the ancient gold,
Nor, with Ben Jonson, did make bold
To plunder all the Roman stores
Of poets, and of orators:
Horace’s wit, and Virgil’s state,
He did not steal, but emulate!
And when he would like them appear,
Their garb, but not their clothes, did wear;
He not from Rome alone, but Greece,
Like Jason, brought the golden fleece;
To him that language (though to none
Of th’others) as his own was known.
On a stiff gale (as Flaccus sings)
The Theban swan extends his wings,
When through th’ethereal clouds he flies;
To the same pitch our swan doth rise;
Old Pindar’s flights by him are reach’d,
When on that gale his wings are stretch’d;
His fancy and his judgment such,
Each to the others seem’d too much,
His severe judgment (giving law)
His modest fancy kept in awe:
As rigid husbands jealous are,
When they believe their wives too fair.
His English streams so pure did flow
As all that saw and tasted know;
But for his Latin vein, so clear,
Strong, full, and high it doth appear,
That were immortal Virgil here,
Him, for his judge, he would not fear;
Of that great portraiture so true
A copy pencil never drew.
My Muse her song had ended here,
But both their Genii straight appear,
Joy and amazement her did strike:
Two twins she never saw so like.
‘Twas taught by wise Pythagoras,
One soul might through more bodies pass.
Seeing such transmigration there,
She thought it not a fable here.
Such a resemblance of all parts,
Life, death, age, fortune, nature, arts;
Then lights her torch at theirs, to tell,
And show the world this parallel:
Fix’d and contemplative their looks,
Still turning over Nature’s books;
Their works chaste, moral and divine,
Where profit and delight combine;
They, gilding dirt, in noble verse
Rustic philosophy rehearse.
When heroes, gods, or god-like kings
They praise, on their exalted wings
To the celestial orbs they climb,
And with th’harmonious spheres keep time.
Nor did their actions fall behind
Their words, but with like candour sinned;
Each drew fair characters, yet none
Of these they feign’d, excels their own.
Both by two gen’rous princes loved,
Who knew, and judged what they approved;
Yet having each the same desire,
Both from the busy throng retire.
Their bodies, to their minds resign’d,
Cared not to propagate their kind:
Yet though both fell before their hour,
Time on their offspring hath no power,
Nor fire nor fate their bays shall blast,
Nor death’s dark veil their day o’ercast.
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