By Thomas Carew out of Herbert Grierson’s Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century.
I’m feeling the need for a splash more irreverence – in both senses – in my reading these days.
An Elegy upon the Death of the Dean of Paul’s, Dr. John DonneCan we not force from widow’d poetry,Now thou art dead (great Donne) one elegyTo crown thy hearse? Why yet dare we not trust,Though with unkneaded dough-bak’d prose, thy dust,Such as th’ unscissor’d churchman from the flowerOf fading rhetoric, short-liv’d as his hour,Dry as the sand that measures it, should layUpon thy ashes, on the funeral day?Have we no voice, no tune? Didst thou dispenseThrough all our language, both the words and sense?‘Tis a sad truth. The pulpit may her plainAnd sober Christian precepts still retain,Doctrines it may, and wholesome uses, frame,Grave homilies and lectures, but the flameOf thy brave soul (that shot such heat and lightAs burnt our earth and made our darkness bright,Committed holy rapes upon our will,Did through the eye the melting heart distil,And the deep knowledge of dark truths so teachAs sense might judge what fancy could not reach)Must be desir’d forever. So the fireThat fills with spirit and heat the Delphic quire,Which, kindled first by thy Promethean breath,Glow’d here a while, lies quench’d now in thy death.The Muses’ garden, with pedantic weedsO’erspread, was purg’d by thee; the lazy seedsOf servile imitation thrown away,And fresh invention planted; thou didst payThe debts of our penurious bankrupt age;Licentious thefts, that make poetic rageA mimic fury, when our souls must bePossess’d, or with Anacreon’s ecstasy,Or Pindar’s, not their own; the subtle cheatOf sly exchanges, and the juggling featOf two-edg’d words, or whatsoever wrongBy ours was done the Greek or Latin tongue,Thou hast redeem’d, and open’d us a mineOf rich and pregnant fancy; drawn a lineOf masculine expression, which had goodOld Orpheus seen, or all the ancient broodOur superstitious fools admire, and holdTheir lead more precious than thy burnish’d gold,Thou hadst been their exchequer, and no moreThey each in other’s dust had rak’d for ore.Thou shalt yield no precedence, but of time,And the blind fate of language, whose tun’d chimeMore charms the outward sense; yet thou mayst claimFrom so great disadvantage greater fame,Since to the awe of thy imperious witOur stubborn language bends, made only fitWith her tough thick-ribb’d hoops to gird aboutThy giant fancy, which had prov’d too stoutFor their soft melting phrases. As in timeThey had the start, so did they cull the primeBuds of invention many a hundred year,And left the rifled fields, besides the fearTo touch their harvest; yet from those bare landsOf what is purely thine, thy only hands,(And that thy smallest work) have gleaned moreThan all those times and tongues could reap before.But thou art gone, and thy strict laws will beToo hard for libertines in poetry;They will repeal the goodly exil’d trainOf gods and goddesses, which in thy just reignWere banish’d nobler poems; now with these,The silenc’d tales o’ th’ MetamorphosesShall stuff their lines, and swell the windy page,Till verse, refin’d by thee, in this last ageTurn ballad rhyme, or those old idols beAdor’d again, with new apostasy.Oh, pardon me, that break with untun’d verseThe reverend silence that attends thy hearse,Whose awful solemn murmurs were to thee,More than these faint lines, a loud elegy,That did proclaim in a dumb eloquenceThe death of all the arts; whose influence,Grown feeble, in these panting numbers lies,Gasping short-winded accents, and so dies.So doth the swiftly turning wheel not standIn th’ instant we withdraw the moving hand,But some small time maintain a faint weak course,By virtue of the first impulsive force;And so, whilst I cast on thy funeral pileThy crown of bays, oh, let it crack awhile,And spit disdain, till the devouring flashesSuck all the moisture up, then turn to ashes.I will not draw the envy to engrossAll thy perfections, or weep all our loss;Those are too numerous for an elegy,And this too great to be express’d by me.Though every pen should share a distinct part,Yet art thou theme enough to tire all art;Let others carve the rest, it shall sufficeI on thy tomb this epitaph incise:Here lies a king, that rul’d as he thought fitThe universal monarchy of wit;Here lie two flamens, and both those, the best,Apollo’s first, at last, the true God’s priest.