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Within the garden's peaceful scene
Appeard two lovely foes,
Aspiring to the rank of queen,
The Lily and the Rose.
The Rose soon redden'd into rage,
And, swelling with disdain,
Appeal’d to many a poet's page
To prove her right to reign.
The Lily's height bespoke command,
A fair imperial flower ;
She seem'd design’d for Flora's hand,
The sceptre of her power.
This civil bickering and debate
The goddess chanced to hear,
And flew to save, ere yet too late,
The pride of the parterre.
Yours is, she said, the nobler hue,
And yours the statelier mien;
And, till a third surpasses you,
Let each be deem'd a queen.
Thus, sooth'd and reconciled, each seeks
The fairest British fair :
The seat of empire is her cheeks,
They reign united there.
THE NIGHTINGALE AND GLOW-WORM.
[Composed in February, 1780, and suggested by reading a philosophical essay in the Register on the food of the nightingale.]
A NIGHTINGALE, that all day long
Had cheer'd the village with his song,
Nor yet at eve his note suspended,
Nor yet when eventide was ended,
Began to feel, as well he might,
The keen demands of appetite ;
When, looking eagerly around,
He spied far off, upon the ground,
A something shining in the dark,
And knew the glow-worm by his spark ;
So, stooping down from hawthorn top,
He thought to put him in his crop.
The worm, aware of his intent,
Harangued him thus, right eloquent,
“ Did you admire my lamp," quoth he,
“ As much as I your minstrelsy,
You would abhor to do me wrong,
As much as I to spoil your song ;
For 'twas the selfsame Power divine
Taught you to sing and me to shine ;
That you with music, I with light,
Might beautify and cheer the night.”
The songster heard his short oration,
And, warbling out his approbation,
Released him, as my story tells,
And found a supper somewhere else,
Hence jarring sectaries may learn
Their real interest to discern;
That brother should not war with brother,
And worry and devour each other :
But sing and shine by sweet consent,
Till life's poor transient night is spent,
Respecting in each other's case
The gifts of nature and of grace.
Those Christians best deserve the name,
Who studiously make peace their aim ;
Peace both the duty and the prize
Of him that creeps and him that flies.
ON A GOLDFINCH,
STARVED TO DEATH IN HIS CAGE.
[These lines refer to an incident which took place in the next house to the Poet's, in the summer of 1779, when they were written.]
TIME was when I was free as air,
The thistle's downy seed my fare,
My drink the morning dew;
1 perch'd at will on every spray,
My form genteel, my plumage gay,
My strains for ever new.
But gaudy plumage, sprightly strain,
And form genteel, were all in vain,
And of a transient date ;
For caught, and caged, and starved to death,
In dying sighs my little breath
Soon pass'd the wiry grate.
Thanks, gentle swain, for all my woes,
And thanks for this effectual close
And cure of every ill ;
More cruelty could none express ;
And I, if you had shewn me less,
Had been your prisoner still.
THE PINE-APPLE AND THE BEE.
[This was one of the earliest poems which Cowper composed after his second recovery, having been written in the spring of 1779: the first copy was addressed to Mr Hill, whose lady had supplied the poet with the seeds which produced his pine-apples.]
The pine-apples, in triple row,
Were basking hot, and all in blow;
A Bee of most discerning taste,
Perceived the fragrance as he pass’d.
On eager wing the spoiler came,
And search'd for crannies in the frame,
Urged his attempt on every side,
To every pane his trunk applied ;
But still in vain, the frame was tight,
And only pervious to the light :
Thus having wasted half the day,
He trimm'd his flight another way.
Methinks, I said, in thee I find
The sin and madness of mankind.
To joys forbidden man aspires,
Consumes his soul with vain desires ;
Folly the spring of his pursuit,
And disappointment all the fruit.
While Cynthio ogles, as she passes,
The nymph between two chariot glasses,
She is the pine-apple, and he
The silly unsuccessful bee.
The maid, who views with pensive air
The show-glass fraught with glittering ware,
Sees watches, bracelets, rings, and lockets,
But sighs at thought of empty pockets ;
Like thine, her appetite is keen,
But ah, the cruel glass between!
Our dear delights are often such,
Exposed to view, but not to touch;
The sight our foolish heart inflames,
We long for pine-apples in frames ;
With hopeless wish one looks and lingers ;
One breaks the glass and cuts his fingers ;
But they whom truth and wisdom lead,
Can gather honey from a weed.
[Translated in the Autumn of 1779; and inserted here among the author's original verses for the sake of the “ Reflection.”]
RECEIVE, dear friend, the truths I teach,
So shalt thou live beyond the reach
Of adverse Fortune's power;
Not always tempt the distant deep,
Nor always timorously creep
Along the treacherous shore.
He, that holds fast the golden mean,
And lives contentedly between
The little and the great,
Feels not the wants that pinch the poor,
Nor plagues that haunt the rich man's door,
Imbittering all his state.
The tallest pines feel most the power
Of wintry blasts ; the loftiest tower
Comes heaviest to the ground;
The bolts that spare the mountain's side,
His cloud-capt eminence divide,
And spread the ruin round.
The well-inform'd philosopher
Rejoices with a wholesome fear,
And hopes, in spite of pain;
If Winter bellow from the north,
Soon the sweet Spring comes dancing forth,
And Nature laughs again.
What if thine heaven be overcast,
The dark appearance will not last;
Expect a brighter sky.
The God that strings the silver bow
Awakes sometimes the muses too,
And lays his arrows by.
If hindrances obstruct thy way,
Thy magnanimity display,
And let thy strength be seen ;
But, oh! if Fortune fill thy sail
With more than a propitious gale,
Take half thy canvass in.
AND is this all ? Can reason do no more
Than bid me shun the deep, and dread the shore ?
Sweet moralist! afloat on life's rough sea,
The Christian has an art unknown to thee.
He holds no parley with unmanly fears ;
Where duty bids he confidently steers,
Faces a thousand dangers at her call,
And, trusting in his God, surmounts them all.