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After all he must beat it as thin and as fine
As the leaf that enfolds what an invalid swallows, For truth is unwelcome, however divine,
And unless you adorn it, a nausea follows.
What is there in the vale of life
Half so delightful as a wife,
When friendship, love, and peace combine
To stamp the marriage-bond divine ?
The stream of pure and genuine love
Derives its current from above;
And earth a second Eden shows,
Where'er the healing water flows :
But ah, if from the dykes and drains
Of sensual nature's feverish veins,
Lust, like a lawless headstrong flood,
Impregnated with ooze and mud,
Descending fast on every side
Once mingles with the sacred tide,
Farewell the soul-enlivening scene!
The banks that wore a smiling green,
With rank defilement overspread,
Bewail their flowery beauties dead.
The stream polluted, dark, and dull,
Diffused into a Stygian pool,
Through life's last melancholy years
Is fed with ever-flowing tears :
Complaints supply the zephyr's part,
And sighs that heave a breaking heart.
A POETICAL EPISTLE TO LADY AUSTEN.
December 17, 1781. [These verses, in which ease; grace, and tenderness are so delightfully blended, were addressed to Lady Austen, while residing in London, during the interval between her first and second visit to Olney. The original is dated December 17, 1781.]
DEAR ANNA, - between friend and friend
Prose answers every common end ;
Serves, in a plain and homely way,
To express the occurrence of the day;
Our health, the weather, and the news;
What walks we take, what books we choose;
And all the floating thoughts we find
Upon the surface of the mind.
But when a poet takes the pen,
Far more alive than other men
He feels a gentle tingling come
Down to his finger and his thumb,
Derived from Nature's noblest part,
The centre of a glowing heart:
And this is what the world, who knows
No flights above the pitch of prose,
His more sublime vagaries slighting,
Denominates an itch for writing.
No wonder I, who scribble rhyme
To catch the triflers of the time,
And tell them truths divine and clear,
Which, couch'd in prose, they will not hear ;
Who labour hard to allure and draw
The loiterers I never saw,
Should feel that itching, and that tingling,
With all my purpose intermingling,
To your intrinsic merit true,
When call’d to address myself to you.
Mysterious are His ways, whose power
Brings forth that unexpected hour,
When minds that never met before,
Shall meet, unite, and part no more :
It is the allotment of the skies,
The hand of the Supremely Wise,
That guides and governs our affections,
And plans and orders our connections :
Directs us in our distant road,
And marks the bounds of our abode.
Thus we were settled when you found us,
Peasants and children all around us,
Not dreaming of so dear a friend,
Deep in the abyss of Silver-End.*
Thus Martha, even against her will,
Perch'd on the top of yonder hill;
And you, though you must needs prefer
The fairer scenes of sweet Sancerre,t
Are come from distant Loire, to choose
A cottage on the banks of Ouse.
This page of Providence quite new,
And now just opening to our view,
Employs our present thoughts and pains
To guess, and spell what it contains :
But day by day, and year by year,
Will make the dark enigma clear ;
And furnish us, perhaps, at last,
Like other scenes already past,
With proof, that we, and our affairs,
Are part of a Jehovah's cares :
For God unfolds by slow degrees,
The purport of his deep decrees ;
Sheds every hour a clearer light
In aid of our defective sight;
And spreads, at length, before the soul
A beautiful and perfect whole,
Which busy man's inventive brain
Toils to anticipate, in vain.
Say, Anna, had you never known
The beauties of a rose full blown,
Could you, though luminous your eye,
By looking on the bud, descry,
Or guess with a prophetic power,
The future splendour of the flower ?
Just so, the Omnipotent, who turns
The system of a world's concerns,
From mere minutiæ can educe
Events of most important use ;
And bid a dawning sky display
The blaze of a meridian day. * An obscure part of Olney, near Cowper's residence. † Lady Austen's residence in France.
The works of man tend, one and all,
As needs they must, from great to small ;
And vanity absorbs at length
The monuments of human strength.
But who can tell how vast the plan
Which this day's incident began?
Too small, perhaps, the slight occasion
For our dim-sighted observation ;
It pass’d unnoticed as the bird
That cleaves the yielding air unheard,
And yet may prove, when understood,
An harbinger of endless good.
Not that I deem, or mean to call
Friendship a blessing cheap or small :
But merely to remark, that ours,
Like some of Nature's sweetest flowers,
Rose from a seed of tiny size,
That seem'd to promise no such prize;
A transient visit intervening,
And made almost without a meaning,
(Hardly the effect of inclination,
Much less of pleasing expectation)
Produced a friendship, then begun,
That has cemented us in one;
And placed it in our power to prove,
By long fidelity and love,
That Solomon has wisely spoken, -
“ A threefold cord is not soon broken."
A LETTER TO THE REV. MR NEWTON.
(DATED MAY 28, 1782.) [The original was addressed to the Rev. Mr Newton, a great smoker, as appears from the Poet's letters. ] Says the pipe to the snuff-box, “I can't understand
What the ladies and gentlemen see in your face, That you are in fashion all over the land,
And I am so much fallen into disgrace.
“ Do but see what a pretty contemplative air
I give to the company — pray do but note 'em — You would think that the wise men of Greece were all
there, Or, at least, would suppose them the wise men of
“My breath is as sweet as the breath of blown roses,
While you are a nuisance where'er you appear ; There is nothing but sniveling and blowing of noses,
Such a noise as turns any man's stomach to hear.”
Then lifting his lid in a delicate way,
And opening his mouth with a smile quite engaging, The box in reply was heard plainly to say, .“ What a silly dispute is this we are waging!
“ If you have a little of merit to claim,
You may thank the sweet-smelling Virginian weed, And I, if I seem to deserve any blame,
The before-mentioned drug in apology plead.
• Thus neither the praise nor the blame is our own, .
No room for a sneer, much less a cachinnus, We are vehicles, not of tobacco alone,
But of any thing else they may choose to put in us."
TO THE REV. WILLIAM BULL.
June 22, 1782. MY DEAR FRIEND,
If reading verse be your delight,
'Tis mine as much, or more, to write;
But what we would, so weak is man,
Lies oft remote from what we can.
For instance, at this very time,
I feel a wish, by cheerful rhyme,
To soothe my friend, and, had I power,
To cheat him of an anxious hour;
Not meaning (for I must confess,
It were but folly to suppress)