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Short poem

Abraham Cowley (1618-1667)

On the Death of Mr. Crashaw

              1Poet and Saint! to thee alone are given
              2The two most sacred names of earth and heaven,
              3The hard and rarest union which can be
              4Next that of godhead with humanity.
              5Long did the Muses banish'd slaves abide,
              6And built vain pyramids to mortal pride;
              7Like Moses thou (though spells and charms withstand)
              8Hast brought them nobly home back to their Holy Land.

              9      Ah wretched we, poets of earth! but thou
            10Wert living the same poet which thou'rt now.
            11Whilst angels sing to thee their airs divine,
            12And joy in an applause so great as thine,
            13Equal society with them to hold,
            14Thou need'st not make new songs, but say the old.
            15And they (kind spirits!) shall all rejoice to see
            16How little less than they exalted man may be.
            17Still the old heathen gods in numbers dwell,
            18The heavenliest thing on earth still keeps up Hell.
            19Nor have we yet quite purg'd the Christian land;
            20Still idols here like calves at Bethel stand.
            21And though Pan's death long since all oracles broke,
            22Yet still in rhyme the fiend Apollo spoke:
            23Nay with the worst of heathen dotage we
            24(Vain men!) the monster Woman deify;
            25Find stars, and tie our fates there in a face,
            26And Paradise in them by whom we lost it, place.
            27What different faults corrupt our Muses thus
            28Wanton as girls, as old wives fabulous!

            29      Thy spotless Muse, like Mary, did contain
            30The boundless Godhead; she did well disdain
            31That her eternal verse employ'd should be
            32On a less subject than eternity;
            33And for a sacred mistress scorn'd to take
            34But her whom God himself scorn'd not his spouse to make.
            35It (in a kind) her miracle did do;
            36A fruitful mother was, and virgin too.

            37      How well, blest swan, did fate contrive thy death;
            38And make thee render up thy tuneful breath
            39In thy great mistress' arms! thou most divine
            40And richest offering of Loretto's shrine!
            41Where like some holy sacrifice t' expire
            42A fever burns thee, and Love lights the fire.
            43Angels (they say) brought the fam'd chapel there,
            44And bore the sacred load in triumph through the air.
            45'Tis surer much they brought thee there, and they,
            46And thou, their charge, went singing all the way.

            47      Pardon, my Mother Church, if I consent
            48That angels led him when from thee he went,
            49For even in error sure no danger is
            50When join'd with so much piety as his.
            51Ah, mighty God, with shame I speak't, and grief,
            52Ah that our greatest faults were in belief!
            53And our weak reason were even weaker yet,
            54Rather than thus our wills too strong for it.
            55His faith perhaps in some nice tenents might
            56Be wrong; his life, I'm sure, was in the right.
            57And I myself a Catholic will be,
            58So far at least, great saint, to pray to thee.

            59      Hail, bard triumphant! and some care bestow
            60On us, the poets militant below!
            61Oppos'd by our old enemy, adverse chance,
            62Attack'd by envy, and by ignorance,
            63Enchain'd by beauty, tortured by desires,
            64Expos'd by tyrant Love to savage beasts and fires.
            65Thou from low earth in nobler flames didst rise,
            66And like Elijah, mount alive the skies.
            67Elisha-like (but with a wish much less,
            68More fit thy greatness, and my littleness)
            69Lo here I beg (I whom thou once didst prove
            70So humble to esteem, so good to love)
            71Not that thy spirit might on me doubled be,
            72I ask but half thy mighty spirit for me;
            73And when my Muse soars with so strong a wing,
            74'Twill learn of things divine, and first of thee to sing.


1] Richard Crashaw was born about 1613, the son of a violently anti-Catholic clergyman. He became a scholar of Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1631, and a fellow of Peterhouse in 1636. In 1644 he was ejected from his fellowship for refusing to take the Covenant. Like his friend, Cowley, he seems to have then taken refuge at Oxford, and after the defeat of the King he went to Paris. By this time he had become a Roman Catholic. In Paris, Cowley, now secretary to the exiled queen and court, procured him letters of introduction by means of which he obtained the post of secretary to Cardinal Palotta, in Rome. Later he was instituted a canon of the Church of Our Lady of Loretto (April 24, 1649). He died of a fever shortly afterwards.

3] hard and rarest. The termination "-est" does duty for both adjectives.

20] See I Kings, xii, 26-33.

21] Eusebius in his De Preparatione Evangelica, V, xvii, relates that about the time of Christ's passion the crew and passengers of a ship on the way from Italy to Cyprus heard a voice calling out that Pan was dead. "By which Pan, though of some be understood the great Satanas, whose kingdom at that time was by Christ conquered .... (for at that time, as he (Eusebius) saith, all oracles surceased, and enchanted spirits that were wont to delude the people, thenceforth held their peace) .... yet I think it more properly meant of the death of Christ, the only and very Pan, then suffering for his flock." (Glosse to Spenser's Shepheardes Calender, May).

22] The pagan gods were regarded by the Christian fathers as evil spirits; cf. Paradise Lost, I, 364 ff. Apollo who inspired the Delphian oracle, was the god of song and poetry. Cf. also note to Carew, An Elegy on the Death of Doctor Donne, 22.

28] fabulous. Cf. I Timothy, iv, 7. 30.
well. Perhaps.

35] kind. Manner.

43-44] The shrine at Loretto was believed to be the house of the Virgin Mary, transported by angels from Nazareth at the close of the 13th century.

55] nice tenents. Subtle doctrines. With 55-56 cf. Pope, Essay on Man, III, 303:

For modes of faith let graceless
zealots fight; His can't be
wrong whose life is in the right.

59-60] triumphant ... militant. An adaptation of the phrases "the church militant" and "the church triumphant" for the church on earth and in heaven.

66] See II Kings, ii, 1-15.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Abraham Cowley, Poems (London: H. Moseley, 1656). E-10 2928 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto) pt. 1-4. Facs. edn. (Menston: Scolar, 1971). PR 3370 A1 1656A Robarts Library
First publication date: 1656
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 2RP 1.452.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/10

Composition date: 1651
Form: Pindaric Ode

Other poems by Abraham Cowley