George Wither

11 June 1588 – 2 May 1667 / Bentworth, Hampshire


(From _The Shepherd's Hunting_)

Seest thou not, in clearest days,
Oft thick fogs cloud Heaven's rays?
And that vapours which do breathe
From the Earth's gross womb beneath,
Seem unto us with black steams
To pollute the Sun's bright beams,
And yet vanish into air,
Leaving it unblemished fair?
So, my Willy, shall it be
With Detraction's breath on thee:
It shall never rise so high
As to stain thy poesy.
As that sun doth oft exhale
Vapours from each rotten vale,
Poesy so sometime drains
Gross conceits from muddy brains;
Mists of envy, fogs of spite,
Twixt men's judgments and her light;
But so much her power may do,
That she can dissolve them too.
If thy verse do bravely tower,
As she makes wing she gets power;
Yet the higher she doth soar,
She's affronted still the more,
Till she to the highest hath past;
Then she rests with Fame at last.
Let nought, therefore, thee affright;
But make forward in thy flight.
For if I could match thy rhyme,
To the very stars I'd climb;
There begin again, and fly
Till I reached eternity.
But, alas, my Muse is slow,
For thy place she flags too low;
Yea, the more's her hapless fate,
Her short wings were clipt of late;
And poor I, her fortune ruing,
Am put up myself a mewing.
But if I my cage can rid,
I'll fly where I never did;
And though for her sake I'm crost,
Though my best hopes I have lost,
And knew she would make my trouble
Ten times more than ten times double,
I should love and keep her too,
Spite of all the world could do.
For though, banished from my flocks
And confined within these rocks,
Here I waste away the light
And consume the sullen night,
She doth for my comfort stay,
And keeps many cares away.
Though I miss the flowery fields,
With those sweets the spring-tide yields;
Though I may not see those groves,
Where the shepherds chaunt their loves,
And the lasses more excel
Than the sweet-voiced Philomel;
Though of all those pleasures past,
Nothing now remains at last
But Remembrance--poor relief!
That more makes than mends my grief:
She's my mind's companion still,
Maugre envy's evil will;
Whence she should be driven too,
Were't in mortal's power to do.
She doth tell me where to borrow
Comfort in the midst of sorrow,
Makes the desolatest place
To her presence be a grace,
And the blackest discontents
To be pleasing ornaments.
In my former days of bliss
Her divine skill taught me this,
That from everything I saw
I could some invention draw,
And raise pleasure to her height
Through the meanest object's sight;
By the murmur of a spring,
Or the least bough's rustling;
By a daisy, whose leaves spread,
Shut when Titan goes to bed;
Or a shady bush or tree;
She could more infuse in me,
Than all Nature's beauties can
In some other wiser man.
By her help I also now
Make this churlish place allow
Some things that may sweeten gladness
In the very gall of sadness:
The dull loneness, the black shade
That these hanging vaults have made;
The strange music of the waves
Beating on these hollow caves;
This black den which rocks emboss
Overgrown with eldest moss;
The rude portals that give light
More to terror than delight;
This my chamber of neglect,
Walled about with disrespect;
From all these, and this dull air,
A fit object for despair,
She hath taught me, by her might,
To draw comfort and delight.
Therefore, thou best earthly bliss,
I will cherish thee for this.
Poesy, thou sweet'st content
That e'er Heaven to mortals lent!
Though they as a trifle leave thee
Whose dull thoughts cannot conceive thee,
Though thou be to them a scorn
That to nought but earth are born
Let my life no longer be
Than I am in love with thee.
Though our wise ones call thee madness,
Let me never taste of gladness,
If I love not thy maddest fits
More than all their greatest wits.
And though some, too seeming holy,
Do account thy raptures folly,
Thou dost teach me to contemn
What makes knaves and fools of them.
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