Sunday Night Journal, December 9, 2018
Sunday Night Journal, December 16, 2018

52 Poems, Week 50: The Wish (Abraham Cowley)

THE WISH

Well then! I now do plainly see
This busy world and I shall ne'er agree.
The very honey of all earthly joy
Does of all meats the soonest cloy ;
    And they, methinks, deserve my pity
Who for it can endure the stings,
The crowd and buzz and murmurings,
    Of this great hive, the city.

Ah, yet, ere I descend to the grave
May I a small house and large garden have ;
And a few friends, and many books, both true,
Both wise, and both delightful too!
    And since love ne'er will from me flee,
A Mistress moderately fair,
And good as guardian angels are,
    Only beloved and loving me.

O fountains! when in you shall I
Myself eased of unpeaceful thoughts espy?
O fields! O woods! when, when shall I be made
The happy tenant of your shade?
    Here's the spring-head of Pleasure's flood :
Here's wealthy Nature's treasury,
Where all the riches lie that she
    Has coin'd and stamp'd for good.

Pride and ambition here
Only in far-fetch'd metaphors appear ;
Here naught but winds can hurtful murmurs scatter,
And naught but Echo flatter.
    The gods, when they descended, hither
From heaven did always choose their way :
And therefore we may boldly say
    That 'tis the way too thither.

How happy here should I
And one dear She live, and embracing die!
She who is all the world, and can exlude
In deserts solitude.
    I should have then this only fear:
Lest men, when they my pleasures see,
Should hither throng to live like me,
    And so make a city here.

*

I approve this message.

As I said at the beginning of this project, I knew I wouldn't have any trouble finding a poem to post every week, and I haven't. But I didn't think about how difficult it might be to pick one from the many possibilities. That difficulty became acute this week, since there were only three weeks left. I've tended to shy away from obvious Great Poems, not because I'm tired of them, because I'm not, but because I thought it would be interesting to explore roads less traveled by. I agree with Nabokov, or at least with a character in one of his novels, that "Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening" is one of the greatest lyrics in the English language. But I think just about everybody with the least bit of interest in literature is familiar with it, not to mention a lot of people who aren't particularly interested, but read the poem in school and found that it touched something in them.

So I leafed through both volumes of the Norton Anthology I used in college fifty years ago and happened on this poem (in Volume 1, which goes up to roughly 1800). If I read it back then I've forgotten both it and its author (1618-1667). The anthologist's note slights Cowley, charging that he

persuaded himself not only that he should be, but that he actually was, a poet of overpowering wit and rhapsodic genius. "The Muses' Hannibal" was his favorite epithet for himself.... [A]fter his death he quickly sank in public esteem.... "The Wish," with its modest scope and genuine appreciation of homely pleasures, suggests where his tastes and talents really lay.

I copied the text from the estimable Luminarium site.

Comments

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Well, I have all those things, and I am grateful, but they take prodigious amount of tending.

AMDG

I have something in mind for next week, Mac, but it's an excerpt from a long poem. Is that okay?

Sure.

Janet, Cowley probably had servants. Maybe you should get some, too.

Are you volunteering?

AMDG

Oh, I'm much too old.

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