Long had our dull forefathers slept supine,
Nor felt the raptures of the tuneful Nine;
Till Chaucer first, the merry bard, arose,
And many a story told in rhyme and prose.
But age has rusted what the poet writ,
Worn out his language, and obscur`d his wit;
In vain he jests in his unpolish`d strain,
And tries to make his readers laugh, in vain.
Old Spenser next, warm`d with poetic rage,
In ancient tales amus`d a barb`rous age;
An age that yet uncultivate and rude,
Where`er the poet`s fancy led, pursu`d
Through pathless fields, and unfrequented floods,
To dens of dragons and enchanted woods.
But now the mystic tale, that pleas`d of yore,
Can charm an understanding age no more;
The long-spun allegories fulsome grow.
While the dull moral lies too plain below.
We view well-pleas`d at distance all the sights
Of arms and palfreys, battles, fields, and fights,
And damsels in distress, and courteous knights;
But when we look too near, the shades decay,
And all the pleasing landscape fades away.
Great Cowley then (a mighty genius) wrote,
O`er-run with wit, and lavish of his thought:
His turns too closely on the reader press;
He more had pleas`d us, had he pleas`d us less,
One glitt`ring thought no sooner strikes our eyes
With silent wonder, but new wonders rise;
As in the milky-way a shining white
O`er-flows the heavn`s with one continu`d light,
That not a single star can show his rays,
Whilst jointly all promote the common blaze.
Pardon, great poet, that I dare to name
Th` unnumber`d beauties of thy verse with blame;
Thy fault is only wit in its excess,
But wit like thine in any shape will please.
What muse but thine can equal hints inspire,
And fit the deep-mouth`d Pindar to thy lyre;
Pindar, whom others, in a labour`d strain
And forc`d expression, imitate in vain?
Well-pleas`d in thee he soars with new delight,
And plays in more unbounded verse, and takes a nobler flight.