AN ACCOUNT OF THE GREATEST ENGLISH POETS
by: Joseph Addison (1672-1719)
POEMS BY JOSEPH ADDISON
- ONG 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.