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An Account Of The Greatest English Poets
Joseph Addison 1672 (Milston) – 1719 (Holland House, London)
Since, dearest Harry, you will needs request
A short account of all the Muse possest,
That, down from Chaucer's days to Dryden's Times,
Have spent their Noble Rage in British Rhimes;
Without more Preface, wrote in Formal length,
To speak the Undertakers want of strength,
I'll try to make they're sev'ral Beauties known,
And show their Verses worth, tho' not my Own.
Long had our dull Fore-Fathers slept Supine,
Nor felt the Raptures of the Tuneful Nine;
Till Chaucer first, the merry Bard, arose;
And many a Story told in Rhime 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 Spencer next, warm'd with Poetick Rage,
In Antick Tales amus'd a Barb'rous Age;
An Age that yet uncultivate and Rude,
Where-e'er the Poet's Fancy led, pursu'd
Through pathless Fields, and unfrequented Floods,
To Dens of Dragons and Enchanted Woods.
But now the Mystick Tale, that pleas'd of Yore,
Can Charm an understanding Age no more;
The long-spun Allegories fulsom grow,
While the dull Moral lies too plain below.
We view well-pleas'd at distance all the sights
Of Arms and Palfreys, Battle's, Fields, and Fights,
And Damsels in Distress, and Courteous Knights.
But when we look too near, the Shades decay,
And all the pleasing Lan-skip 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 Heav'ns, with one continu'd Light;
That not a single Star can shew his Rays,
Whilst joyntly 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 cou'd 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.
Blest Man! whose spotless Life and Charming Lays
Employ'd the Tuneful Prelate in thy Praise:
Blest Man! who now shall be for ever known
In Sprat's successful Labours and thy own.
But Milton next, with high and haughty stalks,
Unfetter'd in Majestic Numbers walks;
No vulgar Heroe can his Muse ingage;
Nor Earth's wide Scene confine his hallow'd Rage.
See! see, he upward Springs, and Tow'ring high,
Spurns the dull Province of Mortality;
Shakes Heav'ns Eternal Throne with dire Alarms,
And sets the Almighty Thunderer in Arms.
What-e'er his Pen describes I more then see,
Whilst ev'ry Verse array'd in Majesty,
Bold, and sublime, my whole attention draws,
And seems above the Criticks nicer Laws.
How are you struck with Terrour and Delight,
When Angel with Arch-Angel Cope's in Fight!
When Great Messiah's out-spread Banner shines,
How does the Chariot Rattel in his Lines!
What sounds of Brazen Wheels, what Thunder, scare,
And stun the Reader with the Din of War!
With Fear my Spirits and my Blood retire,
To see the Seraphs sunk in Clouds of Fire;
But when, with eager steps, from hence I rise,
And view the first gay Scenes of Paradise;
What Tongue, what words of Rapture, can express
A Vision so profuse of pleasantness.
Oh had the Poet ne'er profan'd his Pen,
To varnish o'er the Guilt of Faithless Men,
His other works might have deserv'd applause!
But now the Language can't support the Cause;
While the clean Current, tho' serene and bright,
Betray's a bottom odious to the sight.
But now my Muse, a softer strain rehearse.
Turn every Line with Art, and smooth thy Verse;
The Courtly Waller next commands thy Lays:
Muse Tune thy Verse, with Art, to Waller's Praise.
While tender Airs and lovely Dames inspire
Soft melting Thoughts, and propagate Desire;
So long shall Waller's strains our Passion move,
And Sacharissa's Beauties kindle Love.
Thy Verse, Harmonious Bard, and flatt'ring Song,
Can make the Vanquish'd Great, the Coward strong.
Thy Verse can show ev'n Cromwell's innocence,
And Compliment the Storms that bore him hence.
Oh had thy Muse not come an Age too soon,
But seen Great Nassaw on the British Throne!
How had his Triumphs glitter'd in thy Page,
And warm'd Thee to a
Submitted on May 13, 2011
- 4:07 min read
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|Closest metre||Iambic pentameter|
|Stanza Lengths||8, 8, 15, 20, 4, 30, 16|
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"An Account Of The Greatest English Poets" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2023. Web. 27 Mar. 2023. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/24490/an-account-of-the-greatest-english-poets>.
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