A Letter To Monsieur Boileau Despreaux, Occasioned By The Victory At Blenheim

Since hired for life, thy servile Muse must sing
Successive conquests and a glorious King;
Must of a man immortal vainly boast,
And bring him laurels whatsoe'er they cost,
What turn wilt thou employ, what colours lay,
On the event of that superior day,
In which one English subject's prosperous hand
(So Jove did will, so Anna did command)
Broke the proud column of thy master's praise,
Which sixty winters had conspired to raise?
From the lost field a hundred standards brought
Must be the work of Chance, and Fortune's fault.
Bavaria's stars must be accused, which shone,
That fatal day the mighty work was done,
With rays oblique upon the Gallic sun.
Some demon envying France misled the sight,
And Mars mistook, though Louis order'd right.
When thy young Muse invoked the tuneful Nine,
To say how Louis did not pass the Rhine,
What work had we with Wageninghen, Arnheim,
Places that could not be reduced to rhyme?
And though the poet made his last efforts,
Wurts -- who could mention in heroic -- Wurts?
But, tell me, hast thou reason to complain
Of the rough triumphs of the last campaign?
The Danube rescued and the Empire saved,
Say, is the majesty of verse retrieved?
And would it prejudice thy softer vein
To sing the princes Louis and Eugene?
Is it too hard in happy verse to place
The Vans and Vanders of the Rhine and Maese?
Her warriors Anna sends from Tweed and Thames,
That France may fall by more harmonious names.
Canst thou not Hamilton or Lumley bear?
Would Ingoldsby or Palmes offend thy ear?
And is there not a sound in Marlbro's name
Which thou and all thy brethren ought to claim,
Sacred to verse, and sure of endless fame?
Cutts is in metre something harsh to read;
Place me the valiant Gouram in his stead;
Let the intention make the number good;
Let generous Sylvius speak for honest Wood,
And though rough Churchill scarce in verse will stand,
So as to have one rhyme at his command.
With ease the bard reciting Blenheim's plain,
May close the verse, remembering but the Dane.
I grant, old friend, old foe, (for such we are
Alternate as the chance of peace and war)
That we poetic folks, who must restrain
Our measured sayings in an equal chain,
Have troubles utterly unknown to those
Who let their fancy loose in rambling prose.
For instance, now, how hard is it for me
To make my matter and my my verse agree?
In one great day, on Hochstets fatal plain,
French and Bavarians twenty thousand slain;
Push'd through the Danube to the shores of Styx
Squadrons eighteen, battalions twenty-six;
Officers captive made, and private men,
Of these twelve hundred, of those thousands ten;
Tents, ammunition, colours, carriages,
Cannons, and kettle-drums, -- sweet numbers these
But is it thus you English bards compose?
With Runic lays thus tag insipid prose?
And when you should your hero's deeds rehearse
Give us a commissary's list in verse?
Why, faith, Despreaux, there's sense in what you say;
I told you where my difficulty lay:
So vast, so numerous, were great Blenheim's spoils,
They scorn the bounds of verse, and mock the muse's toils.
To make the rough recital aptly chime,
Or bring the sum of Gallia's loss to rhyme,
'Tis mighty hard: what poet would essay
To count the streamers of my Lord Mayor's day?
To number all the several dishes dress'd
By honest Lamb last coronation-feast?
Or make arithmetic and epic meet,
And Newton's thoughts in Dryden's style repeat?
O Poet, had it been Apollo's will
That I had shared a portion of thy skill;
Had this poor breast received the heavenly beam,
Or could I hope my verse might reach my theme;
Yet, Boileau, yet the labouring muse should strive
Beneath the shades of Marlbro's wreaths to live;
Should call aspiring gods to bless her choice,
And to their favourite's strain exalt her voice,
Arms and a Queen to sing, who, great and good,
From peaceful Thames to Danube's wondering flood,
Sent forth the terror of her high commands,
To save the nations from invading hands,
To prop fair Liberty's declining cause,
And fix the jarring world with equal laws.
The queen should sit in Windsor's sacred grove
Attended by the gods of War and Love;
Both should with equal zeal her smiles implore,
To fix her joys, or to extend her Power.
Sudden the Nymphs and Tritons should appear
And as great Anna smiles dispel their fear;
With active dance should her observance claim:
With vocal shell should sound her happy name;
Their master Thames should leave the neigh'bring shore
By his strong anchor known and silver oar;
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on March 05, 2023

4:04 min read

Quick analysis:

Scheme Text too long
Closest metre Iambic pentameter
Characters 4,388
Words 787
Stanzas 1
Stanza Lengths 103

Matthew Prior

Matthew Prior was an English poet and diplomat. more…

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