Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE HECATOMB TO HIS MISTRESS, by JOHN CLEVELAND



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THE HECATOMB TO HIS MISTRESS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Be dumb, you beggars of the rhyming trade
Last Line: And makes the world but her periphrasis.


BE dumb, you beggars of the rhyming trade,
Geld your loose wits and let your Muse be spayed.
Charge not the parish with the bastard phrase
Of balm, elixir, both the Indias,
Of shrine, saint, sacrilege, and such as these
Expressions common as your mistresses.
Hence, you fantastic postillers in song.
My text defeats your art, ties Nature's tongue,
Scorns all her tinselled metaphors of pelf,
Illustrated by nothing but herself.
As spiders travel by their bowels spun
Into a thread, and, when the race is run,
Wind up their journey in a living clew,
So is it with my poetry and you.
From your own essence must I first untwine,
Then twist again each panegyric line.
Reach then a soaring quill that I may write,
As with a Jacob's staff, to take her height.
Suppose an angel, darting through the air,
Should there encounter a religious prayer
Mounting to Heaven, that Intelligence
Should for a Sunday-suit thy breath condense
Into a body. -- Let me crack a string
In venturing higher; were the note I sing
Above Heaven's Ela, should I then decline,
And with a deep-mouthed gamut sound the line
From pole to pole, I could not reach her worth,
Nor find an epithet to set it forth.
Metals may blazon common beauties; she
Makes pearls and planets humble heraldry.
As, then, a purer substance is defined
But by a heap of negatives combined,
Ask what a spirit is, you'll hear them cry
It hath no matter, no mortality:
So can I not define how sweet, how fair;
Only I say she's not as others are.
For what perfections we to others grant,
It is her sole perfection to want.
All other forms seem in respect of thee
The almanac's misshaped anatomy,
Where Aries head and face, Bull neck and throat,
The Scorpion gives the secrets, knees the Goat;
A brief of limbs foul as those beasts, or are
Their namesake signs in their strange character.
As the philosophers to every sense
Marry its object, yet with some dispense,
And grant them a polygamy with all,
And these their common sensibles they call:
So is 't with her who, stinted unto none,
Unites all senses in each action.
The same beam heats and lights; to see her well
Is both to hear and feel, to taste and smell.
For, can you want a palate in your eyes,
When each of hers contains a double prize,
Venus's apple? Can your eyes want nose
When from each cheek buds forth a fragrant rose?
Or can your sight be deaf to such a quick
And well-tuned face, such moving rhetoric?
Doth not each look a flash of lightning feel
Which spares the body's sheath, and melts the steel?
Thy soul must needs confess, or grant thy sense
Corrupted with the object's excellence.
Sweet magic, which can make five senses lie
Conjured within the circle of an eye!
In whom, since all the five are intermixed,
Oh now that Scaliger would prove his sixt!
Thou man of mouth, that canst not name a she
Unless all Nature pay a subsidy,
Whose language is a tax, whose musk-cat verse
Voids nought but flowers, for thy Muse's hearse
Fitter than Celia's looks, who in a trice
Canst state the long disputed Paradise,
And (what Divines hunt with so cold a scent)
Canst in her bosom find it resident;
Now come aloft, come now, and breathe a vein,
And give some vent unto thy daring strain.
Say the astrologer who spells the stars,
In that fair alphabet reads peace and wars,
Mistakes his globe and in her brighter eye
Interprets Heaven's physiognomy.
Call her the Metaphysics of her sex,
And say she tortures wits as quartans vex
Physicians; call her the square circle; say
She is the very rule of Algebra.
What e'er thou understand'st not, say 't of her,
For that's the way to write her character.
Say this and more, and when thou hopest to raise
Thy fancy so as to inclose her praise --
Alas poor Gotham, with thy cuckoo-hedge!
Hyperboles are here but sacrilege.
Then roll up, Muse, what thou hast ravelled out,
Some comments clear not, but increase the doubt.
She that affords poor mortals not a glance
Of knowledge, but is known by ignorance;
She that commits a rape on every sense,
Whose breath can countermand a pestilence;
She that can strike the best invention dead
Till baffled poetry hangs down the head --
She, she it is that doth contain all bliss,
And makes the world but her periphrasis.





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