Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ELEGY FOR DOCTOR DONNE, by EDWARD HERBERT



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ELEGY FOR DOCTOR DONNE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: What though the vulgar and received praise
Last Line: Such vice avail more than their virtues can.
Alternate Author Name(s): Cherbury, 1st Baron Herbert Of; Herbert Of Cherbury, Edward Herbert, 1st Baron; Herbert Of Cherbury, Lord
Subject(s): Donne, John (1572-1631); Poetry & Poets


WHAT though the vulgar and received praise
With which each common poet strives to raise
His worthless patron seem to give the height
Of a true excellence, yet as the weight
Forc'd from his centre must again recoil,
So every praise, as if it took some foil
Only because it was not well employ'd,
Turns to those senseless principles and void,
Which, in some broken syllables being couch' d,
Cannot above an alphabet be vouch'd,
In which dissolved state they use to rest,
Until some other in new forms invest
Their easy matter, striving so to fix
Glory with words, and make the parts to mix.
But since praise that wants truth, like words that want
Their proper meaning, doth itself recant,
Such terms, however elevate and high,
Are but like meteors, which the pregnant sky
Varies in divers figures, till at last
They either be by some dark cloud o'ercast,
Or, wanting inward sustenance, do devolve,
And into their first elements resolve.
Praises, like garments, then, if loose and wide,
Are subject to fall off; if gay and pi'd,
Make men ridiculous: the just and grave
Are those alone which men may wear and have.
How fitting were it then each had that part
Which is their due; and that no fraudulent art
Could so disguise the truth but they might own
Their rights, and by that property be known!
For since praise is public inheritance,
If any intercommoner do chance
To give or take more praise than doth belong
Unto his part, he doth so great a wrong,
That all who claim an equal interest
May him implead until he do divest
His usurpations, and again restore
Unto the public what was theirs before.
Praises should then, like definitions, be
Round, neat, convertible, such as agree
To persons so, that were their names conceal'd,
Must make them known as well as if reveal'd;
Such as contain the kind and difference,
And all the properties arising thence.
All praises else, or more or less than due,
Will prove or strongly false or weakly true.
Having deliver'd now what praises are,
It rests that I should to the world declare
Thy praises, Donne, whom I so lov'd alive,
That with my witty Carew I should strive
To celebrate thee dead, did I not need
A language by itself, which should exceed
All those which are in use; for while I take
Those common words which men may even rake
From dunghill-wits, I find them so defil'd,
Slubber'd and false, as if they had exil'd
Truth and propriety, such as do tell
So little other things, they hardly spell
Their proper meaning, and therefore unfit
To blazon forth thy merits, or thy wit.
Nor will it serve that thou didst so refine
Matter with words, that both did seem divine
When thy breath utter'd them, for thou b'ing gone,
They straight did follow thee: let therefore none
Hope to find out an idiom and sense
Equal to thee and to thy eminence,
Unless our gracious king give words their bound,
Call in false titles, which each-where are found,
In prose and verse, and as bad coin and light
Suppress them and their values, till the right
Take place and do appear, and then in lieu
Of those forg'd attributes stamp some anew,
Which, being current, and by all allow'd,
In epitaphs and tombs might be avow'd
More than their escutcheons. Meanwhile, because
Nor praise is yet confined to its laws,
Nor railing wants his proper dialect,
Let thy detractors thy late life detect;
And though they term all thy heat frowardness,
Thy solitude self-pride, fasts niggardness,
And on this false supposal would infer
They teach not others right, themselves who err;
Yet as men to the adverse part do ply
Those crooked things which they would rectify,
So would, perchance, to loose and wanton man,
Such vice avail more than their virtues can.





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