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English Poetry I: From Chaucer to Gray.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

John Dryden

262. Ode

To the Pious Memory of the accomplished young lady, Mrs. Anne Killigrew, excellent in the two sister arts of Poesy and Painting

THOU youngest virgin-daughter of the skies,

Made in the last promotion of the blest;

Whose palms, new pluck’d from Paradise,

In spreading branches more sublimely rise,

Rich with immortal green above the rest:

Whether, adopted to some neighbouring star,

Thou roll’st above us, in thy wandering race,

Or, in procession fix’d and regular,

Moved with the heaven’s majestic pace;

Or, call’d to more superior bliss,

Thou tread’st with seraphims the vast abyss:

Whatever happy region be thy place,

Cease thy celestial song a little space;

Thou wilt have time enough for hymns divine,

Since Heaven’s eternal year is thine.

Hear, then, a mortal Muse thy praise rehearse,

In no ignoble verse;

But such as thy own voice did practise here,

When thy first-fruits of Poesy were given,

To make thyself a welcome inmate there;

While yet a young probationer,

And candidate of heaven.

If by traduction came thy mind,

Our wonder is the less, to find

A soul so charming from a stock so good;

Thy father was transfused into thy blood:

So wert thou born into a tuneful strain,

An early, rich, and inexhausted vein.

But if thy pre-existing soul

Was form’d at first with myriads more,

It did through all the mighty poets roll

Who Greek or Latin laurels wore,

And was that Sappho last, which once it was before.

If so, then cease thy flight, O heaven-born mind!

Thou hast no dross to purge from thy rich ore:

Nor can thy soul a fairer mansion find,

Than was the beauteous frame she left behind:

Return, to fill or mend the quire of thy celestial kind.

May we presume to say, that, at thy birth,

New joy was sprung in heaven as well as here on earth?

For sure the milder planets did combine

On thy auspicious horoscope to shine,

And even the most malicious were in trine.

Thy brother-angels at thy birth

Strung each his lyre, and tuned it high,

That all the people of the sky

Might know a poetess was born on earth;

And then, if ever, mortal ears

Had heard the music of the spheres.

And if no clustering swarm of bees

On thy sweet mouth distill’d their golden dew,

’Twas that such vulgar miraclès

Heaven had not leisure to renew:

For all the blest fraternity of love

Solemnized there thy birth, and kept thy holiday above.

O gracious God! how far have we

Profaned thy heavenly gift of Poesy!

Made prostitute and profligate the Muse,

Debased to each obscene and impious use,

Whose harmony was first ordain’d above,

For tongues of angels and for hymns of love!

O wretched we! why were we hurried down

This lubrique and adulterate age

(Nay, added fat pollutions of our own),

To increase the streaming ordures of the stage?

What can we say to excuse our second fall?

Let this thy Vestal, Heaven, atone for all!

Her Arethusian stream remains unsoil’d,

Unmix’d with foreign filth, and undefiled;

Her wit was more than man, her innocence a child.

Art she had none, yet wanted none,

For Nature did that want supply:

So rich in treasures of her own,

She might our boasted stores defy:

Such noble vigour did her verse adorn,

That it seem’d borrow’d, where ’twas only born.

Her morals, too, were in her bosom bred,

By great examples daily fed,

What in the best of books, her father’s life, she read.

And to be read herself she need not fear;

Each test, and every light, her Muse will bear,

Though Epictetus with his lamp were there.

Even love (for love sometimes her Muse exprest)

Was but a lambent flame which play’d about her breast,

Light as the vapours of a morning dream;

So cold herself, whilst she such warmth exprest,

’Twas Cupid bathing in Diana’s stream.…

Now all those charms, that blooming grace,

The well-proportion’d shape, and beauteous face,

Shall never more be seen by mortal eyes;

In earth the much-lamented virgin lies.

Not wit, nor piety could fate prevent;

Nor was the cruel destiny content

To finish all the murder at a blow,

To sweep at once her life and beauty too;

But, like a harden’d felon, took a pride

To work more mischievously slow,

And plunder’d first, and then destroy’d.

O double sacrilege on things divine,

To rob the relic, and deface the shrine!

But thus Orinda died:

Heaven, by the same disease did both translate;

As equal were their souls, so equal was their fate.

Meantime, her warlike brother on the seas

His waving streamers to the winds displays,

And vows for his return, with vain devotion, pays.

Ah, generous youth! that wish forbear,

The winds too soon will waft thee here!

Slack all thy sails, and fear to come,

Alas! thou know’st not, thou art wreck’d at home!

No more shalt thou behold thy sister’s face,

Thou hast already had her last embrace.

But look aloft, and if thou kenn’st from far,

Among the Pleiads a new kindled star,

If any sparkles than the rest more bright,

’Tis she that shines in that propitious light.

When in mid-air the golden trump shall sound,

To raise the nations under ground;

When, in the Valley of Jehoshaphat,

The judging God shall close the book of Fate,

And there the last assizes keep

For those who wake and those who sleep;

When rattling bones together fly

From the four corners of the sky;

When sinews o’er the skeletons are spread,

Those clothed with flesh, and life inspires the dead;

The sacred poets first shall hear the sound,

And foremost from the tomb shall bound,

For they are cover’d with the lightest ground;

And straight, with inborn vigour, on the wing,

Like mounting larks, to the new morning sing.

There thou, sweet Saint, before the quire shall go,

As harbinger of Heaven, the way to show,

The way which thou so well hast learn’d below.