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James Shirley

(September 1596 – October 1666 / London, England)

To the Painter Preparing to Draw M.M.H.


Be not too forward, painter; 'tis
More for thy fame, and art, to miss
All other faces, than come near
The Lady, that expecteth here.
Be wise, and think it less disgrace
To draw an angel, than her face;
For in such forms, who is so wise
To tell thee where thy error lies?
But since all beauty (that is known)
Is in her virgin sweetness one,
How can it be, that painting her
But every look should make thee err?
But thou art resolute I see;
Yet let my fancy walk with thee:
Compose a ground more dark and sad,
Than that the early Chaos had,
And show, to the whole sex's shame,
Beauty was darkness till she came.
Then paint her eyes, whose active light
Shall make the former shadows bright,
And with their every beam supply
New day, to draw her picture by.
Now, if thou wilt complete the face,
A wonder paint in every place.
Beneath these, for her fair neck's sake,
White as the Paphian Turtles, make
A pillar, whose smooth base doth show
It self lost in a mount of snow;
Her breast, the house of chaste desire,
Cold, but increasing others' fire.
But how I lose (instructing thee)
Thy pencil, and my poetry!
For when thou hast expressed all art,
As high as truth, in every part,
She can resemble at the best,
One, in her beauty's silence dressed,
Where thou, like a dull looker-on,
Art lost, and all thy art undone;
For if she speak, new wonders rise
From her teeth, chin, lip, and eyes;
So far above that excellent
Did take thee first, thou should repent
To have begun, and lose i'th'end
Thy eyes with wonder how to mend.
At such a loss, here's all thy choice,
Leave off, or paint her with a voice.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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Read poems about / on: beauty, poetry, loss, angel, lost, snow, silence, sad, house, truth, fire, dark, light, rose

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