Sir John Denham (1614 or 1615 – 19 March 1669) was an English poet and courtier. He served as Surveyor of the King's Works and is buried in Westminster Abbey.
Denham was born in Dublin to Sir John Denham, judge and Chief Baron of the Exchequer of Ireland, and his second wife Eleanor. He was educated at Trinity College, Oxford and at Lincoln's In ...
Sure there are poets which did never dream
Upon Parnassus, nor did taste the stream
Of Helicon; we therefore may suppose
Those made not poets, but the poets those.
And as courts make not kings, but kings the court,
So where the Muses and their train resort,
Parnassus stands: if I can be to thee
A poet, thou Parnassus art to me.
Nor wonder, if (advantage in my flight,
By taking wing from thy auspicious height)
Through untraced ways and airy paths I fly,
More boundless in my fancy than my eye:
My eye, which swift as thought contracts the space
That lies between, and first salutes the place
Crowned with that sacred pile, so vast, so high,
That whether 'tis a part of earth or sky
Uncertain seems, and may be thought a proud
Aspiring mountain, or descending cloud,
Paul's, the late theme of such a Muse whose flight
Has bravely reached and soared above thy height;
Now shalt thou stand though sword, or time, or fire,
Or zeal more fierce than they, thy fall conspire,
Secure, whilst thee the best of poets sings,
Preserved from ruin by the best of kings.
Under his proud survey the city lies,
And like a mist beneath a hill doth rise,
Whose state and wealth, the business and the crowd,
Seems at this distance but a darker cloud;
And is to him who rightly things esteems
No other in effect than what it seems.
Where, with like haste, through several ways they run,
Some to undo and some to be undone;
While luxury and wealth, like war and peace,
Are each the other's ruin and increase,
As rivers lost in seas, some secret vein
Thence reconveighs, there to be lost again.
Oh, happiness of sweet retired content!
To be at once secure and innocent.
Windsor the next (where Mars with Venus dwells,
Beauty with strength) above the valley swells
Into my eye and doth itself present
With such an easy unforced ascent
That no stupendous precipice denies
Access, no horror turns away our eyes;
But such a rise as doth at once invite
A pleasure and a reverence from the sight.
Thy mighty master's emblem, in whose face
Sat meekness, heightened with majestic grace;
Such seems thy gentle height, made only proud
To be the basis of that pompous load,
Than which a nobler weight no mountain bears,
But Atlas only that supports the spheres.
When nature's hand this ground did thus advance,
'Twas guided by a wiser power than chance,
Marked out for such a use as if 'twere meant
T'invite the builder, and his choice prevent.
Nor can we call it choice when what we choose,
Folly or blindness only could refuse.
A crown of such majestic towers doth grace
The gods' great mother when her heavenly race
Do homage to her; yet she cannot boast
Amongst that numerous and celestial host
More heroes than can Windsor, nor doth fame's
Immortal book record more noble names.
Not to look back so far, to whom this isle
Owes the first glory of so brave a pile,
Whether to Caesar, Albanact, or Brute,
The British Arthur, or the Danish Canute
(Though this of old no less contest did move
Than when for Homer's birth seven cities strove;
Like him in birth, thou shouldst be like in fame,
As thine his fate, if mine had been his flame);
But whosoe'er it was, nature designed
First a brave place, and then as brave a mind.
Not to recount those several kings, to whom
It gave a cradle, or to whom a tomb,
But thee, great Edward, and thy greater son,
(The lilies which his father wore, he won)
And thy Bellona, who the consort came
Not only to thy bed, but to thy fame;
She to thy triumphs led one captive king
And brought that son, which did the second bring.
Then didst thou found that Order (whether love
Or victory thy royal thoughts did move).
Each was a noble cause, and nothing less
Than the design has been the great success,
Which foreign kings and emperors esteem
The second honor to their diadem.
Had thy great destiny but given thee skill
To know, as well as power to act her will,
That from those kings, who then thy captives were
In after-times should spring a royal pair
Who should possess all that thy mighty power,
Or thy desires more mighty, did devour,
To whom their better fate reserves whate'er
The victor hopes for, or the vanquish'd fear;
That blood, which thou and thy gransire shed,
And all that since these sister nations bled,
Had been unspilt, had happy Edward known
That all the blood he spilt had been his own.
When he that patron chose in whom are joined
Soldier and martyr, and his arms confined
Within the azure circle, he did seem
But to foretell and prophesy of him
Who to his realms that azure round hath joined,
Which nature for their bound at first designed;
That bound, which to the world's extremest ends,
Endless itself, its liquid arms extends:
Nor doth he need those emblems which we paint,
But is himself the soldier and the saint.
Here should my wonder dwell, and here my praise;
But my fixed thoughts my wandering eye betrays,
Viewing a neighboring hill, whose top of late
A chapel crowned, till in the common fate
The adjoining Abbey fell (may no such storm
Fall on our times, where ruin must reform).
Tell me, my Muse, what monstrous dire offense,
What crime could any Christian king incense
To such a rage? Was't luxury, or lust?
Was he so temperate, so chaste, so just?
Were these their crimes? They were his own much more;
But wealth is crime enough to him that's poor,
Who having spent the treasures of his crown,
Condemns their luxury to feed his own.
And yet this act, to varnish o'er the shame
Of sacrilege, must bear devotion's name.
No crime so bold but would be understood
A real, or at least a seeming good.
Who fears not to do ill, yet fears the name,
And free from conscience, is a slave to fame.
Thus he the church at once protects and spoils;
But Prince's swords are sharper than their styles.
And thus to the ages past he makes amends,
Their charity destroys, their faith defends.
Then did religion in a lazy cell,
In empty, airy contemplations dwell,
And like the block, unmoved, lay; but ours,
As much too active, like the stork devours.
Is there no temperate region can be known,
Betwixt their frigid, and our torrid zone?
Could we not wake from that lethargic dream,
But to be restless in a worse extreme?
And for that lethargy was there no cure,
But to be cast into a calenture?
Can knowledge have no bound, but must advance
So far, to make us wish for ignorance?
And rather in the dark to grope our way
Than led by a false guide to err by day?
Who sees these dismal heaps, but would demand
What barbarous invader sacked the land?
But when he hears no Goth, no Turk did bring
This desolation, but a Christian king,
When nothing but the name of zeal appears
'Tixt our best actions and the worst of theirs,
What does he think our sacrilege would spare,
When such the effects of our devotions are?
Parting from thence 'twixt anger, shame, and fear,
Those for what's past, and this for what's too near,
My eye, descending from the hill, surveys
Where Thames amongst the wanton valleys strays.
Thames, the most loved of all the ocean's sons,
By his old sire, to his embraces runs,
Hasting to pay his tribute to the sea,
Like mortal life to meet eternity.
Though with those streams he no resemblance hold,
Whose foam is amber and their gravel gold;
His genuine, and less guilty wealth to explore,
Search not his bottom, but survey his shore,
O'er which he kindly spreads his spacious wing,
And hatches plenty for the ensuing spring.
Nor then destroys it with too fond a stay,
Like mothers which their infants overlay;
Nor with a sudden and impetuous wave,
Like profuse kings, resumes the wealth he gave.
No expected inundations spoil
The mower's hopes, nor mock the plowman's toil;
But God-like his unwearied bounty flows;
First he loves to do, then loves the good he does.
Nor are his blessings to his banks confined,
But free and common as the sea or wind;
When he to boast, or to disperse his stores,
Full of the tributes of his grateful shores,
Visits the world, and in his flying towers
Brings home to us, and makes the Indies ours;
Finds wealth where 'tis, bestows it where it wants,
Cities in deserts, woods in cities plants,
So that to us no thing, no place is strange,
While his fair bosom is the world's exchange.
O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
My great example, as it is my theme!
Though deep, yet clear, though gentle, yet not dull,
Strong without rage, without o'er-flowing full.
Heaven her Eridanus no more shall boast,
Whose fame in thine, like lesser currents lost,
Thy nobler streams shall visit Jove's abodes,
To shine amongst the stars and bathe the gods.
Here nature, whether more intent to please
Us or herself with strange varieties
(For things of wonder give no less delight
To the wise Maker's, than beholder's sight,
Though these delights from several causes move;
For so our children, thus our friends we love),
Wisely she knew the harmony of things,
As well as that of sounds, from discords springs.
Such was the discord which did first disperse
Form, order, beauty through the universe.
While dryness moisture, coldness heat resists,
All that we have, and that we are, subsists;
While the steep horrid roughness of the wood
Strives with the gentle calmness of the flood,
Such huge extremes when nature doth unite,
Wonder from thence results, from thence delight.
The stream is so transparent, pure, and clear,
That had the self-enamored youth gazed here,
So fatally deceived he had not been,
While he at the bottom, not his face had seen.
But his proud head the airy mountain hides
Among the clouds; his shoulders and his sides
A shady mantle clothes; his curled brows
Frown on the gentle stream, which calmly flows,
While winds and storms his lofty forehead beat,
The common fate of all that's high or great.
Low at his foot a spacious plain is placed,
Between the mountain and the stream embraced,
Which shade and shelter from the hill derives,
While the kind river wealth and beauty gives;
And in the mixture of all these appears
Variety, which all the rest indears.
This scene had some bold Greek, or British bard
Behold of old, what stories we had heard
Of fairies, satyrs, and the nymphs, their dames,
Their feasts, their revels, and their amorous flames.
'Tis the same still, although their airy shape
All but the quick poetic sight escape.
There Faunus and Sylvanus keep their courts,
And thither all the horned host resorts
To graze the ranker mead; that noble heard
On whose sublime and shady fronts is reared
Nature's great masterpiece, to show how soon
Great things are made, but sooner are undone.
Here have I seen the king, when great affairs
Give leave to slacken and unbend his cares,
Attended to the chase by all the flower
Of youth, whose hopes a nobler prey devour.
Pleasure with praise and danger they would buy,
And wish a foe that would not only fly.
The stag now conscious of his fatal growth,
At once indulgent to his fear and sloth,
To some dark covert his retreat had made,
Where no man's eye, nor heaven's should invade
His soft repose; when the unexpected sound
Of dogs and men his wakeful ear doth wound.
Roused with the noise, he scarce believes his ear,
Willing to think the illusions of his fear
Had given this alarm; but straight his view
Confirms that more than all he fears is true.
Betrayed in all his strengths, the wood beset,
All instruments, all arts of ruin met,
He calls to mind his strength and then his speed,
His winged heels, and then his armed head;
With these to avoid, with that his fate to meet;
But fear prevails and bids him thrust his feet.
So fast he flies that his reviewing eye
Has lost the chasers, and his ear the cry;
Exulting, till he finds their nobler sense
Their disproportioned speed does recompense.
Then curses his conspiring feet, whose scent
Betrays that safety which their swiftness lent.
Then tries his friends: among the baser herd,
Where he so lately was obeyed and feared,
His safety seeks; the herd, unkindly wise,
Or chases him from thence, or from him flies.
Like a declining statesman left forlorn
To his friends' pity and pursuers' scorn,
With shame remembers, while himself was one
Of the same herd, himself the same had done.
Thence to the coverts and the conscious groves,
The scenes of his past triumphs and his loves,
Sadly surveying where he ranged alone,
Prince of the soil and all the herd his own,
And like a bold knight errant did proclaim
Combat to all, and bore away the dame,
And taught the woods to echo to the stream
His dreadful challenge and his clashing beam;
Yet faintly now declines the fatal strife,
So much his love was dearer than his life.
Now every leaf and every moving breath
Presents a foe, and every foe a death.
Wearied, forsaken, and pursued, at last
All safety in despair of safety placed,
Courage he thence resumes, resolved to bear
All their assaults, since 'tis in vain to fear.
And now too late he wishes for the fight
That strength he wasted in ignoble flight.
But when he sees the eager chase renewed,
Himself by dogs, the dogs by men pursued,
He straight revokes his bold resolve, and more
Repents his courage than his fear before;
Finds that uncertain ways unsafest are,
And doubt a greater mischief than despair.
Then to the stream, when neither friends, nor force,
Nor speed, nor art avail, he shapes his course;
Thinks not their rage so desperate to assay
An element more merciless than they.
But fearless they pursue, nor can the flood
Quench their dire thirst; alas, they thirst for blood.
So toward a ship the oarfin'd galleys ply,
Which wanting sea to ride, or wind to fly,
Stands but to fall revenged on those that dare
Tempt the last fury of extreme despair.
So fares the stag among the enraged hounds,
Repels their force, and wounds returns for wounds.
And as a hero, whom his baser foes
In troops surround, now these assails, now those,
Though prodigal of life, disdains to die,
By common hands; but if he can descry
Some nobler foe's approach, to him he calls
And begs his fate, and then contented falls:
So when the king a mortal shaft lets fly
From his unerring hand, then glad to die,
Proud of the wound, to it resigns his blood
And stains the crystal with a purple flood.
This a more innocent and happy chase
Than when of old, but in the self-same place,
Fair liberty pursued, and meant a prey
To lawless power, here turned and stood at bay,
When in that remedy all hope was placed
Which was, or should have been at least, the last.
Here was that Charter sealed wherein the crown
All marks of arbitrary power lays down.
Tyrant and slave, those names of hate and fear,
The happier style of king and subject bear:
Happy when both to the same center move
When kings give liberty, and subjects love.
Therefore not long in force this Charter stood;
Wanting that seal, it must be sealed in blood.
The subjects armed, the more the princes gave,
The advantage only took the more to crave.
Till kings by giving, give themselves away,
And even that power that should deny, betray.
'Who gives constrained, but his own fear reviles,
Not thanked, but scorned; nor are they gifts, but spoils.'
Thus kings, by grasping more than they could hold,
First made their subjects by oppression bold;
And popular sway, by forcing kings to give
More than was fit for subjects to receive,
Ran to the same extremes; and one excess
Made both, by striving to be greater, less.
When a calm river, raised with sudden rains,
Or snows dissolved, o'erflows the adjoining plains,
The husbandmen with high-raised banks secure
Their greedy hopes, and this he can endure.
But if with bays and dams they strive to force
His channel to a new or narrow course,
No longer then within his banks he dwells;
First to a torrent, then a deluge swells;
Stronger and fiercer by restraint he roars,
And knows no bound, but makes his power his shores.