Verse > Anthologies > Herbert J.C. Grierson, ed. > Metaphysical Lyrics & Poems of the 17th c.
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Herbert J.C. Grierson, ed. (1886–1960). Metaphysical Lyrics & Poems of the 17th C.  1921.
 
Abraham Cowley
 
135. ODE
Of Wit
 
TELL me, O tell, what kind of thing is Wit, 
      Thou who Master art of it. 
For the First matter loves Variety less; 
Less Women love't, either in Love or Dress. 
      A thousand different shapes it bears,         5
      Comely in thousand shapes appears. 
Yonder we saw it plain; and here 'tis now, 
Like Spirits in a Place, we know not How. 
  
London that vents of false Ware so much store, 
      In no Ware deceives us more.  10
For men led by the Colour, and the Shape, 
Like Zeuxes Birds fly to the painted Grape; 
      Some things do through our Judgment pass 
      As through a Multiplying Glass. 
And sometimes, if the Object be too far,  15
We take a Falling Meteor for a Star. 
  
Hence 'tis a Wit that greatest word of Fame 
      Grows such a common Name. 
And Wits by our Creation they become, 
Just so, as Tit'lar Bishops made at Rome.  20
      'Tis not a Tale, 'tis not a Jest 
      Admir'd with Laughter at a feast, 
Nor florid Talk which can that Title gain; 
The Proofs of Wit for ever must remain. 
  
'Tis not to force some lifeless Verses meet  25
      With their five gowty feet. 
All ev'ry where, like Mans, must be the Soul, 
And Reason the Inferior Powers controul. 
      Such were the Numbers which could call 
      The Stones into the Theban wall.  30
Such Miracles are ceast; and now we see 
No Towns or Houses rais'd by Poetrie. 
  
Yet 'tis not to adorn, and gild each part; 
      That shows more Cost, then Art. 
Jewels at Nose and Lips but ill appear;  35
Rather then all things Wit, let none be there. 
      Several Lights will not be seen, 
      If there be nothing else between. 
Men doubt, because they stand so thick i'th' skie, 
If those be Stars which paint the Galaxie.  40
  
'Tis not when two like words make up one noise; 
      Jests for Dutch Men, and English Boys. 
In which who finds out Wit, the same may see 
In An'grams and Acrostiques Poetrie. 
      Much less can that have any place  45
      At which a Virgin hides her face, 
Such Dross the Fire must purge away; 'tis just 
The Author Blush, there where the Reader must. 
  
'Tis not such Lines as almost crack the Stage 
      When Bajazet begins to rage.  50
Nor a tall Meta'phor in the Bombast way, 
Nor the dry chips of short lung'd Seneca. 
      Nor upon all things to obtrude, 
      And force some odd Similitude. 
What is it then, which like the Power Divine  55
We only can by Negatives define? 
  
In a true piece of Wit all things must be, 
      Yet all things there agree. 
As in the Ark, joyn'd without force or strife, 
All Creatures dwelt; all Creatures that had Life.  60
      Or as the Primitive Forms of all 
      (If we compare great things with small) 
Which without Discord or Confusion lie, 
In that strange Mirror of the Deitie. 
  
But Love that moulds One Man up out of Two,  65
      Makes me forget and injure you. 
I took you for my self sure when I thought 
That you in any thing were to be Taught. 
      Correct my error with thy Pen; 
      And if any ask me then,  70
What thing right Wit, and height of Genius is, 
I'll onely shew your Lines, and say, 'Tis This. 
 
 
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