Cooper's Hill

By John Denham

Edited by Jack Lynch

The text comes from Denham's Poems and Translations (1668), and is identified by Brendan O Hehir as the "B" Text. It's a reading text, and makes no pretense to being a critical edition. The notes explain some allusions and gloss words, usually with reference to Samuel Johnson's Dictionary.



Notes

Cooper's Hill
Cooper's Hill, about eighteen miles from London. From its top you can see London to the right and Windsor Castle to the left.
Parnassus
In Greek mythology, a mountain sacred to Apollo, god of poetry, and to the Muses.
Helicon
In Greek mythology, Heicon was a mountain with several springs sacred to the Muses.
Train
"A retinue; a number of followers or attendants" (Johnson).
Thee
The poet is here addressing Cooper's Hill itself.
Salute
"To greet; to hail" (Johnson).
Pauls, the late theme of such a Muse
The "Muse" is Edmund Waller, a poet who had recently published Upon His Majesty's Repairing of Paul's, i.e., St. Paul's Cathedral in London.
Best of Kings
Charles I.
Prevent
"To go before as a guide; to go before, making the way easy"; "To go before; to be before; to anticipate" (Johnson).
The Gods great Mother
Cybele, in Greek mythology the mother of the gods and the embodiment of the fertile earth.
Brave
"Magnificent; grand" (Johnson).
Pile
"An edifice; a building" (Johnson).
Cæsar . . . Knute
Julius Caesar, who invaded England; Albanact, a son of Brutus; Brute, or Brutus, the grandson of Aeneas and the legendary founder of London; Arthur, the legendary King Arthur; and Knute, or Canute, the king of England in the eleventh century. All had been suggested (incorrectly) as the builder of Windsor Castle.
Seven Cities
In the ancient world, seven cities — often said to be Smyrna, Chios, Colophon, Ithaca, Pylos, Argos, and Athens — claimed to be the birthplace of Homer.
Great Edward
Edward III of England (1313–77). His "greater son" is Edward, the "Black Prince" (1330–76), who defeated France in battle and became Prince of Aquitaine and Gascony. The "lillies" in the next line refer to the French emblem, the fleur de lis.
Thy Bellona
Bellona was the Roman goddess of war. Denham here refers to Edward III's wife, Queen Philippa, who roused England's troops before the Battle of Neville's Cross. In the battle King David II of Scotland was defeated and captured; thus the "Captive King" of line 81.
The second
That is, the second king. "That son" is Edward the Black Prince; he captured King John II of France at the Battle of Poitiers.
That Order
The Order of the Garter, a chivalric order founded in the mid-fourteenth century.
Diadem
"The mark of royalty worn on the head; the crown" (Johnson); by implication, royalty itself.
Royal pair
Here Denham is praising Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria.
That Patron
St. George, the patron saint of England.
Azure Circle
The insignia of the Order of the Garter is a blue (azure) belt surrounding the red cross of St. George.
Neighbouring hill
St. Anne's Hill in Chertsey, the location of Chertsey Abbey, which was destroyed by Henry VIII as part of the Reformation.
Stile
Denham puns on two meanings of style: one is "Any thing with a sharp point" (including writing instruments); the other is "Title; appellation" (Johnson). Henry VIII wrote Assertio septem sacrementorum adversus Martinum Lutherum in 1521, defending the Pope against Martin Luther; for it he was awarded the title defensor fidei, of "defender of the faith."
Like the stork
A fable says that the frogs begged Jove for a king; he sent them a log. When they complained that the log did nothing, he sent them a stork, which ate them all.
Calenture
"A distemper peculiar to sailors, in hot climates; wherein they imagine the sea to be green fields, and will throw themselves into it, if not restrained" (Johnson).
Amber
Legend held that the trees around the River Po in Rome dripped with amber. The River Pactolus was said to be full of gold.
Both Indies
The East Indies (especially India) and the West Indies (in North America). In the seventeenth century, England's empire was expanding in both directions.
O could I
John Dryden was one of the first to draw attention to these lines, from "O could I flow like thee" to "without ore-flowing full": "I am sure there are few who make Verses, have observíd the sweetness of these two Lines in Coopers Hill. . . . And there are yet fewer who can find the Reason of that sweetness." But by the eighteenth century everyone knew them. In 1755 Paul Whitehead invoked "Thames, made immortal, by her Denhamís strains," and two years later Charles Peters called these verses "The most celebrated lines, perhaps, in all our English poetry." In 1779 Samuel Johnson said that "almost every writer for a century past has imitated" them.
Eridanus
Another name for Phaethon, a figure in mythology associated with a stream running through Athens and the River Po in Italy.
Harmony
In saying "the harmony of things . . . from discords springs," Denham invokes the old notion of concordia discors, the idea that harmony arises out of carefully balanced differences.
The self-enamour'd youth
Narcissus, a figure in Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection in the water.
Mantle
"A kind of cloak or garment thrown over the rest of the dress" (Johnson).
Faunus and Sylvanus
In ancient mythology, Faunus and Sylvanus were spirits of the woodlands.
Mead
Meadow.
Covert
"A thicket, or hiding place" (Johnson).
Conscious
Sympathetic.
Beam
"The horn of a stag" (Johnson, who quotes this line from Denham in his Dictionary).
Assay
"To try; to endeavour" (Johnson).
Element
"The proper habitation or sphere of any thing: as water of fish" (Johnson).
Oarefin'd
Fitted out with oars.
Crystal
"Bright; clear; transparent; lucid; pellucid" (Johnson). "Stains the crystal with a purple floud" means the clear flood — water — is being stained with a purple one — blood. ("Purple" usually referred to a dark red, rather than the violet that's more familiar today.)
The self-same place
Runnymede, where King John signed the Magna Carta ("that Charter" in line 329), recognizing that the king's powers were limited.
Sway
"Power; rule; dominion" (Johnson).

Cooper's Hill

Sure there are Poets which did never dream
Upon Parnassus, nor did tast 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, [5]
So where the Muses & their train resort,
Parnassus stands; if I can be to thee
A Poet, thou Parnassus art to me.
Nor wonder, if (advantag'd in my flight,
By taking wing from thy auspicious height) [10]
Through untrac't ways, and aery paths I fly,
More boundless in my Fancy than my eie:
My eye, which swift as thought contracts the space
That lies between, and first salutes the place
Crown'd with that sacred pile, so vast, so high, [15]
That whether 'tis a part of Earth, or sky,
Uncertain seems, and may be thought a proud
Aspiring mountain, or descending cloud,
Pauls, the late theme of such a Muse whose flight
Has bravely reach't and soar'd above thy height: [20]
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,
Preserv'd from ruine by the best of Kings.
Under his proud survey the City lies, [25]
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: [30]
Where, with like hast, though several ways, they run
Some to undo, and some to be undone;
While luxury, and wealth, like war and peace,
Are each the others ruine, and increase;
As Rivers lost in Seas some secret vein [35]
Thence reconveighs, there to be lost again.
Oh happiness of sweet retir'd content!
To be at once secure, and innocent.
Windsor the next (where Mars with Venus dwells.
Beauty with strength) above the Valley swells [40]
Into my eye, and doth it self present
With such an easie and unforc't ascent,
That no stupendious precipice denies
Access, no horror turns away our eyes:
But such a Rise, as doth at once invite [45]
A pleasure, and a reverence from the sight.
Thy mighty Masters Embleme, in whose face
Sate meekness, heightned with Majestick Grace
Such seems thy gentle height, made only proud
To be the basis of that pompous load, [50]
Than which, a nobler weight no Mountain bears,
But Atlas only that supports the Sphears.
When Natures hand this ground did thus advance,
'Twas guided by a wiser power than Chance;
Mark't out for such a use, as if 'twere meant [55]
T'invite the builder, and his choice prevent.
Nor can we call it choice, when what we chuse,
Folly, or blindness only could refuse.
A Crown of such Majestick towrs doth Grace
The Gods great Mother, when her heavenly race [60]
Do homage to her, yet she cannot boast
Amongst that numerous, and Celestial host,
More Hero's than can Windsor, nor doth Fames
Immortal book record more noble names.
Not to look back so far, to whom this Isle [65]
Owes the first Glory of so brave a pile,
Whether to Cæsar, Albanact, or Brute,
The Brittish Arthur, or the Danish Knute
,
(Though this of old no less contest did move,
Then when for Homers birth seven Cities strove) [70]
(Like him in birth, thou should'st be like in fame,
As thine his fate, if mine had been his Flame)
But whosoere it was, Nature design'd
First a brave place, and then as brave a mind.
Not to recount those several Kings, to whom [75]
It gave a Cradle, or to whom a Tombe,
But thee (great Edward) and thy greater son,
(The lillies which his Father wore, he won)
And thy Bellona, who the Consort came
Not only to thy Bed, but to thy Fame, [80]
She to thy Triumph led one Captive King,
And brought that son, which did the second bring.
Then didst thou found that Order (whither love
Or victory thy Royal thoughts did move)
Each was a noble cause, and nothing less, [85]
Than the design, has been the great success:
Which forraign Kings, and Emperors esteem
The second honour to their Diadem.
Had thy great Destiny but given thee skill,
To know as well, as power to act her will, [90]
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 what ere [95]
The Victor hopes for, or the Vanquisht fear;
That bloud, which thou and thy great Grandsire shed,
And all that since these sister Nations bled,
Had been unspilt, had happy Edward known
That all the bloud he spilt, had been his own. [100]
When he that Patron chose, in whom are joyn'd
Souldier and Martyr, and his arms confin'd
Within the Azure Circle, he did seem
But to foretell, and prophesie of him,
Who to his Realms that Azure round hath joyn'd, [105]
Which Nature for their bound at first design'd.
That bound, which to the Worlds extreamest ends,
Endless it self, its liquid arms extends;
Nor doth he need those Emblemes which we paint,
But is himself the Souldier and the Saint. [110]
Here should my wonder dwell, & here my praise,
But my fixt thoughts my wandring eye betrays,
Viewing a neighbouring hill, whose top of late
A Chappel crown'd, till in the Common Fate,
The adjoyning Abby fell: (may no such storm [115]
Fall on our times, where ruine must reform.)
Tell me (my Muse) what monstrous dire offence,
What crime could any Christian King incense
To such a rage? Was't Luxury, or Lust?
Was he so temperate, so chast, so just? [120]
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're the shame [125]
Of sacriledge, must bear devotions 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. [130]
Thus he the Church at once protects, & spoils:
But Princes swords are sharper than their stiles.
And thus to th'ages past he makes amends,
Their Charity destroys, their Faith defends.
Then did Religion in a lazy Cell, [135]
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? [140]
Could we not wake from that Lethargick dream,
But to be restless in a worse extream?
And for that Lethargy was there no cure,
But to be cast into a Calenture?
Can knowledge have no bound, but must advance [145]
So far, to make us wish for ignorance?
And rather in the dark to grope our way,
Than led by a false guide to erre by day?
Who sees these dismal heaps, but would demand
What barbarous Invader sackt the land? [150]
But when he hears, no Goth, no Turk did bring
This desolation, but a Christian King;
When nothing, but the Name of Zeal, appears
'Twixt our best actions and the worst of theirs,
What does he think our Sacriledge would spare, [155]
When such th'effects of our devotions are?
Parting from thence 'twixt anger, shame, & fear,
Those for whats past, & this for whats too near:
My eye descending from the Hill, surveys
Where Thames amongst the wanton vallies strays. [160]
Thames, the most lov'd of all the Oceans 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, [165]
Whose foam is Amber, and their Gravel Gold;
His genuine, and less guilty wealth t'explore,
Search not his bottom, but survey his shore;
Ore which he kindly spreads his spacious wing,
And hatches plenty for th'ensuing Spring. [170]
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 unexpected inundations spoyl [175]
The mowers hopes, nor mock the plowmans toyl:
But God-like his unwearied Bounty flows;
First loves to do, then loves the Good he does.
Nor are his Blessings to his banks confin'd,
But free, and common, as the Sea or Wind; [180]
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 both Indies ours;
Finds wealth where 'tis, bestows it where it wants [185]
Cities in deserts, woods in Cities plants.
So that to us no thing, no place is strange,
While his fair bosom is the worlds exchange.
O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
My great example, as it is my theme! [190]
Though deep, yet clear, though gentle, yet not dull,
Strong without rage, without ore-flowing full.
Heaven her Eridanus no more shall boast,
Whose Fame in thine, like lesser Currents lost,
Thy Nobler streams shall visit Jove's aboads, [195]
To shine amongst the Stars, and bath the Gods.
Here Nature, whether more intent to please
Us or her self, with strange varieties,
(For things of wonder give no less delight
To the wise Maker's, than beholders sight. [200]
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 [205]
Form, order, beauty through the Universe;
While driness moysture, 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. [210]
Such huge extreams when Nature doth unite,
Wonder from thence results, from thence delight.
The stream is so transparent, pure, and clear,
That had the self-enamour'd youth gaz'd here,
So fatally deceiv'd he had not been, [215]
While he the bottom, not his face had seen.
But his proud head the aery Mountain hides
Among the Clouds; his shoulders, and his sides
A shady mantle cloaths; his curled brows
Frown on the gentle stream, which calmly flows, [220]
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 plac't,
Between the mountain and the stream embrac't:
Which shade and shelter from the Hill derives, [225]
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 Brittish Bard
Beheld of old, what stories had we heard, [230]
Of Fairies, Satyrs, and the Nymphs their Dames,
Their feasts, their revels, & their amorous flames:
'Tis still the same, although their aery shape
All but a quick Poetick sight escape.
There Faunus and Sylvanus keep their Courts, [235]
And thither all the horned hoast resorts,
To graze the ranker mead, that noble heard
On whose sublime and shady fronts is rear'd
Natures great Master-piece; to shew how soon
Great things are made, but sooner are undone. [240]
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, & danger, they would buy, [245]
And wish a foe that would not only fly.
The stagg now conscious of his fatal Growth,
At once indulgent to his fear and sloth,
To some dark covert his retreat had made,
Where nor mans eye, nor heavens should invade [250]
His soft repose; when th'unexpected sound
Of dogs, and men, his wakeful ear doth wound.
Rouz'd with the noise, he scarce believes his ear,
Willing to think th'illusions of his fear
Had given this false Alarm, but straight his view [255]
Confirms, that more than all he fears is true.
Betray'd in all his strengths, the wood beset,
All instruments, all Arts of ruine met;
He calls to mind his strength, and then his speed,
His winged heels, and then his armed head; [260]
With these t'avoid, with that his Fate to meet:
But fear prevails, and bids him trust his feet.
So fast he flyes, that his reviewing eye
Has lost the chasers, and his ear the cry;
Exulting, till he finds, their Nobler sense [265]
Their disproportion'd 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 obey'd, and fear'd, [270]
His safety seeks: the herd, unkindly wise,
Or chases him from thence, or from him flies.
Like a declining States-man, left forlorn
To his friends pity, and pursuers scorn,
With shame remembers, while himself was one [275]
Of the same herd, himself the same had done.
Thence to the coverts, & the conscious Groves,
The scenes of his past triumphs, and his loves;
Sadly surveying where he rang'd alone
Prince of the soyl, and all the herd his own; [280]
And like a bold Knight Errant did proclaim
Combat to all, and bore away the Dame;
And taught the woods to eccho to the stream
His dreadful challenge, and his clashing beam.
Yet faintly now declines the fatal strife; [285]
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 pursu'd, at last
All safety in despair of safety plac'd, [290]
Courage he thence resumes, resolv'd 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 renew'd, [295]
Himself by dogs, the dogs by men pursu'd:
He straight revokes his bold resolve, and more
Repents his courage, than his fear before;
Finds that uncertain waies unsafest are,
And Doubt a greater mischief than Despair. [300]
Then to the stream, when neither friends, nor force,
Nor speed, nor Art avail, he shapes his course;
Thinks not their rage so desperate t'assay
An Element more merciless than they.
But fearless they pursue, nor can the floud [305]
Quench their dire thirst; alas, they thirst for bloud.
So towards a Ship the oarefin'd Gallies ply,
Which wanting Sea to ride, or wind to fly,
Stands but to fall reveng'd on those that dare
Tempt the last fury of extream despair. [310]
So fares the Stagg among th'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 [315]
By common hands; but if he can descry
Some nobler foes 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 dy, [320]
Proud of the wound, to it resigns his bloud,
And stains the Crystal with a Purple floud.
This a more Innocent, and happy chase,
Than when of old, but in the self-same place,
Fair liberty pursu'd, and meant a Prey [325]
To lawless power, here turn'd, and stood at bay.
When in that remedy all hope was plac't
Which was, or should have been at least, the last.
Here was that Charter seal'd, wherein the Crown
All marks of Arbitrary power lays down: [330]
Tyrant and slave, those names of hate and fear,
The happier stile 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; [335]
Wanting that seal, it must be seal'd in bloud.
The Subjects arm'd, the more their Princes gave,
Th'advantage only took the more to crave.
Till Kings by giving, give themselves away,
And even that power, that should deny, betray. [340]
"Who gives constrain'd, but his own fear reviles
"Not thank't, but scorn'd; 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 [345]
More than was fit for Subjects to receive,
Ran to the same extreams; and one excess
Made both, by striving to be greater, less.
When a calm River rais'd with sudden rains,
Or Snows dissolv'd, oreflows th'adjoyning Plains, [350]
The Husbandmen with high-rais'd 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, [355]
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.