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Thursday, 8 March 2012

Venture To Be Wise


Abraham Cowley - from Wikipedia

Begin, be bold and venture to be wise.
He who defers this work from day to day,
Does on a river’s bank expecting stay,
Till the whole stream that stopped him shall be gone,
Which runs, and as it runs, for ever shall run on.
Abraham Cowley (1618 – 1667)

Cowley took the first line from Horace which most of his readers at the time would have known. It's a bit of versification I  use as a kind of mantra for getting on with life, a reminder that there are always more possibilities to explore. It encourages me to write, to read more widely and in my quiet way to make the most of now.

Samuel Johnson saw Cowley as one of the metaphysical poets of whom he did not have a high opinion. He says as much in his inimitable style in Lives of the Poets:-

The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to shew their learning was their whole endeavour: but, unluckily resolving to shew it in rhyme, instead of writing poetry they only wrote verses, and very often such verses as stood the trial of the finger better than the ear; for the modulation was so imperfect, that they were only found to be verses by counting the syllables.

7 comments:

Sam Vega said...

Yes, a nice sentiment, but Johnson has it spot on. There is more poetic genius in Johnson's prose than in most people's verse. Had I known Johnson, I would have wanted to take him all the striking but badly-expressed ideas I had read, and asked him to work them up into something.

A K Haart said...

SV - I agree. I've read vast amounts of Johnson't prose but never followed up Cowley beyond these few lines and the first line of that isn't original!

Roger said...

I bought 'The Poetical Works of Milton' from Oxfam in nearly new condition. However I suspect most such books also land up in the Oxfam shop in nearly new condition - being easier on the finger.... and a hard but educational read.

James Higham said...

To skew Wilde a bit:

There is good poetry and bad.

A K Haart said...

Roger - I've never actually tackled Milton. Maybe I will one day.

JH - there is, although I'm not that picky myself. I go for the imagery more than the cadence of the words.

Demetrius said...

Six years younger but given the 1667 date of death more or less an exact contemporary with Dr. Jeremy Taylor.

A K Haart said...

D - I suppose their paths ought to have crossed, given what a small world it was.