An Account Of The Greatest English Poets

A poem by Joseph Addison

Long had our dull forefathers slept supine,
Nor felt the raptures of the tuneful Nine;
Till Chaucer first, the merry bard, arose,
And many a story told in rhyme and prose.
But age has rusted what the poet writ,
Worn out his language, and obscur'd his wit;
In vain he jests in his unpolish'd strain,
And tries to make his readers laugh, in vain.

Old Spenser next, warm'd with poetic rage,
In ancient tales amus'd a barb'rous age;
An age that yet uncultivate and rude,
Where'er the poet's fancy led, pursu'd
Through pathless fields, and unfrequented floods,
To dens of dragons and enchanted woods.
But now the mystic tale, that pleas'd of yore,
Can charm an understanding age no more;
The long-spun allegories fulsome grow.
While the dull moral lies too plain below.
We view well-pleas'd at distance all the sights
Of arms and palfreys, battles, fields, and fights,
And damsels in distress, and courteous knights;
But when we look too near, the shades decay,
And all the pleasing landscape fades away.

Great Cowley then (a mighty genius) wrote,
O'er-run with wit, and lavish of his thought:
His turns too closely on the reader press;
He more had pleas'd us, had he pleas'd us less,
One glitt'ring thought no sooner strikes our eyes
With silent wonder, but new wonders rise;
As in the milky-way a shining white
O'er-flows the heavn's with one continu'd light,
That not a single star can show his rays,
Whilst jointly all promote the common blaze.
Pardon, great poet, that I dare to name
Th' unnumber'd beauties of thy verse with blame;
Thy fault is only wit in its excess,
But wit like thine in any shape will please.
What muse but thine can equal hints inspire,
And fit the deep-mouth'd Pindar to thy lyre;
Pindar, whom others, in a labour'd strain
And forc'd expression, imitate in vain?
Well-pleas'd in thee he soars with new delight,
And plays in more unbounded verse, and takes a nobler flight.

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