La Solitude de St. Amant

A poem by Katherine Philips


O! Solitude, my sweetest choice
Places devoted to the night,
Remote from tumult, and from noise,
How you my restless thoughts delight!
O Heavens! what content is mine,
To see those trees which have appear'd
From the nativity of Time,
And which hall ages have rever'd,
To look to-day as fresh and green,
As when their beauties first were seen!


A cheerful wind does court them so,
And with such amorous breath enfold,
That we by nothing else can know,
But by their hieght that they are old.
Hither the demi-gods did fly
To seek the sanctuary, when
Displeased Jove once pierc'd the sky,
To pour a deluge upon men,
And on these boughs themselves did save,
When they could hardly see a wave.


Sad Philomel upon this thorn,
So curiously by Flora dress'd,
In melting notes, her case forlorn,
To entertain me, hath confess'd.
O! how agreeable a sight
These hanging mountains do appear,
Which the unhappy would invite
To finish all their sorrows here,
When their hard fate makes them endure
Such woes, as only death can cure.


What pretty desolations make
These torrents vagabond and fierce,
Who in vast leaps their springs forsake,
This solitary Vale to pierce.
Then sliding just as serpents do
Under the foot of every tree,
Themselves are changed to rivers too,
Wherein some stately Nayade,
As in her native bed, is grown
A queen upon a crystal throne.


This fen beset with river-plants,
O! how it does my sense charm!
Nor elders, reeds, nor willows want,
Which the sharp steel did never harm.
Here Nymphs which come to take the air,
May with such distaffs furnish'd be,
As flags and rushes can prepare,
Where we the nimble frogs may see,
Who frighted to retreat do fly
If an approaching man they spy.


Here water-flowl repose enjoy,
Without the interrupting care,
Lest Fortune should their bliss destroy
By the malicious fowler's snare.
Some ravish'd with so bright a day,
Their feathers finely prune and deck;
Others their amorous heats allay,
Which yet the waters could not check:
All take their innocent content
In this their lovely element.


Summer's, nor Winter's bold approach,
This stream did never entertain;
Nor ever felt a boat or coach,
Whilst either season did remain.
No thirsty traveller came near,
And rudely made his hand his cup;
Nor any hunted hind hath here
Her hopeless life resigned up;
Nor ever did the treacherous hook
Intrude to empty any brook.


What beauty is there in the sight
Of these old ruin'd castle-walls
Of which the utmost rage and spight
Of Time's worst insurrection falls?
The witches keep their Sabbath here,
And wanton devils make retreat.
Who in malicious sport appear,
Our sense both to afflict and cheat;
And here within a thousand holes
Are nest of adders and of owls.


The raven with his dismal cries,
That mortal augury of Fate,
Those ghastly goblins ratifies,
Which in these gloomy places wait.
On a curs'd tree the wind does move
A carcase which did once belong
To one that hang'd himself for love
Of a fair Nymph that did him wrong,
Who thought she saw his love and truth,
With one look would not save the youth.


But Heaven which judges equally,
And its own laws will still maintain,
Rewarded soon her cruelty
With a deserv'd and mighty pain:
About this squalid heap of bones,
Her wand'ring and condemned shade,
Laments in long and piercing groans
The destiny her rigour made,
And the more to augment her right,
Her crime is ever in her sight.


There upon antique marbles trac'd,
Devices of past times we see,
Here age ath almost quite defac'd,
What lovers carv'd on every tree.
The cellar, here, the highest room
Receives when its old rafters fail,
Soil'd with the venom and the foam
Of the spider and the snail:
And th'ivy in the chimney we
Find shaded by a walnut tree.


Below there does a cave extend,
Wherein there is so dark a grot,
That should the Sun himself descend,
I think he could not see a jot.
Here sleep within a heavy lid
In quiet sadness locks up sense,
And every care he does forbid,
Whilst in arms of negligence,
Lazily on his back he's spread,
And sheaves of poppy are his bed.


Within this cool and hollow cave,
Where Love itself might turn to ice,
Poor Echo ceases not to rave
On her Narcissus wild and nice:
Hither I softly steal a thought,
And by the softer music made
With a sweet lute in charms well taught,
Sometimes I flatter her sad shade,
Whilst of my chords I make such choice,
They serve as body to her voice.


When from these ruins I retire,
This horrid rock I do invade,
Whose lofty brow seems to inquire
Of what materials mists are made:
From thence descending leisurely
Under the brow of this steep hill
It with great pleasure I descry
By waters undermin'd, until
They to Palaemon's seat did climb,
Compos'd of sponges and of slime.


How highly is the fancy pleas'd
To be upon the Ocean's shore,
When she begins to be appeas'd
And her fierce billows cease to roar!
And when the hairy Tritons are
Riding upon the shaken wave,
With what strange sounds they strike the air
Of their trumpets hoarse and brave,
Whose shrill reports does every wind
Unto his due submission bind!


Sometimes the sea dispels the sand,
Trembling and murmuring in the bay,
And rolls itself upon the shells
Which it both brings and takes away.
Sometimes exposed on the strand,
Th'effect of Neptune's rage and scorn,
Drown'd men, dead monsters cast on land,
And ships that were in tempests torn,
With diamonds and ambergreece,
And many more such things as these.


Sometimes so sweetly she does smile,
A floating mirror she might be,
And you would fancy all that while
New Heavens in her face to see:
The Sun himself is drawn so well,
When there he would his picture view,
That our eye can hardly tell
Which is the false Sun, which the true;
And lest we give our sense the lie,
We think he's fallen from the sky.


Bernieres! for whose beloved sake
My thoughts are at a noble strife,
This my fantastic landskip take,
Which I have copied from the life.
I only seek the deserts rough,
Where all alone I love to walk,
And with discourse refin'd enough,
My Genius and the Muses talk;
But the converse most truly mine,
Is the dear memory of thine.


Thou mayst in this Poem find,
So full of liberty and heat,
What illustrious rays have shin'd
To enlighten my conceit:
Sometimes pensive, sometimes gay,
Just as that fury does control,
And as the object I survey
The notions grow up in my soul,
And are as unconcern'd and free
As the flame which transported me.


O! how I Solitude adore,
That element of noblest wit,
Where I have learnt Apollo's lore,
Without the pains to study it:
For thy sake I in love am grown
With what thy fancy does pursue;
But when I think upon my own,
I hate it for that reason too.
Because it needs must hinder me
From seeing, and from serving thee.

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