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Best Famous Matthew Prior Poems

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Written by Matthew Prior | Create an image from this poem

A Simile

 Dear Thomas, didst thou never pop
Thy head into a tin-man's shop?
There, Thomas, didst thou never see
('Tis but by way of simile)
A squirrel spend his little rage
In jumping round a rolling cage?
The cage, as either side turn'd up,
Striking a ring of bells a-top?--

Mov'd in the orb, pleas'd with the chimes,
The foolish creature thinks he climbs:
But here or there, turn wood or wire,
He never gets two inches higher.
So fares it with those merry blades, That frisk it under Pindus' shades.
In noble songs, and lofty odes, They tread on stars, and talk with gods; Still dancing in an airy round, Still pleas'd with their own verses' sound; Brought back, how fast soe'er they go, Always aspiring, always low.
Written by Matthew Prior | Create an image from this poem

Jinny the Just

 Releas'd from the noise of the butcher and baker 
Who, my old friends be thanked, did seldom forsake her, 
And from the soft duns of my landlord the Quaker, 

From chiding the footmen and watching the lasses, 
From Nell that burn'd milk, and Tom that broke glasses 
(Sad mischiefs thro' which a good housekeeper passes!) 

From some real care but more fancied vexation, 
From a life parti-colour'd half reason half passion, 
Here lies after all the best wench in the nation.
From the Rhine to the Po, from the Thames to the Rhone, Joanna or Janneton, Jinny or Joan, 'Twas all one to her by what name she was known.
For the idiom of words very little she heeded, Provided the matter she drove at succeeded, She took and gave languages just as she needed.
So for kitchen and market, for bargain and sale, She paid English or Dutch or French down on the nail, But in telling a story she sometimes did fail; Then begging excuse as she happen'd to stammer, With respect to her betters but none to her grammar, Her blush helped her out and her jargon became her.
Her habit and mien she endeavor'd to frame To the different gout of the place where she came; Her outside still chang'd, but her inside the same: At the Hague in her slippers and hair as the mode is, At Paris all falbalow'd fine as a goddess, And at censuring London in smock sleeves and bodice.
She order'd affairs that few people could tell In what part about her that mixture did dwell Of Frow, or Mistress, or Mademoiselle.
For her surname and race let the herald's e'en answer; Her own proper worth was enough to advance her, And he who liked her, little value her grandsire.
But from what house so ever her lineage may come I wish my own Jinny but out of her tomb, Tho' all her relations were there in her room.
Of such terrible beauty she never could boast As with absolute sway o'er all hearts rules the roast When J___ bawls out to the chair for a toast; But of good household features her person was made, Nor by faction cried up nor of censure afraid, And her beauty was rather for use than parade.
Her blood so well mix't and flesh so well pasted That, tho' her youth faded, her comeliness lasted; The blue was wore off, but the plum was well tasted.
Less smooth than her skin and less white than her breast Was this polished stone beneath which she lies pressed: Stop, reader, and sigh while thou thinkst on the rest.
With a just trim of virtue her soul was endued, Not affectedly pious nor secretly lewd She cut even between the coquette and the prude.
Her will with her duty so equally stood That, seldom oppos'd, she was commonly good, And did pretty well, doing just what she would.
Declining all power she found means to persuade, Was then most regarded when most she obey'd, The mistress in truth when she seem'd but the maid.
Such care of her own proper actions she took That on other folk's lives she had not time to look, So censure and praise were struck out of her book.
Her thought still confin'd to its own little sphere, She minded not who did excel or did err But just as the matter related to her.
Then too when her private tribunal was rear'd Her mercy so mix'd with her judgment appear'd That her foes were condemn'd and her friends always clear'd.
Her religion so well with her learning did suit That in practice sincere, and in controverse mute, She showed she knew better to live than dispute.
Some parts of the Bible by heart she recited, And much in historical chapters delighted, But in points about Faith she was something short sighted; So notions and modes she refer'd to the schools, And in matters of conscience adher'd to two rules, To advise with no bigots, and jest with no fools.
And scrupling but little, enough she believ'd, By charity ample small sins she retriev'd, And when she had new clothes she always receiv'd.
Thus still whilst her morning unseen fled away In ord'ring the linen and making the tea That scarce could have time for the psalms of the day; And while after dinner the night came so soon That half she propos'd very seldom was done; With twenty God bless me's, how this day is gone! -- While she read and accounted and paid and abated, Eat and drank, play'd and work'd, laugh'd and cried, lov'd and hated, As answer'd the end of her being created: In the midst of her age came a cruel disease Which neither her juleps nor receipts could appease; So down dropp'd her clay -- may her Soul be at peace! Retire from this sepulchre all the profane, You that love for debauch, or that marry for gain, Retire lest ye trouble the Manes of J___.
But thou that know'st love above int'rest or lust, Strew the myrle and rose on this once belov'd dust, And shed one pious tear upon Jinny the Just.
Tread soft on her grave, and do right to her honor, Let neither rude hand nor ill tongue light upon her, Do all the small favors that now can be done her.
And when what thou lik'd shall return to her clay, For so I'm persuaded she must do one day -- Whatever fantastic John Asgill may say -- When as I have done now, thou shalt set up a stone For something however distinguished or known, May some pious friend the misfortune bemoan, And make thy concern by reflexion his own.
Written by Matthew Prior | Create an image from this poem

On My Birthday July 21

 I, MY dear, was born to-day-- 
So all my jolly comrades say: 
They bring me music, wreaths, and mirth, 
And ask to celebrate my birth: 
Little, alas! my comrades know 
That I was born to pain and woe; 
To thy denial, to thy scorn, 
Better I had ne'er been born: 
I wish to die, even whilst I say-- 
'I, my dear, was born to-day.
' I, my dear, was born to-day: Shall I salute the rising ray, Well-spring of all my joy and woe? Clotilda, thou alone dost know.
Shall the wreath surround my hair? Or shall the music please my ear? Shall I my comrades' mirth receive, And bless my birth, and wish to live? Then let me see great Venus chase Imperious anger from thy face; Then let me hear thee smiling say-- 'Thou, my dear, wert born to-day.
'
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A Better Answer

 Dear Chloe, how blubbered is that pretty face;
Thy cheek all on fire, and thy hair all uncurled!
Prithee quit this caprice, and (as old Falstaff says)
Let us e'en talk a little like folks of this world.
How canst thou presume thou hast leave to destroy The beauties which Venus but lent to thy keeping? Those looks were designed to inspire love and joy: More ord'nary eyes may serve people for weeping.
To be vexed at a trifle or two that I writ, Your judgment at once, and my passion, you wrong: You take that for fact which will scarce be found wit— Od's life! must one swear to the truth of a song? What I speak, my fair Chloe, and what I write, shows The diff'rence there is betwixt nature and art: I court others in verse, but I love thee in prose; And they have my whimsies, but thou hast my heart.
The god of us verse-men (you know, child) the sun, How after his journeys he sets up his rest; If at morning o'er earth 'tis his fancy to run, At night he reclines on his Thetis's breast.
So when I am wearied with wand'ring all day, To thee, my delight, in the evening I come: No matter what beauties I saw in my way, They were but my visits, but thou art my home.
Then finish, dear Chloe, this pastoral war, And let us like Horace and Lydia agree; For thou art a girl as much brighter than her, As he was a poet sublimer than me.
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A Reasonable Affliction

 On his death-bed poor Lubin lies: 
His spouse is in despair: 
With frequent sobs, and mutual cries, 
They both express their care.
A different cause, says Parson Sly, The same effect may give: Poor Lubin fears that he may die; His wife, that he may live.
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To Chloe Jealous

 Dear Chloe, how blubber'd is that pretty face;
Thy cheek all on fire, and thy hair all uncurl'd:
Prythee quit this caprice; and (as old Falstaff says)
Let us e'en talk a little like folks of this world.
How canst thou presume, thou hast leave to destroy The beauties, which Venus but lent to thy keeping? Those looks were design'd to inspire love and joy: More ord'nary eyes may serve people for weeping.
To be vext at a trifle or two that I writ, Your judgment at once, and my passion you wrong: You take that for fact, which will scarce be found wit: Odds life! must one swear to the truth of a song? What I speak, my fair Chloe, and what I write, shows The diff'rence there is betwixt nature and art: I court others in verse; but I love thee in prose: And they have my whimsies, but thou hast my heart.
The god of us verse-men (you know, child) the Sun, How after his journeys he sets up his rest: If at morning o'er earth 'tis his fancy to run; At night he declines on his Thetis's breast.
So when I am wearied with wand'ring all day, To thee my delight in the evening I come: No matter what beauties I saw in my way; They were but my visits, but thou art my home.
Then finish, dear Chloe, this pastoral war; And let us like Horace and Lydia agree: For thou art a girl as much brighter than her, As he was a poet sublimer than me.
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To a Lady

 Spare, gen'rous victor, spare the slave,
Who did unequal war pursue;
That more than triumph he might have,
In being overcome by you.
In the dispute whate'er I said, My heart was by my tongue belied; And in my looks you might have read How much I argued on your side.
You, far from danger as from fear, Might have sustain'd an open fight: For seldom your opinions err: Your eyes are always in the right.
Why, fair one, would you not rely On Reason's force with Beauty's join'd? Could I their prevalence deny, I must at once be deaf and blind.
Alas! not hoping to subdue, I only to the fight aspir'd: To keep the beauteous foe in view Was all the glory I desir'd.
But she, howe'er of vict'ry sure.
Contemns the wreath too long delay'd; And, arm'd with more immediate pow'r, Calls cruel silence to her aid.
Deeper to wound, she shuns the fight: She drops her arms, to gain the field: Secures her conquest by her flight; And triumphs, when she seems to yield.
So when the Parthian turn'd his steed, And from the hostile camp withdrew; With cruel skill the backward reed He sent; and as he fled, he slew.
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A Letter to Lady Margaret Cavendish Holles-Harley when a Child

 MY noble, lovely, little Peggy, 
Let this my First Epistle beg ye, 
At dawn of morn, and close of even, 
To lift your heart and hands to Heaven.
In double duty say your prayer: Our Father first, then Notre Pere.
And, dearest child, along the day, In every thing you do and say, Obey and please my lord and lady, So God shall love and angels aid ye.
If to these precepts you attend, No second letter need I send, And so I rest your constant friend.
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For my own Monument

 AS doctors give physic by way of prevention, 
 Mat, alive and in health, of his tombstone took care; 
For delays are unsafe, and his pious intention 
 May haply be never fulfill'd by his heir.
Then take Mat's word for it, the sculptor is paid; That the figure is fine, pray believe your own eye; Yet credit but lightly what more may be said, For we flatter ourselves, and teach marble to lie.
Yet counting as far as to fifty his years, His virtues and vices were as other men's are; High hopes he conceived, and he smother'd great fears, In a life parti-colour'd, half pleasure, half care.
Nor to business a drudge, nor to faction a slave, He strove to make int'rest and freedom agree; In public employments industrious and grave, And alone with his friends, Lord! how merry was he! Now in equipage stately, now humbly on foot, Both fortunes he tried, but to neither would trust; And whirl'd in the round as the wheel turn'd about, He found riches had wings, and knew man was but dust.
This verse, little polish'd, tho' mighty sincere, Sets neither his titles nor merit to view; It says that his relics collected lie here, And no mortal yet knows too if this may be true.
Fierce robbers there are that infest the highway, So Mat may be kill'd, and his bones never found; False witness at court, and fierce tempests at sea, So Mat may yet chance to be hang'd or be drown'd.
If his bones lie in earth, roll in sea, fly in air, To Fate we must yield, and the thing is the same; And if passing thou giv'st him a smile or a tear, He cares not--yet, prithee, be kind to his fame.
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To a Child of Quality Five Years Old 1704. The Author then Forty

 LORDS, knights, and squires, the numerous band 
 That wear the fair Miss Mary's fetters, 
Were summoned by her high command 
 To show their passions by their letters.
My pen amongst the rest I took, Lest those bright eyes, that cannot read, Should dart their kindling fire, and look The power they have to be obey'd.
Nor quality, nor reputation, Forbid me yet my flame to tell; Dear Five-years-old befriends my passion, And I may write till she can spell.
For, while she makes her silkworms beds With all the tender things I swear; Whilst all the house my passion reads, In papers round her baby's hair; She may receive and own my flame; For, though the strictest prudes should know it, She'll pass for a most virtuous dame, And I for an unhappy poet.
Then too, alas! when she shall tear The rhymes some younger rival sends, She'll give me leave to write, I fear, And we shall still continue friends.
For, as our different ages move, 'Tis so ordain'd (would Fate but mend it!), That I shall be past making love When she begins to comprehend it.
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An Ode

 The merchant, to secure his treasure, 
Conveys it in a borrowed name: 
Euphelia serves to grace my measure; 
But Cloe is my real flame.
My softest verse, my darling lyre Upon Euphelia's toilet lay; When Cloe noted her desire, That I should sing, that I should play.
My lyre I tune, my voice I raise; But with my numbers mix my sighs: And whilst I sing Euphelia's praise, I fix my soul on Cloe's eyes.
Fair Cloe blushed: Euphelia frowned: I sung and gazed: I played and trembled: And Venus to the Loves around Remarked, how ill we all dissembled.
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A True Maid

 No, no; for my virginity,
When I lose that, says Rose, I'll die:
Behind the elms last night, cried Dick,
Rose, were you not extremely sick?
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Phylliss Age

 How old may Phyllis be, you ask, 
Whose beauty thus all hearts engages? 
To answer is no easy task; 
For she has really two ages.
Stiff in brocard, and pinch'd in stays, Her patches, paint, and jewels on; All day let envy view her face; And Phyllis is but twenty-one.
Paint, patches, jewels laid aside, At night astronomers agree, The evening has the day belied; And Phyllis is some forty-three
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Cupid Mistaken

 As after noon, one summer's day, 
Venus stood bathing in a river; 
Cupid a-shooting went that way, 
New strung his bow, new fill'd his quiver.
With skill he chose his sharpest dart: With all his might his bow he drew: Swift to his beauteous parent's heart The too well-guided arrow flew.
I faint! I die! the Goddess cry'd: O cruel, could'st thou find none other, To wreck thy spleen on? Parricide! Like Nero, thou hast slain thy mother.
Poor Cupid sobbing scarce could speak; Indeed, Mamma, I did not know ye: Alas! how easy my mistake? I took you for your likeness, Cloe.
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The Merchant To Secure His Treasure

 The merchant, to secure his treasure,
Conveys it in a borrowed name:
Euphelia serves to grace my measure,
But Cloe is my real flame.
My softest verse, my darling lyre Upon Euphelia's toilet lay— When Cloe noted her desire That I should sing, that I should play.
My lyre I tune, my voice I raise, But with my numbers mix my sighs; And whilst I sing Euphelia's praise, I fix my soul on Cloe's eyes.
Fair Cloe blushed; Euphelia frowned: I sung, and gazed; I played, and trembled: And Venus to the Loves around Remarked how ill we all dissembled.