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Best Famous Matthew Prior Poems

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by Matthew Prior |

The Question to Lisetta

 WHAT nymph should I admire or trust, 
But Chloe beauteous, Chloe just? 
What nymph should I desire to see, 
But her who leaves the plain for me? 
To whom should I compose the lay, 
But her who listens when I play? 
To whom in song repeat my cares, 
But her who in my sorrow shares? 
For whom should I the garland make, 
But her who joys the gift to take, 
And boasts she wears it for my sake? 
In love am I not fully blest? 
Lisetta, prithee tell the rest.
LISETTA'S REPLY Sure Chloe just, and Chloe fair, Deserves to be your only care; But, when you and she to-day Far into the wood did stray, And I happen'd to pass by, Which way did you cast your eye? But, when your cares to her you sing, You dare not tell her whence they spring: Does it not more afflict your heart, That in those cares she bears a part? When you the flowers for Chloe twine, Why do you to her garland join The meanest bud that falls from mine? Simplest of swains! the world may see Whom Chloe loves, and who loves me.


by Matthew Prior |

Horace Lib. I Epist. IX Imitated

 [To the right honourable Mr.
Harley] Dear Dick, how e'er it comes into his head, Believes, as firmly as he does his creed, That you and I, sir, are extremely great; Though I plain Mat, you minister of state.
One word from me, without all doubt, he says, Would fix his fortune in some little place.
Thus better than myself, it seems, he knows How far my interest with my patron goes; And answering all objections I can make, Still plunges deeper in his dear mistake.
From this wild fancy, sir, there may proceed One wilder yet, which I foresee, and dread; That I, in fact, a real interest have, Which to my own advantage I would save, And, with the usual courtier's trick, intend To serve myself, forgetful of my friend.
To shun this censure, I all shame lay by, And make my reason with his will comply; Hoping, for my excuse, 'twill be confest, That of two evils I have chose the least.
So, sir, with this epistolary scroll, Receive the partner of my inmost soul: Him you will find in letters, and in laws Not unexpert, firm to his country's cause, Warm in the glorious interest you pursue, And, in one word, a good man and a true.


by Matthew Prior |

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.


by Matthew Prior |

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.


by Matthew Prior |

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.


by Matthew Prior |

The Lady who offers her Looking-Glass to Venus

 VENUS, take my votive glass: 
Since I am not what I was, 
What from this day I shall be, 
Venus, let me never see.


by Matthew Prior |

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.


by Matthew Prior |

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.


by Matthew Prior |

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.


by Matthew Prior |

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