To Poets

There is no spirit frights me so much as poet’s satyrs1 and their fairy wits, which are so subtle, airy, and nimble, that2 they pass through very small crevices and crannies3 of errors and mistakes, and dance upon every line, and round every fancy, which when they find to be dull and sleepy, they pinch them black and blue, with Robin Hood’s jests. But I hope you will spare me, for the hearth is swept clean, and a basin of water with a clean towel set by, and the ashes raked up—wherefore let my book sleep quietly, and the watch-light burn4 clearly, and not blue and blinkingly, nor the pots and pans be disturbed. But let it be still from your noise, that the effeminate cat may not mew, nor the masculine curs bark and5 howl forth railings to disturb my harmless book’s rest.

But if you will judge my book severely, I doubt I shall be cast to the bar of folly, and there be6 forced to hold up my hand of indiscretion, and confess ignorance to my enemies’ dislike. For I have no eloquent orator to plead for me, as to7 persuade a severe judge, nor flattery to bribe a corrupt one, which makes me afraid I shall lose my suit of praise. Yet I have Truth to speak in my behalf for some favor, which says,8 first, that women writing seldom makes it seem strange, and unusual. You will say, what9 is unusual seems fantastical, and what is fantastical seems odd, and what is odd seems10 ridiculous. But as Truth tells you, all is not gold that glisters, so she tells you all is not poor that hath not golden clothes on, nor mad, which is out of fashion. And if I11 be out of the fashion12 because women do not generally write, yet before you laugh at me, let your reason view strictly whether the fashion be not useful, graceful, easy, comely, and modest. And if it be any of these, spare your smiles of scorn for those that are wanton, careless, rude, and13 unbecoming. For though these14 garments are15 plain, and unusual, yet they are clean and decent.

Next, Truth tells you that women have seldom or never (or at least in these latter16 ages) written books17 of poetry, unless it were in their dressings, which can be no longer read than beauty lasts. Wherefore it hath18 seemed, hitherto, as if Nature had compounded men’s brains with more of the sharp atoms, which make19 the hot and dry element, and women’s with more of the round atoms, which figure makes the cold and moist element. And though water is a useful element, yet fire is the nobler, being of an aspiring quality. But it is rather a dishonor than20 a fault in Nature, that21 her inferior works move22 towards perfection; though the best of her works can never be so perfect as herself, yet she is pleased when they imitate her—and to imitate her, I hope you will be pleased, I imitate you. ’Tis true, my verses came not out of Jupiter’s head, wherefore23 they cannot prove a Pallas; yet they are like chaste Penelope’s work,24 for I wrote them in my husband’s absence, to delude melancholy thoughts and avoid idle time.

The last thing Truth tells you is that my25 verses were gathered too soon, wherefore they cannot be of a mature growth, for the sun of time was only at that height as to draw them forth, but gave not26 heat enough to ripen them, which makes me fear they will taste harsh and unpleasant. But if they were strewed with some sugar of praise,27 and baked in the oven of applause, they might28 pass at a general feast, for though29 they do not relish with nice and delicate palates, yet the vulgar may digest them, for they care not what the meat is if the crust be good, or indeed thick—for they judge according to the quantity, not the quality or rarity—but they are oft persuaded by the senses of others more than their own. Wherefore, if it be not worthy of commendations, pray be silent, and cast not out severe censures, and I shall give thanks for what is eaten.

To the Reader


I desire all those which read this part of my book to consider that it is thick of fancies, and therefore requires the more study. But if they understand them not,2 I desire they would do as those which have a troubled conscience, and cannot resolve themselves of some doubts, and therefore3 are required by the church to go to a minister4 to have them explained, and not to interpret them5 according to their own imaginations. So I entreat those that cannot find out the conceit of my fancies to ask a poet where the conceit lies before they censure, and not to accuse my book for nonsense, condemning it with a false construction, through an ignorant zeal of malice. But I desire them not to6 mistake and7 ask a rhymer instead of a poet, lest8 I be condemned as a traitor to sense through the blindness of the judge’s understanding. But9 if the judge be learned in the laws of poetry and honesty, and is free from10 bribes of envy, I shall not need to fear but that the truth will be found out, and its innocence will be freed11 at the bar of censure and be sent home with the acquittance12 of applause. Yet pray13 do not think I am so presumptuous as to14 compare myself15 to the church; I only16 compare truth to the church, and truth may be compared from the lowest subject17 to the highest.

At last I must entreat you18 to read this part of my book very slowly,19 and to observe very strictly every word you20 read, because in most of these poems, every word is a fancy. Wherefore if you21 lose by not marking, or skip by too hasty reading, you22 will entangle the sense of the whole poem.23

Of Poets and their Theft

As birds to hatch their young ones sit i’th’spring,1
So do some ages2 broods of poets bring,
Which to the world in verse do sweetly sing.

And as their notes not art but Nature taught,3
So fancies in the brain that4 Nature wrought,                      5
Are best; what imitation makes is5 naught.

For though these6 sing as well as well may be,
And make their notes of what they learn agree,
Yet he that teaches has the7 mastery,

And ought to have the crown of praise and fame,              10
In the long roll of time to write his name,
But8 those that steal from him are much to blame.9

There’s none should places have in Fame’s high court,
But those that first do win Invention’s fort,
Not messengers, which10 only make report.                         15

To messengers rewards of thanks are due
For their great pains, telling their message true—
But not the honor of11 invention new.

Many there are that suits will make to wear
Of several patches stol’n,12 both here and there,                 20
That to the world they gallants might13 appear.

And the poor vulgar, which but little know,
Do reverence all that makes a glist’ring show,
Examine not how it comes to be so.14

Then do they call their friends and all their kin;                 25
They15 factions make, the ignorant to win,16
With whose help they to Fame’s high court crowd in.17

Upon the same Subject


Some will a line or two from Horace take,2
And pick his fancies, which their own they make,3
And some4 of Homer, Virgil, Ovid sweet
Will steal, and make them in their books5 to meet,
Yet make6 them not in their right shapes appear,7             5
But like as spirits in dark shades to err;8
Thus as magicians spirit-troublers they’re,9
And may the name of poet-jugglers bear,10
Which th’ignorant by sorcery11 delude,
Showing false glasses to the multitude,                                 10
And with a small and undiscernèd12 hair,
They pull Truth out the place wherein13 she were.
These should by th’poets laws be hanged, and so14
Into the Hell of condemnation go.15

Wherein Poetry Chiefly Consists


Most of our modern writers nowadays
Consider not the fancy but the phrase,
As if fine words were wit, or one should say
A woman’s handsome if her clothes be gay,
Regarding not what beauty’s in the face,                              5
Nor what proportion doth the body grace,
As when her shoes be high to say she’s tall,
And when she is straight-laced to say she’s small.
When painted, or her hair is curled with art,
Though of itself ’tis2 plain, and her skin3 swart,                 10
We cannot say that from her thanks are4 due
To Nature, nor those arts in her we view.
Unless she them invented, and so taught
The world to set forth that which is stark naught.
But fancy is the eye gives life to all;                                       15
Words, the complexion, as a whited wall.
Fancy the form is: flesh, blood, skin and bone;5
Words are but shadows; substance they have none.6
But number is the motion gives the grace,
And is the count’nance of7 a well-formed face.                   20