I saw your poems, and then wished them mine,
Reading the richer dressings of each line;
Your newborn,2 sublime fancies—and such store—
May make our poets blush, and write no more.
Nay, Spenser’s ghost will haunt you in the night, 5
And Jonson rise, full fraught with venom’s spite;
Fletcher and Beaumont, troubled in their graves,
Look out some deeper and forgotten caves;
And gentle Shakespeare weeping, since he must,
At best, be buried, now, in Chaucer’s dust.3 10
Thus dark oblivion covers their each name,
Since you have robbed them of their glorious fame.
Such metaphors, such allegories fit,
Your judgment weighing out your fresher wit,
By similizing to the life so like. 15
Your fancy’s pencil’s far beyond van Dyck,4
Drawing all things to all things, at your pleasure,
Which shows, your storehouse is the Muses’ treasure,
Your head the limbeck,5 where the Muses sit,
Distilling there the quintessence of wit, 20
Spirits of fancy, essences so sweet,
In your just numbers walk on velvet feet.6
I thought to praise you, but, alas! My way
To yours, is night unto a glorious day.
- The poem is by her husband William Cavendish. It is rarely found in 1653 copies; see the Textual Introduction on this site for more on the history of this poem. While in the first edition of 1653 this poem is addressed to “To the Lady Newcastle” (i.e., Margaret Cavendish), her title changes in the title of each subsequent version: in 1664, the poem is addressed to “THE LADY MARCHIONESS OF NEWCASTLE,” and in 1668, to “HER GRACE THE Duchess of Newcastle.”
- Newborn] New-borne, 1653. Though this spelling difference is likely accidental, we added the textual note in case there is a pun at stake, where her poems are not just newly born, but, perhaps, newly carried.
- William compares his wife’s poetry to that of Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, John Fletcher, Francis Beaumont, and Geoffrey Chaucer, some of the most famous poets and playwrights by the seventeenth century. At this point, all but Shakespeare were honored with burial in Westminster Abbey, in what is now called the “Poet’s Corner” of the Abbey.
- van Dyck is the Flemish painter, especially of portraits, Anthony van Dyck, who worked in the English court in the 1630s. His name is spelled “Vandike” in the original printings, making the rhyme more apparent.
- The word “limbeck” is an archaic form of alembic, an apparatus used for distilling, creating (in this case) the “quintessence” or highly refine essence of wit.
- Both numbers and feet are puns for the metrical feet of poetry; her imaginative creations here are given gentle steps on soft (presumably even) “feet.”
- i.e., William Cavendish, Marquis and then Duke of Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish’s husband.