I know those that are strict and nice about phrase and the placing of words will carp at my book, for I have not set my words in such order as those which write elegant prose. But I must confess ingeniously, my shallow wit could not tell how to order it to the best advantage. Besides, I found it difficult to get so many rhythms as to join the sense of the subject, and by reason I could not attain to both, I rather chose to leave the elegance of words than to obstruct the sense of the matter. For my desire was to make my conceit easy to the understanding, though my words were not so fluent to the ear. Again, they will find fault with the numbers, for I was forced to fewer or more, to bring in the sense of my fancies. All I can say for myself is that poetry consists not so much in number, words, and phrase, as in fancy. Thirdly, they will find fault at the subject, saying it is neither material nor useful for the soul or body. To this I answer, my intention was not to teach arts nor sciences, nor to instruct in divinity, but to pass away idle time, and thought time might be better spent, yet ’tis oft spent worse amongst many in the world.
I language want to dress my fancies in;
The hair’s uncurled, the garments loose and thin.
Had they but silver lace to make them gay
They’d2 be more courted than in poor array,
Or had they art, would3 make a better show. 5
But they are plain; yet cleanly do they go.
The world in bravery doth take delight,
And glist’ring4 shows do more attract the sight,
For5 everyone doth honor a rich hood,
As if the outside made the inside good, 10
And everyone doth bow and give the place
Not to the person,6 but the silver lace.
Let me entreat in7 my poor book’s behalf,
That all may not adore the golden calf.
Consider, pray: gold hath no life therein,8 15
And life in nature is the richest thing.
So fancy is the soul in poetry,
And if not good, the9 poem ill must be.
Be just, let fancy have the upper place,
And then my verses may perchance find grace. 20
If flattering language all the passions rule,
Then sense, I fear, will be a mere dull fool.
Books have the worst fate:2 when they once are3 read,
They’re laid aside, forgotten like the dead.
Under a heap of dust they buried lie
Within a vault of some small library.
But spiders, which nature has taught to spin,4 5
For th’love and honor of this art—since men5
Spin likewise all6 their writings from their7 brain,
Striving to make a lasting web of fame—8
Of cobwebs thin, high altars do they9 raise;
Their off’rings, flies, a sacrifice10 of praise. 10
When as2 a book doth from the press come new,
All buy or borrow3 it, that4 book to view,
Not out of love of learning, or of wit,
But to find faults,5 that they may censure it.
Were there no faults for to be found therein6 5
(As few there are, but do err in something),7
Yet Malice with her rankled spleen and spite
Will, at the time, or print or binding bite.
Like devils: when good souls they cannot8 get,
Then on their bodies they their witches set. 10
A poet I am neither born nor bred,
But to a witty poet marrièd,
Whose brain is fresh and pleasant as the spring,
Where fancies grow, and where the muses sing.
There oft I lean my head, and list’ning hark 5
To hear1 his words, and all his fancies mark,
And from that garden flow’rs2 of fancies take,
Whereof a posy up in verse I make.
Thus I, that have no garden of my3 own,
There gather flowers that are newly blown. 10
Reader, I have a little tract of philosophical fancies in prose, which will not be long before it appear in the world.1