Voices of Earlier English: Edmund Waller's Voice on Earlier English

Though quite popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, Edmund Waller's poetry is little read today. I could not resist including this poem of his (published in 1668, but written perhaps a decade earlier) in a series about historical Englishes, with a recording in a reconstructed accent, in an era when English has become the world's lingua franca and Latin is known only to a nerdy antiquarian few. Ironic on so many levels within levels. Like an irony matryoshka doll.

Of English Verse
Edmund Waller

    Poets may boast as safely-vain
Their work shall with the world remain;
Both bound together, live, or die,
The Verses and the Prophecy.

    But who can hope his Lines shou'd long
Last in a daily-changing Tongue?
While they are new, Envy prevails,
And as that dies, our Language fails.

    When Architects have done their part,
The Matter may betray their Art;
Time, if we use ill-chosen Stone,
Soon brings a well-built Palace down.

    Poets that lasting Marble seek,
Must carve in Latine or in Greek;
We write in Sand; our Language grows,
And like the Tide our work o'reflows.

    Chaucer his Sense can only boast,
The glory of his Numbers lost,
Years have defac'd his matchless strain;
And yet he did not sing in vain;

    The Beauties which adorn'd that Age,
The shining Subjects of his Rage,
Hoping they shou'd Immortal prove,
Rewarded with success his Love.

    This was the generous Poet's scope,
And all an English pen can hope
To make the Fair approve his Flame,
That can so far extend their Fame.

    Verse thus design'd has no ill Fate,
If it arrive but at the Date
Of fading Beauty, if it prove
But as long-liv'd as present Love.

1 comment:

  1. Long a secret favorite of mine ever since I discovered it in the mid-1970s (in the Oxford Book of Seventeenth Century Verse). What a treat to hear you reading THIS poem in its bygone 'accent'.