Pre-19th Century Poets-1




Medieval epic poem by an anonymous poet:

Medieval epic poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:

Simon Armitage reads selections from his translation of the medieval epic, The Death of King Arthur:

The following 3 videos are from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath’s Tale. Presented by Lois Bennett:


Donal Og

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;
the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
a ship of gold under a silver mast;
twelve towns with a market in all of them,
and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

You promised me a thing that is not possible,
that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;
and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,
I sit down and I go through my trouble;
when I see the world and do not see my boy,
he that has an amber shade in his hair.

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;
the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday.
And myself on my knees reading the Passion;
and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

My mother said to me not to be talking with you today,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or as the black coal that is on the smith's forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you that put that darkness over my life.

You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from me;
you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;
and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!

No. 56A of the 16th-century anonymous folk songs collected in Francis James Child’s “The English and Scottish Popular Ballads”:


As it fell out upon one day,
Rich Divès made a feast,
And he invited all his friends,
And gentry of the best.

Then Lazarus laid him down and down
And down by Divès' door:
"Some meat and drink, brother, Diverus,
Bestow upon the poor."

"Thou'rt none of my brothers, Lazarus,
That liest begging at my door;
No meat, nor drink will I give thee,
Nor bestow upon the poor."

Then Lazarus laid him down and down,
All under Divès' wall:
"Some meat, some drink, brother Diverus,
For hunger starve I shall."

"Thou'rt none of my brothers, Lazarus,
That liest begging at my gate;
No meat, no drink will I give thee,
For Jesus Christ His sake."

Then Divès sent out his hungry dogs,
To bite him as he lay;
They hadn't the power to bite one bite,
But licked his sores away.

Then Divès sent to his merry men,
To beat poor Lazarus away;
They'd not the power to strike one stroke,
But flung their whips away.

As it fell out upon one day,
Poor Lazarus sickened and died;
There came two angels out of heaven,
His soul therein to guide.

"Rise up! rise up! brother Lazarus,
And go along with me;
For you've a place prepared in heaven,
To sit on an angel's knee."

As it fell out upon one day,
Rich Divès sickened and died;
There came two serpents out of hell,
His soul therein to guide.

"Rise up! rise up! brother Dives,
And come along with me;
There is a place provided in hell
For wicked men like thee."

Then Divès looked up with his eyes
And saw poor Lazarus blest;
"Give me one drop of water, brother Lazarus,
To quench my flaming thirst."

Samuel Pepys’ diary entry on Jan. 2, 1666 contains the earliest reference to “Barbara Allen”.  Therein, he recalls the friends and merriment at a New Year’s party: “…but above all, my dear Mrs. Knipp with whom I sang; and in perfect pleasure I was to hear her sing, and especially her little Scotch song of Barbary Allen.” There are many versions of this folk ballad.

No. 84 of the 16th-century anonymous folk songs collected in Francis James Child’s “The English and Scottish Popular Ballads”:


Twas in the merry month of May
When all gay flowers were bloomin',
Sweet William on his death-bed lay
For the love of Barbara Allen.

He sent his servant to the town
To the place where she was dwelling,
Sayin', "You must come to my master's house,
If your name be Barbara Allen."

So slowly, slowly she gets up,
Unto to his bedside going.
She drew the curtains to one side
And says, "Young man, you're dying."

"I know, I'm sick and very sick,
And sorrow dwells within me.
No better, no better I never will be.
Til I have Barbara Allen."

"Don't you remember last Saturday night
When I was at the tavern,
You gave your drinks to the ladies there
But you slighted Barbara Allen?"

He reached up his pale white hands
Intending for to touch her.
She turned away from his bedside
And says, "Young man I won't have you."

He turned his cheek unto the wall
And bursted out a crying.
"What I do to thee, I do to all,
And I do to Barbara Allen."

She had not more than reached the town.
She heard the death bells ringing.
And as they rolled they seemed to say,
"Hard-hearted Barbara Allen."

"Oh Mother, oh mother go make my bed,
Make it both long and narrow.
Sweet William died for me today
I'll die for him tomorrow."

Sweet William was buried in the old church yard
And Barbara there lay nigh him,
And out of his grave grew a red, red rose,
And out of hers, a briar.

They grew and grew to the old church gate,
Where they couldn't grow no higher,
And there they died in a true love's knot.
The rose wrapped around the briar.

To see another version by German alto Andreas Scholl [CLICK HERE]

Child ballad #1. Traditional lyrics were the inspiration for this layered piece, which makes use of many instruments, the sound of human breath, and the stamp of dancing feet! Filmed on and around the Quantock Hills in Somerset:

Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer sing another Child folk ballad:


The king sits in Dumfermline town
Drinking the blood red wine
Where can I get a good captain
To sail this ship of mine?
Then up and spoke a sailor boy
Sitting at the king's right knee
"Sir Patrick Spens is the best captain
That ever sailed to sea"
The king he wrote a broad letter
And he sealed it with his hand
And sent it to Sir Patrick Spens
Walking out on the strand
"To Norroway, to Norroway
To Norway o'er the foam
With all my lords in finery
To bring my new bride home"
The first line that Sir Patrick read
He gave a weary sigh
The next line that Sir Patrick read
The salt tear blinds his eye
"Oh, who was it? Oh, who was it?
Who told the king of me
To set us out this time of year
To sail across the sea"
"But rest you well, my good men all
Our ship must sail the morn
With four and twenty noble lords
Dressed up in silk so fine"
"And four and twenty feather beds
To lay their heads upon
Away, away, we'll all away
To bring the king's bride home"
"I fear, I fear, my captain dear
I fear we'll come to harm
Last night I saw the new moon clear
The old moon in her arm"
"Oh be it fair or be it foul
Or be it deadly storm
Or blow the wind where e'er it will
Our ship must sail the morn"
They hadn't sailed a day, a day
A day but only one
When loud and boisterous blew the wind
And made the good ship moan
They hadn't sailed a day, a day
A day but only three
When oh, the waves came o'er the sides
And rolled around their knees
They hadn't sailed a league, a league
A league but only five
When the anchor broke and the sails were torn
And the ship began to rive
They hadn't sailed a league, a league
A league but only nine
When oh, the waves came o'er the sides
Driving to their chins
"Who will climb the topmast high
While I take helm in hand?
Who will climb the topmast high
To see if there be dry land?"
"No shore, no shore, my captain dear
I haven't seen dry land
But I have seen a lady fair
With a comb and a glass in her hand"
"Come down, come down, you sailor boy
I think you tarry long
The salt sea's in at my coat neck
And out at my left arm"
"Come down, come down, you sailor boy
It's here that we must die
The ship is torn at every side
And now the sea comes in"
Loathe, loathe were those noble lords
To wet their high heeled shoes
But long before the day was o'er
Their hats they swam above
And many were the feather beds
That fluttered on the foam
And many were those noble lords
That never did come home
It's fifty miles from shore to shore
And fifty fathoms deep
And there lies good Sir Patrick Spens
The lords all at his feet
Long, long may his lady look
With a lantern in her hand
Before she sees her Patrick Spens
Come sailing home again

WILLIE OF WINSBURY [Child Ballad 100]

The king has been a prisoner
And a prisoner long in Spain
And Willie of the Winsbury
Has lain long with his daughter Jane

"What ails you, what ails you, my daughter Jane?
Why, you look so pale and wan
Oh, have you had any ill sickness
Or yet been sleeping with a man?"

"I have not had any ill sickness
Nor yet been sleeping with a man
It is for you my father dear
For biding so long in Spain"

"Cast off, cast off your robe and gown
Stand naked on the stone
That I might know you by your shape
If you be maiden or none"

And she's cast off her robe and gown
Stood naked on a stone
Her apron was tight and her waist was round
Her face was pale and wan

"And was it with a lord or a gentleman
Or a man of wealth and fame?
Or was it with one of my servingmen
While I was a prisoner in Spain?"

"No, it wasn't with a lord or a gentlemen
Or a man of wealth and fame
It was with Willie of Winsbury
I could bide no longer alone"

And the king has called his servingmen
By one, by two, by three
Saying "Where is this Willie of Winsbury?
For hanged he shall be"

And when they came before the king
By one, by two, and by three
Willie should have been the first of them
But the last of them was he

And Willie of the Winsbury
All dressed up in red silk
His hair hung like the strands of gold
His breast was white as milk

"No wonder, no wonder", the king he said
"That my daughter's love you did win
If I were a woman as I am a man
In my own bed you would have been -

And will you marry my daughter Jane
By the faith of your right hand?
And I'll make you the lord of my servingmen
I'll make you the heir to my land"

"Oh yes, I'll marry your daughter Jane
By the faith of my right hand
But I'll not be the lord of any man
I'll be not be the heir to your land"

And he's raised her up on a milk white steed
And himself on a dapple gray
He has made her the lady of as much land
As she can ride on a long summer's day

No. 210 of the 16th-century anonymous folk songs collected in Francis James Child’s “The English and Scottish Popular Ballads”:

Performed by The Murphy Beds (Eamon O’Leary, bouzouki;  Jefferson Hamer, guitar) live at SpaceWorks NYC, Williamsburg, Brooklyn January, 2018. Recorded by Beehive Productions.

Modernized lyrics to the above song:


High upon Highlands,
and low upon Tay.*
Bonnie George Campbell
rode out on a day.

He saddled, he bridled,
and gallant rode he,
and home came his good horse,
but never came he.

Out came his mother dear,
grieving full sore,
and out came his bonnie bride,
rending her hair.

"The meadow lies green,
the corn is unshorn,
but Bonnie George Campbell
will never return."

Saddled and bridled
and booted rode he,
a plume in his helmet,
a sword at his knee.

But bare came his saddle
all bloody to see.
Oh, home came his good horse,
but never came he.

*Tay = river in Scotland.

“Westron Wynde” (Western Wind), anonymous song from c1350 sung by Maddy Prior and Tim Hart:

Westron wynde when wyll thou blow, [Western wind when will thou blow,
The smalle rayne down can rayne -  [The small rain down can rain -
Cryst, yf my love wer in my armys  [Christ, if my love were in my arms
And I yn my bed agayne!            [And I in my bed again!

--Anonymous Olde English

Tom O’Bedlam reads Thomas Wyatt’s “They Flee From Me That Sometime Did Me Seek”:

Whoso List to Hunt, I Know where is an Hind

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

by Sir Thomas Wyatt

Dame Peggy Ashcroft reads George Herbert’s poem “Redemption”:


HAVING been tenant long to a rich Lord,
Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancell th'old.

In heaven at his manor I him sought:
They told me there, that he was lately gone
About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession.

I straight return'd, and knowing his great birth,
Sought him accordingly in great resorts;
In cities, theatres, gardens, parks, and courts:
At length a heard a ragged noise and mirth

Of thieves and murderers: there I him espied,
Who straight, Your suit is granted, and died.

by George Herbert, 1593 – 1633


           I struck the board, and cried, No more. 
                 I will abroad.      
           What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the road,      
          Loose as the wind, as large as store.            
              Shall I be still in suit?      
          Have I no harvest but a thorn      
          To let me blood, and not restore
          What I have lost with cordial fruit?                  
                Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did dry it: there was corn            
             Before my tears did drown it.      
          Is the year only lost to me?            
             Have I no bays to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?                  
                 All wasted?      
          Not so, my heart: but there is fruit,                  
                 And thou hast hands.                  
          Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit, and not forsake thy cage,                  
                 Thy rope of sands,
Which petty thoughts have made, and made to thee
          Good cable, to enforce and draw,                  
                 And be thy law,
          While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.                  
                 Away; take heed:                  
                 I will abroad.
Call in thy death's head there: tie up thy fears.                  
                 He that forbears             
              To suit and serve his need,                  
                 Deserves his load.
But as I rav'd and grew more fierce and wild                  
                 At every word,
Me thoughts I heard one calling, Child:                  
                 And I reply'd, My Lord.

by George Herbert, 1593 – 1633

Anonymous group performs Ralph Vaughan Williams’ music to George Herbert’s poem “The Call”:


In this strange labyrinth how shall I turn?
    Ways are on all sides while the way I miss;
    If to the right hand, there in love I burn;
    Let me go forward, therein danger is;

If to the left, suspicion hinders bliss,
    Let me turn back, shame cries I ought return
    Nor faint, though crosses with* my fortunes kiss;
    Stand still is harder, although sure to mourn.

Thus let me take the right, or left hand way;
    Go forward, or stand still, or back retire;
    I must these doubts endure without allay
    Or help, but travail* find for my best hire;

Yet that which most my troubled sense doth move
    Is to leave all, and take the thread of love.

by Mary Sidney Wroth, 1587-1653?


You blessed stars, which does heaven's glory show,
And at your brightness make our eyes admire;
Yet envy not, though I on earth below
Enjoy a sight which moves in me more fire.
I do confess such beauty breeds desire,
You shine, and clearest light on us bestow,
Yet does a sight on earth more warmth inspire
Into my loving soul, his grace to know.
Clear, bright and shining as you are, is this
Light of my joy, fixed steadfast, nor will move
His light from me, nor I change from his love,
But still increase, as th'height of all my bliss.            
His sight gives life unto my love-ruled eyes,
My love content because in his, love lies.

by Mary Sidney Wroth, 1587-1653?

Sonnet 23 (Methought I Saw My Late Espoused Saint)

METHOUGHT I saw my late espoused Saint
   Brought to me like Alcestus from the grave,
   Who Jove's great Son to her glad Husband gave,
   Rescu'd from death by force though pale and faint.
Mine as whom washt from spot of child-bed taint
   Purification in the old Law did save,
   And such as yet once more I trust to have
   Full sight of her in Heav'n without restraint,
Came vested all in white, pure as her mind:
   Her face was veil'd, yet to my fancied sight
   Love, sweetness, goodness in her person shin'd
So clear, as in no face with more delight.
   But O as to embrace me she enclin'd
   I wak'd, she fled, and day brought back my night.

by John Milton, 1572-1631

Sonnet 19 (On His Blindness)

WHEN I consider how my light is spent
   Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
   And that one talent which is death to hide
   Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
   My true account, lest he returning chide,-
   Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?
   I fondly ask:-But Patience, to prevent
That murmer, soon replies; God doth not need
  Either man's work, or his own gifts: who best
  Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best: His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
  And post o'er land and ocean without rest:-
  They also serve who only stand and wait.

by John Milton, 1572-1631

Tom O’Bedlam reads Milton’s “Lycidas”:


Sonnet 30: When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan th’ expense of many a vanish’d sight;
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.

by William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

Benedict Cumberbatch reads Shakespeare’s “The Seven Ages of Man” (All the World’s a Stage):

Actor Paterson Joseph reads Sonnet 29:

Sonnet 29

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
       For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
       That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

by William Shakespeare, 1564-1616


So am I as the rich, whose blessed key 
Can bring him to his sweet up-locked treasure,
The which he will not every hour survey, 
For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure.
Therefore are feasts so solemn and so rare, 
Since, seldom coming, in the long year set, 
Like stones of worth they thinly placed are, 
Or captain jewels in the carconet. 
So is the time that keeps you as my chest,
Or as the wardrobe which the robe doth hide, 
To make some special instant special blest, 
By new unfolding his imprison'd pride. 
   Blessed are you, whose worthiness gives scope,
   Being had, to triumph, being lack'd, to hope.

by William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

Sonnet 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
       This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
       To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

by William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me prov'd,
   I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.

by William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

Sonnet 129

Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight,
Past reason hunted; and, no sooner had
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so,
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
    All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
    To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

by William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

Alan Rickman reads Sonnet 130:


My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare.

by William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

Tom O’Bedlam reads Shakespeare’s song “Winter”:

Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act V, Scene 2 [a.k.a. “Winter”]

When icicles hang by the wall
   And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
   And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp'd and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow
   And coughing drowns the parson's saw
And birds sit brooding in the snow
   And Marian's nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

by William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

This poem is in the public domain.

Richard Burton and Linda Marsh perform “TO BE OR NOT TO BE” and “Get Thee to a Nunnery” from HAMLET (and more from Act III, Scene I). Directed by John Gielgud:

Music by John Rutter, words by William Shakespeare; sung by CLOSER (Beverley Worboys, Sara Parry, Michael Robinson, Trevor Conner):

As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII [Blow, blow, thou winter wind]

Lord Amiens, a musician, sings before Duke Senior’s company

  Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
  Thou art not so unkind
      As man's ingratitude;
  Thy tooth is not so keen,
  Because thou art not seen,
      Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
  Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
      This life is most jolly.

  Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
  That does not bite so nigh
      As benefits forgot:
  Though thou the waters warp,
  Thy sting is not so sharp
      As friend remembered not.
Heigh-ho! sing . . .

by William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

This poem is in the public domain.

Richard Burton reads John Donne’s “Song: Go and Catch a Falling Star:

HOLY SONNET 7 [“At The Round Earth’s Imagined Corners’]

At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall, overthrow,
All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance, hath slain, and you whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space;
For, if above all these my sins abound,
'Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace,
When we are there. Here on this lowly ground
Teach me how to repent; for that's as good
As if Thou'hadst sealed my pardon, with Thy blood.

by John Donne, 1572-1631

HOLY SONNET 10 [“Death be not proud”]

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and souls deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

by John Donne, 1572-1631

HOLY SONNET 14 [“Batter my heart, three person’d God”] read by Tom O’Bedlam

Batter my heart, three person'd God; for you 
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; 
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend 
Your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new.

I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end, 
Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend, 
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue. 

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, 
But am betroth'd unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again; 
Take me to you, imprison me, for I 
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, 
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

by John Donne, 1572-1631

Lecture on John Donne:


A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General

His Grace! impossible! what dead!
Of old age too, and in his bed!
And could that mighty warrior fall?
And so inglorious, after all!
Well, since he’s gone, no matter how,
The last loud trump must wake him now:
And, trust me, as the noise grows stronger,
He’d wish to sleep a little longer.
And could he be indeed so old
As by the newspapers we’re told?
Threescore, I think, is pretty high;
’Twas time in conscience he should die
This world he cumbered long enough;
He burnt his candle to the snuff;
And that’s the reason, some folks think,
He left behind so great a stink.
Behold his funeral appears,
Nor widow’s sighs, nor orphan’s tears,
Wont at such times each heart to pierce,
Attend the progress of his hearse.
But what of that, his friends may say,
He had those honours in his day.
True to his profit and his pride,
He made them weep before he died.

   Come hither, all ye empty things,
Ye bubbles raised by breath of kings;
Who float upon the tide of state,
Come hither, and behold your fate.
Let pride be taught by this rebuke,
How very mean a thing’s a Duke;
From all his ill-got honours flung,
Turned to that dirt from whence he sprung.

by Jonathan Swift, 1667–1745

The Day of Judgment

With a whirl of thought oppress'd,
I sunk from reverie to rest.
An horrid vision seized my head;
I saw the graves give up their dead!
Jove, arm'd with terrors, bursts the skies,
And thunder roars and lightning flies!
Amaz'd, confus'd, its fate unknown,
The world stands trembling at his throne!
While each pale sinner hung his head,
Jove, nodding, shook the heavens, and said:
"Offending race of human kind,
By nature, reason, learning, blind;
You who, through frailty, stepp'd aside;
And you, who never fell--through pride:
You who in different sects were shamm'd,
And come to see each other damn'd;
(So some folk told you, but they knew
No more of Jove's designs than you;)
--The world's mad business now is o'er,
And I resent these pranks no more.
--I to such blockheads set my wit!
I damn such fools!--Go, go, you're bit."

by Jonathan Swift, 1667–1745

A Description of the Morning

Now hardly here and there a hackney-coach
Appearing, show’d the ruddy morn’s approach.
Now Betty from her master’s bed had flown,
And softly stole to discompose her own.
The slip-shod ‘prentice from his master’s door
Had par’d the dirt, and sprinkled round the floor.
Now Moll had whirl’d her mop with dext’rous airs,
Prepar’d to scrub the entry and the stairs.
The youth with broomy stumps began to trace
The kennel-edge, where wheels had worn the place.
The small-coal man was heard with cadence deep;
Till drown’d in shriller notes of “chimney-sweep.”
Duns at his lordship’s gate began to meet;
And brickdust Moll had scream’d through half a street.
The turnkey now his flock returning sees,
Duly let out a-nights to steal for fees.
The watchful bailiffs take their silent stands;
And schoolboys lag with satchels in their hands.

by Jonathan Swift, 1667–1745

A Description of a City Shower

Careful observers may foretell the hour
(By sure prognostics) when to dread a shower:
While rain depends, the pensive cat gives o’er
Her frolics, and pursues her tail no more.
Returning home at night, you’ll find the sink
Strike your offended sense with double stink.
If you be wise, then go not far to dine;
You’ll spend in coach hire more than save in wine.
A coming shower your shooting corns presage,
Old achès throb, your hollow tooth will rage.
Sauntering in coffeehouse is Dulman seen;
He damns the climate and complains of spleen.
         Meanwhile the South, rising with dabbled wings,
A sable cloud athwart the welkin flings,
That swilled more liquor than it could contain,
And, like a drunkard, gives it up again.
Brisk Susan whips her linen from the rope,
While the first drizzling shower is born aslope:
Such is that sprinkling which some careless quean
Flirts on you from her mop, but not so clean:
You fly, invoke the gods; then turning, stop
To rail; she singing, still whirls on her mop.
Not yet the dust had shunned the unequal strife,
But, aided by the wind, fought still for life,
And wafted with its foe by violent gust,
’Twas doubtful which was rain and which was dust.
Ah! where must needy poet seek for aid,
When dust and rain at once his coat invade?
Sole coat, where dust cemented by the rain
Erects the nap, and leaves a mingled stain.
         Now in contiguous drops the flood comes down,
Threatening with deluge this devoted town.
To shops in crowds the daggled females fly,
Pretend to cheapen goods, but nothing buy.
The Templar spruce, while every spout’s abroach,
Stays till ’tis fair, yet seems to call a coach.
The tucked-up sempstress walks with hasty strides,
While seams run down her oiled umbrella’s sides.
Here various kinds, by various fortunes led,
Commence acquaintance underneath a shed.
Triumphant Tories and desponding Whigs
Forget their feuds, and join to save their wigs.
Boxed in a chair the beau impatient sits,
While spouts run clattering o’er the roof by fits,
And ever and anon with frightful din
The leather sounds; he trembles from within.
So when Troy chairmen bore the wooden steed,
Pregnant with Greeks impatient to be freed
(Those bully Greeks, who, as the moderns do,
Instead of paying chairmen, run them through),
Laocoön struck the outside with his spear,
And each imprisoned hero quaked for fear.
         Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
And bear their trophies with them as they go:
Filth of all hues and odors seem to tell
What street they sailed from, by their sight and smell.
They, as each torrent drives with rapid force,
From Smithfield or St. Pulchre’s shape their course,
And in huge confluence joined at Snow Hill ridge,
Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn Bridge.
Sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts, and blood,
Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,
Dead cats, and turnip tops, come tumbling down the flood.

by Jonathan Swift, 1667–1745


O King of Terrors, whose unbounded sway
All that have life must certainly obey;
The King, the Priest, the Prophet, all are thine,
Nor would ev’n God (in flesh) thy stroke decline.
My name is on thy roll, and sure I must
Increase thy gloomy kingdom in the dust.
My soul at this no apprehension feels,
But trembles at thy swords, thy racks, thy wheels;
Thy scorching fevers, which distract the sense,
And snatch us raving, unprepared, from hence;
At thy contagious darts, that wound the heads
Of weeping friends, who wait at dying beds.
Spare these, and let thy time be when it will;
My bus’ness is to die, and thine to kill.
Gently thy fatal scepter on me lay,
And take to thy cold arms, insensibly, thy prey.

by Anne Finch, 1661-1720, Countess of Winchilsea


Introduced by John Gielgud, Ian Richardson reads Christopher Smart’s lines “For I Will Consider My Cat, Jeoffrey” from “Jubilate Agno”:

from Jubilate Agno

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in 
     his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant 
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God 
     upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted 
     upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider'd God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and 
     glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he 
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit 
     without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he's a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in 
     the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the 
     Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him 
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord's poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence 
     perpetually—-Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants 
     in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends 
     from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other 
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

by Christopher Smart, 1722-1771


For I am come home again, but there is nobody to kill the calf or to
    pay the musick.
Let Sarah rejoice with the Redwing, whose harvest is in the frost and
For the hour of my felicity, like the womb of Sarah, shall come at 
    the latter end.
Let Rebekah rejoice with Iynx, who holds his head on one side to 
    deceive the adversary.
For I shou’d have avail’d myself of waggery, had not malice been 
Let Shuah rejoice with Boa, which is the vocal serpent.
For there are still serpents that can speak—God bless my head, my 
    heart and my heel.
Let Ehud rejoice with Onocrotalus, whose braying is for the glory of 
    God, because he makes the best musick in his power.
For I bless God that I am of the same seed as Ehud, Mutius Scœ vola, 
    and Colonel Draper.
Let Shamgar rejoice with Otis, who looks about him for the glory of 
    God, and sees the horizon compleat at once.
For the word of God is a sword on my side—no matter what other 
    weapon a stick or a straw.
Let Bohan rejoice with the Scythian Stag—he is beef and breeches 
    against want and nakedness.
For I have adventured myself in the name of the Lord, and he hath 
    mark’d me for his own.
Let Achsah rejoice with the Pigeon who is an antidote to malignity 
    and will carry a letter.
For I bless God for the Postmaster general and all conveyancers of 
    letters under his care, especially Allen and Shelvock.
Let Tohu rejoice with the Grouse—the Lord further the cultivating of 
    heaths and the peopling of deserts.
For my grounds in New Canaan shall infinitely compensate for the 
    flats and maynes of Staindrop Moor.
Let Hillel rejoice with Ammodytes, whose colour is deceitful and he 
    plots against the pilgrim’s feet.
For the praise of God can give to a mute fish the notes of a 
Let Eli rejoice with Leucon—he is an honest fellow, which is a rarity.
For I have seen the White Raven and Thomas Hall of Willingham and am 
    myself a greater curiosity than both.
Let Jemuel rejoice with Charadrius, who is from the height and the 
    sight of him is good for the jaundice.
For I look up to heaven which is my prospect to escape envy by 
    surmounting it.
Let Pharaoh rejoice with Anataria, whom God permits to prey upon the 
    ducks to check their increase.
For if Pharaoh had known Joseph, he would have blessed God and me for 
    the illumination of the people.
Let Lotan rejoice with Sauterelle. Blessed be the name of the Lord 
    from the Lote-tree to the Palm.
For I pray God to bless improvements in gardening until London be a 
    city of palm-trees.
Let Dishon rejoice with the Landrail, God give his grace to the 
    society for preserving the game.
For I pray to give his grace to the poor of England, that Charity be 
    not offended and that benevolence may increase.
Let Hushim rejoice with the King’s Fisher, who is of royal beauty, 
    tho’ plebeian size.
For in my nature I quested for beauty, but God, God hath sent me to 
    sea for pearls.

by Christopher Smart, 1722-1771