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Poem by John Gay


An Epistle to Her Grace, Henrietta, Duchess of Marlborough


Excuse me, Madam, if amidst your tears 
A Muse intrudes, a Muse who feels your cares; 
Numbers, like Musick, can ev’n Grief controul, 
And lull to peace the tumults of the soul.

If Partners in our woes the mind relieve, 
Consider for your Loss ten thousands grieve, 
Th’Affliction burthens not your heart alone; 
When Marlbro’ dy’d a Nation gave a groan.

Could I recite the dang’rous toils he chose, 
To bless his Country with a fixt repose, 
Could I recount the Labours he o’ercame 
To raise his Country to the pitch of fame, 
His councils, sieges, his victorious fights, 
To save his Country’s Laws and native rights, 
No father (ev’ry gen’rous heart must own) 
Has stronger fondness to his darling shown. 
Britannia’s sighs a double loss deplore, 
Her Father and her Hero is no more.

Does Britain only pay her debt of tears? 
Yes, Holland sighs, and for her freedom fears. 
When Gallia’s Monarch pour’d his wasteful bands, 
Like a wide deluge, o’er her level lands, 
She saw her frontier tow’rs in ruin lie, 
Ev’n Liberty had prun’d her wings to fly; 
Then Marlbro’ came, defeated Gallia fled, 
And shatter’d Belgia rais’d her languid head, 
In him secure, as in her strongest mound 
That keeps the raging Sea within its bound.

O Germany, remember Hockstet’s plain, 
Where prostrate Gallia bled at every vein, 
Think on the rescue of th’ Imperial throne,
Then think on Marlbro’s death without a groan!

Apollo kindly whispers me? ‘Be wise, 
‘How to his glory shall thy numbers rise? 
‘The force of verse another theme might raise, 
‘But here the merit must transcend the praise. 
‘Hast thou, presumptuous Bard, that godlike flame 
‘Which with the Sun shall last, and Marlbro’s fame? 
‘Then sing the Man. But who can boast this fire? 
‘Resign the task, and silently admire.

Yet, shall he not in worthy lays be read? 
Raise Homer, call up Virgil from the dead. 
But he requires not the strong glare of verse, 
Let punctual History his deeds rehearse, 
Let Truth in native purity appear, 
You’ll find Achilles and Æneas there.

Is this the comfort which the Muse bestows? 
I but indulge and aggravate your woes. 
A prudent friend, who seeks to give relief, 
Ne’er touches on the spring that mov’d the grief. 
Is it not barb’rous to the sighing maid 
To mention broken vows and Nymphs betray’d? 
Would you the ruin’d merchant’s soul appease, 
With talk of sands and rocks and stormy seas? 
Ev’n while I strive on Marlbro’s fame to rise, 
I call up sorrow in a Daughter’s eyes.

Think on the laurels that his temples shade, 
Laurels that (spite of time) shall never fade; 
Immortal Honour has enroll’d his name, 
Detraction’s dumb, and Envy put to shame; 
Say, who can soar beyond his eagle flight? 
Has he not reach’d to glory’s utmost height? 
What could he more, had Heaven prolong’d his date? 
All human power is limited by Fate.

Forbear, ’tis cruel further to commend; 
I wake your sorrow, and again offend. 
Yet sure your goodness must forgive a crime, 
Which will be spread through ev’ry age and clime; 
Though in your life ten thousand summers roll, 
And though you compass earth from Pole to Pole, 
Where–e’er men talk of war and martial fame, 
They’ll mention Marlborough’s and Caesar’s name.

But vain are all the counsels of the Muse, 
A Soul, like yours, cou’d not a tear refuse: 
Could you your birth and filial love forego, 
Still sighs must rise and gen’rous sorrow flow; 
For when from earth such matchless worth removes, 
A great Mind suffers. Virtue Virtue loves.



John Gay


John Gay's other poems:
  1. Prediction
  2. Revenge: or Fartherly Kindness
  3. To My Chair
  4. Fable
  5. To a Lady on Her Passion for Old China


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