Cooper’s Hill - Version 1

by Sir John Denham

Sure we have poets that did never dream
Upon Parnassus, nor did taste the stream
Of Helicon, and therefore I suppose
Those made not poets, but the poets those.
And as Courts make not Kings, but Kings the Court,
So where the Muses and their troops resort,
Parnassus stands, if I can be to thee
A poet, thou Parnassus art to me.
Nor wonder, if (advantag’d in my flight,
By taking wing from thy auspicious height)
Through untrac’d ways and airy paths I fly,
More boundless in my fancy than my eye.
Exalted to this height, I first look down
On Paul's, as men from thence upon the town.
Paul's the late theme of such a muse whose flight
Has bravely reach’d and soar’d above thy height:
Now shalt thou stand, though time, or sword, or fire,
Or zeal (more fierce than they) thy fall conspire,
Secure, whilst thee the best of poets sings,
Preserv’d from ruin by the best of kings.
As those who rais’d in body, or in thought
Above the earth, or the air’s middle vault,
Behold how winds, and storms and meteors grow,
How clouds condense to rain, congeal to snow,
And see the thunder form’d, before it tear
The air, secure from danger and from fear,
So rais’d above the tumult and the crowd
I see the city, in a thicker cloud
Of business, than of smoke, where men like ants
Toil to prevent imaginary wants;
Yet all in vain, increasing with their store,
Their vast desires, but make their wants the more.
As food to unsound bodies, though it please
The appetite, feeds only the disease.
Where, with like haste, though several ways they run,
Some to undo, and some to be undone;
While luxury, and wealth, like war and peace,
Are each the other’s ruin, and increase;
As rivers lost in seas, some secret vein
Thence reconveys, there to be lost again.
Some study plots, and some those plots t’ undo,
Others to make ’em, and undo ’em too,
False to their hopes, afraid to be secure,
Those mischiefs only which they make, endure,
Blinded with light, and sick of being well,
In tumults seek their peace, their Heaven in Hell.
Oh happiness of sweet retir’d content!
To be at once secure, and innocent.
Windsor the next (where Mars with Venus dwells,
Beauty with strength) above the valley swells
Into my eye, as the late married dame
(Who proud, yet seems to make that pride her shame)
When nature quickens in her pregnant womb
Her wishes past, and now her hopes to come:
With such an easy, and unforc’d ascent,
Windsor her gentle bosom doth present;
Where no stupendious cliff, no threat’ning heights
Access deny, no horrid steep affrights,
But such a rise, as doth at once invite
A pleasure, and a reverence from the sight.
Thy master’s emblem, in whose face I saw
A friend-like sweetness, and a king-like awe,
Where majesty, and love so mix’d appear,
Both gently kind, both royally severe.
So Windsor, humble in itself, seems proud,
To be the base of that majestic load,
Than which no hill a nobler burden bears,
But Atlas only, that supports the spheres.
Nature this mount so fitly did advance,
We might conclude, that nothing is by chance
So plac’d, as if she did on purpose raise
The hill, to rob the builder of his praise.
For none commends his judgment, that doth choose
That which a blind man only could refuse;
Such are the towers which th’ hoary temples grac’d
Of Cybele, when all her heavenly race
Do homage to her, yet she cannot boast
Amongst that numerous, and celestial host
More heroes than can Windsor, nor doth fame’s
Immortal book record more noble names.
Nor to look back so far, to whom this isle
Must owe the glory of so brave a pile,
Whether to Caesar, Albanact, or Brute,
The British Arthur, or the Danish Knute,
(Though this of old no less contest did move,
Than when for Homer’s birth seven cities strove)
(Like him in birth, thou should’st be like in fame,
As thine his fate, if mine had been his flame)
But whosoe’er it was, nature design’d
First a brave place, and then as brave a mind.
No to recount those several kings, to whom
It gave a cradle, or to whom a tomb,
But thee (great Edward) and thy greater son,
He that the lilies wore, and he that won,
And thy Bellona who deserves her share
In all thy glories, of that royal pair
Which waited on thy triumph, she brought one.
Thy son the other brought, and she that son
Nor of less hopes could her great off-spring prove;
A royal eagle cannot breed a dove.
Then didst thou found that order, whether love
Or victory thy royal thoughts did move,
Each was a noble cause, nor was it less
In’ th’ institution, than the great success
Whilst every part conspires to give it grace,
The King, the cause, the patron, and the place,
Which foreign kings, and emperors esteem
The second honour to their diadem.
Had thy great destiny but giv’n thee skill,
To know as well, as power to act her will,
That from those kings, who then thy captives were,
In after-times should spring a royal pair
Who should possess all that thy mighty power,
Or thy desires more mighty, did devour;
To whom their better fate reserves whate’er
The victor hopes for, or the vanquish’d fear;
That blood, which thou and thy great grandsire shed,
And all that since these sister nations bled,
Had been unspilt, had happy Edward known
That all the blood he spill’d, had been his own,
Thou hadst extended through the conquer’d East,
Thine, and the Christian name, and made them blest
To serve thee, while that loss this gain would bring,
Christ for their God, and Edward for their king;
When thou that saint thy patron didst design,
In whom the martyr and the soldier join;
And when thou didst with the azure round,
(Who evil thinks may evil him confound)
The English arms encircle, thou didst seem
But to foretell, and prophesy of him
Who has within that azure round confin’d
These realms, which nature for their bound design’d,
That bound, which to the world’s extremest ends,
Endless herself, her liquid arms extends;
In whose heroic face I see the saint
Better express’d than in the liveliest paint,
That fortitude, which made him famous here,
That heavenly piety, which saints him there.
Who when this order he forsakes, may he
Companion of that sacred order be.
Here could I fix my wonder, but our eyes,
Nice as our tastes, affect varieties;
And though one please him most, the hungry guest
Tastes every dish, and runs through all the feast;
So having tasted Windsor, casting round
My wandering eye, an emulous hill doth bound
My more contracted sight, whose top of late
A chapel crown’d, till in the common fate,
Th’adjoining abbey fell: (may no such storm
Fall on our times, where ruin must reform)
Tell me, (my muse) what monstrous dire offence,
What crime could any Christian king incense
To such a rage? Was ’t luxury, or lust?
Was he so temperate, so chaste, so just?
Were these their crimes? they were his own, much more;
But they (alas) were rich, and he was poor;
And having spent the treasures of his crown,
Condemns their luxury to feed his own;
And yet this act, to varnish o’er the shame
Of sacrilege, must bear devotion’s name.
And he might think it just, the cause and time
Considered well, for none commits a crime
Appearing such, but as ’tis understood,
A real, or at least a seeming good.
While for the Church his learned pen disputes
His much more learned sword his pen confutes,
Thus to the ages past he makes amends,
Their charity destroys, their faith defends.
Then did religion in a lazy cell,
In empty, airy contemplation dwell;
And like the block unmoved lay: but ours,
As much too active like the stork devours.
Is there no temperate region can be known.
Betwixt their frigid, and our torrid zone?
Could we not wake from that lethargic dream,
But to be restless in a worse extreme?
And for that lethargy was there no cure,
But to be cast into a calenture?
Can knowledge have no bound, but must advance
So far, to make us wish for ignorance?
And rather in the dark to grope our way,
Than led by a false guide to err by day?
Parting from thence ’twixt anger, shame and fear,
Those for what’s past, and this for what’s too near:
My eye descending from the hill, surveys
Where Thames among the wanton valleys strays.
Thames, the most lov’d of all the ocean’s sons,
By his old sire to his embraces runs,
Hasting to pay his tribute to the sea,
Like mortal life to meet eternity.
And though his clearer sand, no golden veins,
Like Tagus and Pactolus streams, contains
His genuine, and less guilty wealth t’ explore,
Search not his bottom, but survey his shore;
O’er which he kindly spreads his spacious wing
And hatches plenty for th’ ensuing spring.
Nor with a furious, and unruly wave,
Like profuse kings, resumes the wealth he gave,
No unexpected inundations spoil
The mower’s hopes, nor mock the ploughman’s toil;
Then like a lover he forsakes his shores,
Whose stay with jealous eyes his spouse implores;
Till with a parting kiss he saves her tears,
And promising return, secures her fears;
As a wise king first settles fruitful peace
In his own realms, and with their rich increase,
Seeks wars abroad, and in triumph brings
The spoils of kingdoms, and the crowns of kings.
So Thames to London doth at first present
Those tributes, which neighbouring counties sent,
But as his second visit from the east,
Spices he brings, and treasures from the west.
Finds wealth where ’tis, bestows it where it wants,
Cities in deserts, woods in cities plants.
Rounds the whole globe, and with his flying towers
Brings home to us, and makes both Indies ours;
So that to us no thing, no place is strange
While thy fair bosom is the world’s exchange:
O could my verse freely and smoothly flow,
As thy pure flood, Heaven should no longer know
Her old Eridanus; thy purer stream
Should bathe the gods and be the poets’ theme.
Here nature, whether more intent to please
Us or herself, with strange varieties,
(For things of wonder more, no less delight
To the wise maker’s, than beholders’ sight.
Though these delights from several causes move;
For so our children, thus our friends we love)
Wisely she knew the harmony of things,
As well as that of sounds, from discords springs.
Such was the discord, which did first disperse
Form, order, beauty through the universe;
While dryness moisture, coldness heat resists,
All that we have, and that we are, subsists.
While the steep horrid roughness of the wood
Strives with the gentle calmness of the flood.
Such huge extremes, when Nature doth unite,
Wonder from thence results, from thence delight.
The stream is so transparent, pure, and clear,
That had the self-enamour’d youth gaz’d here,
So fatally deceiv’d he had not been,
While he the bottom, not his face had seen.
And such the roughness of the hill, on which
Diana her toils, and Mars his tents might pitch
And as our surly supercilious lords,
Big in their frowns, and haughty in their words,
Look down on those, whose humble fruitful pain
Their proud, and barren greatness must sustain:
So looks the hill upon the stream; between
There lies a spacious, and a fertile green,
Where from the woods, the Dryades oft meet
Thy Nyades, and with their nimble feet,
Soft dances lead, although their airy shape
All but a quick poetic sight escape.
There Faunus and Silvanus keep their courts;
And thither all the horrid host resorts
(When like the elixir, with his evening beams,
The sun has turn’d to gold the silver streams)
To graze the ranker mead, that noble herd,
On whose sublime and shady fronts is rear’d
Nature’s great master-piece; to show how soon
Great things are made, but sooner much undone.
Here have I seen our Charles, when great affairs
Give leave to slacken, and unbend his cares,
Chasing the royal stag, the gallant beast,
Rous’d with the noise, ’twist hope and fear distress’d,
Resolves ’tis better to avoid, than meet
His danger, trusting to his winged feet:
But when he sees the dogs, now by the view,
Now by the scent, his speed with speed pursue,
He tries his friends, amongst the lesser herd,
Where he but lately was obey’d, and fear’d,
Safety he seeks: the herd, unkindly wise,
Or chases him from thence, or from him flies.
Like a declining statesman, left forlorn
To his friends’ pity, and pursuers’ scorn.
Wearied, forsaken, and pursu’d, at last
All safety in despair of safety plac’d,
Courage he thence assumes, resolv’d to bear
All their assaults, since 'tis in vain to fear.
But when he sees the eager chase renew’d,
Himself by dogs, the dogs by men pursu’d.
When neither speed, nor art, nor friends, nor force
Could help him towards the stream he bends his course
Hoping those lesser beasts would not assay
An element more merciless than they.
But fearless they pursue, nor can the flood
Quench their dire thirst (alas) they thirst for blood.
As some brave hero, whom his baser foes
In troops surround, now these assail, now those,
Though prodigal of life, disdains to die
By vulgar hands; but if he can descry
Some nobler foes approach, to him he calls
And begs his fate, and then contented falls:
So the tall stag amidst the lesser hounds,
Repels their force, and wounds returns for wounds.
Till Charles from his unerring hand lets fly
A mortal shaft, then glad, and proud to die
By such a wound he falls, the crystal flood
Dying he dies, and purples with his blood.
This a more innocent, and happy chase,
Than when of old, but in the selfsame place,
Fair liberty pursu’d, and meant a prey
To tyranny, here turn’d, and stood at bay.
When in that remedy all hope was plac’d
Which was, or should have been at least the last;
For armed subjects can have no pretence
Against their princes, but their just defence,
And whether then, or no, I leave to them
To justify, who else themselves condemn:
Yet might the fact be just, if we may guess
The justness of an action from success.
Here was that charter seal’d, wherein the Crown
All marks of arbitrary power lays down:
Tyrant and slave, those names of hate and fear,
The happier style of king and subject bear:
Happy, when both to the same centre move,
When kings give liberty, and subjects love.
Therefore not long in force this charter stood;
Wanting that seal, it must be seal’d in blood.
The subjects arm’d, the more their princes gave,
But this advantage took, the more to crave:
Till kings by giving, give themselves away.
And even that power, that should deny, betray.
“Who gives constrain’d, but his own fear reviles
Nor thank’d, but scorn’d; nor are they gifts, but spoils.”
And they, whom no denial can withstand,
Seem but to ask, while thy indeed command.
Thus all to limit royalty conspire,
While each forgets to limit his desire
Till kings like old Antaeus by their fall,
Being forc’d, their courage from despair recall.
When a calm river rais’d with sudden rains,
Or snows dissolv’d o’erflows the’ adjoining plains,
The husbandmen with high-rais’d banks secure
Their greedy hopes, and this he can endure.
But if with bays and dams they strive to force
His channel to a new, or narrow course
No longer then within his banks he dwells,
First to a torrent, then a deluge swells:
Stronger and fiercer by restraint he roars,
And knows no bound, but makes his power his shores.
Thus kings by grasping more than they can hold,
First made their subjects by oppressions bold,
And popular sway by forcing kings to give
More, than was fit for subjects to receive,
Ran to the same extreme, and one excess
Made both by striving to be greater, less.
Nor any way, but seeking to have more
Makes either lose what each possess’d before.
Therefore their boundless power till princes draw
Within the channel, and the shores of law,
And may the law, which teaches kings to sway
Their sceptres, teach their subjects to obey.




Cooper’s Hill - Version 1


Denham, Sir John

Year of Publication:


Age Appropriate:







Closed heroic couplets


Descriptive landscape version



Literary Period:

Commonwealth - The Interregnum

Things to Discuss:

What is your understanding of lines 223-239 which are crucial to understanding the overriding intent of this version of the poem? What is the significance of the opening lines? What does the poet believe is needed for the harmonious function of good government? What happens if that cannot be achieved? Was the poet’s first conclusion upheld in the second version? Usually students question lines 30 and 40 - concerning the poet reversing “Mars and Venus” to “beauty and strength”- whether rhyme was the only reason.

About the Poem:

The first version is descriptive. The poet writer stands on the top of a Engham Meadow. He notes the Thames River which flows through the meadow, into London, and finally the Atlantic Ocean. Windsor Castle is on the path; there is a stag hunt both of which prompt a recall of the royals and their subjects. Up to this point the verse has been reflective there is an abrupt change to politics and the approach of Civil War. In both versions, the river is a metaphor for the “forces of nature” and man’s attempt to control them by force. The poem was praised by Alexander Pope who used it as a model for his Windsor Forest.

About the Poet:

Denham was an architect. The now famous Christopher Wren was his assistant. but did receive praise as a poet after the publication of Cooper’s Hill.