“Love,” from Selected Poetry, by Phineas Fletcher (1582-1650)



Love is the sire, dam, nurse, and seed
Of all that earth, air, waters breed:
All these, earth, water, air, fire.
Though contraries, in love conspire.
Fond painters: Love is not a lad
With bow, and shafts, and feathers clad,
As he is fancied in the brain
Of some loose loving idle swain.
Much sooner is he felt than seen;
His substance subtle, slight, and thin.
Oft leaps he from the glancing eyes;
Oft in some smooth mount he lies;
Soonest he wins, the fastest flies;
Oft lurks he ‘twixt the ruddy lips,
Thence, while the heart his nectar sips,
Down to the soul the poison slips;
Oft in a voice creeps down the ear;
Oft hides his darts in golden hair;
Oft blushing cheeks do light his fires;

Oft in a smooth soft skin retires;
Often in smiles, often in tears,
His flaming heat in water bears;
When nothing else kindles desire,
Even Virtue’s self shall blow the fire.
Love with a thousand darts abounds.
Surest and deepest virtue wounds;
Oft himself becomes a dart,
And love with love doth love impart.
Thou painful pleasure, pleasing pain,
Thou gainful loss, thou losing gain,
Thou bitter sweet, easing disease,
How dost thou by displeasing please?
How dost thou thus bewitch the heart,
To live in hate, to joy in smart,
To think itself most bound when free,
And freest in its slavery?
Every creature is thy debtor;
None but loves, some worse, some better:
Only in love they happy prove

from Selected Poetry, by Phineas Fletcher
Cottingham near Hull: J. R. Tutin, 1904

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

From the Preface

It is difficult to understand why certain poets of undoubted merit–and Phineas Fletcher is a robust and nervous writer whom it is good to know — should long remain neglected while others are frequently reprinted, and therefore, it is to be resumed, continuously read. It may be hoped that a goodly proportion of the readers of John Halifax, Gentleman who have had their curiosity piqued by Mrs Craik’s praise of Phineas Fletcher, will be glad of an opportunity to read some portion of his work.

Phineas Fletcher–son of one who has been described as “civilian, ambassador and poet”–was born in 1582, at the pastoral village of Cranbrook in Kent ; he was educated at Eton and Cambridge, staying at the University, as student and Fellow, from 1600 until 1616. Then for five years he was chaplain at Risley in Derbyshire to Sir Henry Willoughby, and from 1621 until his death, towards the close of 1650, he was rector of Hilgay in Norfolk. Despite the troubled times in which his later years were cast, he appears to have passed a quiet life conducive to contemplation. That his poetical genius was recognised by his contemporaries is shown by some striking tributes.

I like this poem because it reads so well aloud, what with its rhymes, half-rhymes, alliterations, and switching word pairs. There is some good common sense in it, but it’s more fun than profound: a precursor to Ogden Nash, perhaps.

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive.

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