Largely forgotten today, Cowley was a very famous English poet in his day and he is buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. This sweet poem’s mental landscape has much in common with the ideal countryside of Virgil’s Eclogues and their Greek predecessors, and directly references Horace’s rural idyll at his Sabine farm.
This only grant me, that my means may lie
Too low for envy, for contempt too high.
Some honour I would have,
Not from great deeds, but good alone:
Th’ unknown are better than ill-known;
Rumour can ope the grave.
Acquaintance I would have, but when’t depends
Not on the number, but the choice of friends.
Books should, not business, entertain the light,
And sleep, as undisturbed as death, the night.
My house a cottage, more
Than palace, and should fitting be
For all my use, no luxury.
My garden painted o’er
With Nature’s hand, not Art’s; and pleasures yield
Horace might envy in his Sabine field.
Thus would I double life’s fading space,
For he that runs it well, twice runs his race.
And in these unbought sports, this happy state,
I would not fear nor wish my fate,
But boldly say each night:
Tomorrow, let my sun his beams display,
Or in clouds hide them: I have lived today.