The Snail

By Richard Lovelace 1618–1657 Richard Lovelace
Wise emblem of our politic world,
Sage snail, within thine own self curl’d;
Instruct me softly to make haste,
Whilst these my feet go slowly fast.

         Compendious snail! thou seem’st to me,
Large Euclid’s strict epitome;
And in each diagram dost fling
Thee from the point unto the ring;
A figure now triangular,
An oval now, and now a square;
And then a serpentine dost crawl,
Now a straight line, now crook’d, now all.

         Preventing rival of the day,
Th’art up and openest thy ray,
And ere the morn cradles the moon
Th’art broke into a beauteous noon.
Then when the sun sups in the deep,
Thy silver horns ere Cynthia’s peep;
And thou from thine own liquid bed
New Phoebus heav’st thy pleasant head.

         Who shall a name for thee create,
Deep riddle of mysterious state?
Bold Nature that gives common birth
To all products of seas and earth,
Of thee, as earthquakes, is afraid,
Nor will thy dire deliv’ry aid.

         Thou thine own daughter then, and sire,
That son and mother art entire,
That big still with thy self dost go,
And liv’st an aged embryo;
That like the cubs of India,
Thou from thyself a while dost play;
But frighted with a dog or gun,
In thine own belly thou dost run,
And as thy house was thine own womb,
So thine own womb concludes thy tomb.

         But now I must (analyz’d king)
Thy economic virtues sing;
Thou great stay’d husband still within,
Thou, thee, that’s thine dost discipline;
And when thou art to progress bent,
Thou mov’st thy self and tenement,
As warlike Scythians travell’d, you
Remove your men and city too;
Then after a sad dearth and rain,
Thou scatterest thy silver train;
And when the trees grow nak’d and old,
Thou clothest them with cloth of gold,
Which from thy bowels thou dost spin,
And draw from the rich mines within.

         Now hast thou chang’d thee saint; and made
Thy self a fane that’s cupola’d;
And in thy wreathed cloister thou
Walkest thine own grey friar too;
Strict, and lock’d up, th’art hood all o’er,
And ne’er eliminat’st thy door.
On salads thou dost feed severe,
And ’stead of beads thou dropp’st a tear;
And when to rest, each calls the bell,
Thou sleep’st within thy marble cell,
Where in dark contemplation plac’d,
The sweets of nature thou dost taste;
Who now with time thy days resolve,
And in a jelly thee dissolve,
Like a shot star, which doth repair
Upward, and rarify the air.

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Poet Richard Lovelace 1618–1657

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD 17th Century

Subjects Nature, Relationships, Pets, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Allusion, Ode

 Richard  Lovelace

Biography

Like the other Cavalier poets of 17th-century England, Richard Lovelace lived a legendary life as a soldier, lover, and courtier. Persecuted for his unflagging support of King Charles I, he died in dire poverty — but not before writing two of the age’s most melodic and moving lyrics: “To Althea, from Prison” and “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars.”

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Relationships, Pets, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD 17th Century

Poetic Terms Allusion, Ode

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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