The Retirement by Charles Cotton

Farewell, thou busy world, and may
We never meet again;
Here I can eat and sleep and pray,
And do more good in one short day
Than he who his whole age outwears
Upon the most conspicuous theaters,
Where naught but vanity and vice appears.

Good God! how sweet are all things here!
How beautiful the fields appear!
How cleanly do we feed and lie!
Lord! what good hours do we keep!
How quietly we sleep!
What peace, what unanimity!
How innocent from the lewd fashion
Is all our business, all our recreation!

O, how happy here’s our leisure!
O, how innocent our pleasure!
O ye valleys! O ye mountains!
O ye groves, and crystal fountains!
How I love, at liberty,
By turns to come and visit ye!
Dear solitude, the soul’s best friend,
That man acquainted with himself dost make,
And all his Maker’s wonders to attend,
With thee I here converse at will,
And would be glad to do so still,
For it is thou alone that keep’st the soul awake.

How calm and quiet a delight
Is it, alone,
To read and meditate and write,
By none offended, and offending none!
To walk, ride, sit, or sleep at one’s own ease;
And, pleasing a man’s self, none other to displease.

O my beloved nymph, fair Dove,
Princess of rivers, how I love
Upon thy flowery banks to lie,
And view thy silver stream,
When gilded by a Summer’s beam!
And in it all thy wanton fry
Playing at liberty,
And, with my angle, upon them
The all of treachery
I ever learned industriously to try!

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Such streams Rome’s yellow Tiber cannot show,
The Iberian Tagus, or Ligurian Po;
The Maese, the Danube, and the Rhine,
Are puddle-water, all, compared with thine;
And Loire’s pure streams yet too polluted are
With thine, much purer, to compare;
The rapid Garonne and the winding Seine
Are both too mean,
Beloved Dove, with thee
To vie priority;
Nay, Tame and Isis, when conjoined, submit,
And lay their trophies at thy silver feet.

O my beloved rocks, that rise
To awe the earth and brave the skies!
From some aspiring mountain’s crown
How dearly do I love,
Giddy with pleasure to look down;
And from the vales to view the noble heights above;
O my beloved caves! from dog-star’s heat,
And all anxieties, my safe retreat;
What safety, privacy, what true delight,
In the artificial light
Your gloomy entrails make,
Have I taken, do I take!
How oft, when grief has made me fly,
To hide me from society
E’en of my dearest friends, have I,
In your recesses’ friendly shade,
All my sorrows open laid,
And my most secret woes intrusted to your privacy!

Lord! would men let me alone,
What an over-happy one
Should I think myself to be –
Might I in this desert place,
(Which most men in discourse disgrace)
Live but undisturbed and free!
Here, in this despised recess,
Would I, maugre Winter’s cold,
And the Summer’s worst excess,
Try to live out to sixty full years old,
And, all the while,
Without an envious eye
On any thriving under Fortune’s smile,
Contented live, and then contented die.

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Charles Cotton [1630-1687]

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