Cooper's Hill (1642)

First Version

Original Text: 
John Denham, Coopers Hill. A Poeme. The Second Edition with Additions (London: Humphrey Moseley, 1650). University of Toronto Library B-11 03457
4Those made not poets, but the poets those.
5And as Courts make not Kings, but Kings the Court,
6So where the Muses and their troops resort,
7Parnassus stands, if I can be to thee
8A poet, thou Parnassus art to me.
9Nor wonder, if (advantag'd in my flight,
10By taking wing from thy auspicious height)
11Through untrac'd ways and airy paths I fly,
12More boundless in my fancy than my eye.
13Exalted to this height, I first look down
16Has bravely reach'd and soar'd above thy height:
17Now shalt thou stand, though time, or sword, or fire,
18Or zeal (more fierce than they) thy fall conspire,
19Secure, whilst thee the best of poets sings,
20Preserv'd from ruin by the best of kings.
21As those who rais'd in body, or in thought
22Above the earth, or the air's middle vault,
24How clouds condense to rain, congeal to snow,
25And see the thunder form'd, before it tear
26The air, secure from danger and from fear,
27So rais'd above the tumult and the crowd
28I see the city, in a thicker cloud
29Of business, than of smoke, where men like ants
30Toil to prevent imaginary wants;
31Yet all in vain, increasing with their store,
32Their vast desires, but make their wants the more.
33As food to unsound bodies, though it please
34The appetite, feeds only the disease.
35Where, with like haste, though several ways they run,
36Some to undo, and some to be undone;
37While luxury, and wealth, like war and peace,
38Are each the other's ruin, and increase;
39As rivers lost in seas, some secret vein
40Thence reconveys, there to be lost again.
41Some study plots, and some those plots t' undo,
42Others to make 'em, and undo 'em too,
43False to their hopes, afraid to be secure,
44Those mischiefs only which they make, endure,
45Blinded with light, and sick of being well,
46In tumults seek their peace, their Heaven in Hell.
47Oh happiness of sweet retir'd content!
48To be at once secure, and innocent.
50Beauty with strength) above the valley swells
51Into my eye, as the late married dame
52(Who proud, yet seems to make that pride her shame)
53When nature quickens in her pregnant womb
54Her wishes past, and now her hopes to come:
55With such an easy, and unforc'd ascent,
56Windsor her gentle bosom doth present;
58Access deny, no horrid steep affrights,
59But such a rise, as doth at once invite
60A pleasure, and a reverence from the sight.
62A friend-like sweetness, and a king-like awe,
63Where majesty, and love so mix'd appear,
64Both gently kind, both royally severe.
65So Windsor, humble in itself, seems proud,
66To be the base of that majestic load,
67Than which no hill a nobler burden bears,
69Nature this mount so fitly did advance,
70We might conclude, that nothing is by chance
71So plac'd, as if she did on purpose raise
72The hill, to rob the builder of his praise.
73For none commends his judgment, that doth choose
74That which a blind man only could refuse;
75Such are the towers which th' hoary temples grac'd
77Do homage to her, yet she cannot boast
78Amongst that numerous, and celestial host
79More heroes than can Windsor, nor doth fame's
80Immortal book record more noble names.
81Nor to look back so far, to whom this isle
82Must owe the glory of so brave a pile,
84The British Arthur, or the Danish Knute,
85(Though this of old no less contest did move,
87(Like him in birth, thou should'st be like in fame,
88As thine his fate, if mine had been his flame)
89But whosoe'er it was, nature design'd
90First a brave place, and then as brave a mind.
91No to recount those several kings, to whom
92It gave a cradle, or to whom a tomb,
96In all thy glories, of that royal pair
97Which waited on thy triumph, she brought one.
99Nor of less hopes could her great off-spring prove;
100A royal eagle cannot breed a dove.
101    Then didst thou found that order, whether love
102Or victory thy royal thoughts did move,
103Each was a noble cause, nor was it less
104I' th' institution, than the great success
105Whilst every part conspires to give it grace,
106The King, the cause, the patron, and the place,
107Which foreign kings, and emperors esteem
108The second honour to their diadem.
109    Had thy great destiny but giv'n thee skill,
110To know as well, as power to act her will,
111That from those kings, who then thy captives were,
113Who should possess all that thy mighty power,
114Or thy desires more mighty, did devour;
115To whom their better fate reserves whate'er
116The victor hopes for, or the vanquish'd fear;
118And all that since these sister nations bled,
119Had been unspilt, had happy Edward known
120That all the blood he spill'd, had been his own,
121Thou hadst extended through the conquer'd East,
122Thine, and the Christian name, and made them blest
123To serve thee, while that loss this gain would bring,
124Christ for their God, and Edward for their king;
126In whom the martyr and the soldier join;
128(Who evil thinks may evil him confound)
130But to foretell, and prophesy of him
131Who has within that azure round confin'd
132These realms, which nature for their bound design'd,
133That bound, which to the world's extremest ends,
134Endless herself, her liquid arms extends;
135In whose heroic face I see the saint
136Better express'd than in the liveliest paint,
137That fortitude, which made him famous here,
138That heavenly piety, which saints him there.
139Who when this order he forsakes, may he
140Companion of that sacred order be.
141Here could I fix my wonder, but our eyes,
143And though one please him most, the hungry guest
144Tastes every dish, and runs through all the feast;
145    So having tasted Windsor, casting round
147My more contracted sight, whose top of late
148A chapel crown'd, till in the common fate,
150Fall on our times, where ruin must reform)
151Tell me, (my muse) what monstrous dire offence,
153To such a rage? Was 't luxury, or lust?
154Was he so temperate, so chaste, so just?
155Were these their crimes? they were his own, much more;
156But they (alas) were rich, and he was poor;
157And having spent the treasures of his crown,
158Condemns their luxury to feed his own;
159And yet this act, to varnish o'er the shame
160Of sacrilege, must bear devotion's name.
161And he might think it just, the cause and time
162Considered well, for none commits a crime
163Appearing such, but as 'tis understood,
164A real, or at least a seeming good.
166His much more learned sword his pen confutes,
167Thus to the ages past he makes amends,
168Their charity destroys, their faith defends.
169Then did religion in a lazy cell,
170In empty, airy contemplation dwell;
172As much too active like the stork devours.
173Is there no temperate region can be known.
174Betwixt their frigid, and our torrid zone?
175Could we not wake from that lethargic dream,
176But to be restless in a worse extreme?
177And for that lethargy was there no cure,
179Can knowledge have no bound, but must advance
180So far, to make us wish for ignorance?
181And rather in the dark to grope our way,
182Than led by a false guide to err by day?
183    Parting from thence 'twixt anger, shame and fear,
184Those for what's past, and this for what's too near:
185My eye descending from the hill, surveys
186Where Thames among the wanton valleys strays.
187Thames, the most lov'd of all the ocean's sons,
188By his old sire to his embraces runs,
189Hasting to pay his tribute to the sea,
190Like mortal life to meet eternity.
191And though his clearer sand, no golden veins,
193His genuine, and less guilty wealth t' explore,
194Search not his bottom, but survey his shore;
195O'er which he kindly spreads his spacious wing
196And hatches plenty for th' ensuing spring.
197Nor with a furious, and unruly wave,
198Like profuse kings, resumes the wealth he gave,
199No unexpected inundations spoil
201Then like a lover he forsakes his shores,
202Whose stay with jealous eyes his spouse implores;
203Till with a parting kiss he saves her tears,
204And promising return, secures her fears;
205As a wise king first settles fruitful peace
206In his own realms, and with their rich increase,
207Seeks wars abroad, and in triumph brings
208The spoils of kingdoms, and the crowns of kings.
209So Thames to London doth at first present
210Those tributes, which neighbouring counties sent,
211But as his second visit from the east,
213Finds wealth where 'tis, bestows it where it wants,
214Cities in deserts, woods in cities plants.
215Rounds the whole globe, and with his flying towers
216Brings home to us, and makes both Indies ours;
217So that to us no thing, no place is strange
218While thy fair bosom is the world's exchange:
219O could my verse freely and smoothly flow,
220As thy pure flood, Heaven should no longer know
222Should bathe the gods and be the poets' theme.
223    Here nature, whether more intent to please
224Us or herself, with strange varieties,
225(For things of wonder more, no less delight
226To the wise maker's, than beholders' sight.
227Though these delights from several causes move;
228For so our children, thus our friends we love)
229Wisely she knew the harmony of things,
230As well as that of sounds, from discords springs.
231Such was the discord, which did first disperse
232Form, order, beauty through the universe;
233While dryness moisture, coldness heat resists,
234All that we have, and that we are, subsists.
235While the steep horrid roughness of the wood
236Strives with the gentle calmness of the flood.
237Such huge extremes, when Nature doth unite,
238Wonder from thence results, from thence delight.
239The stream is so transparent, pure, and clear,
241So fatally deceiv'd he had not been,
242While he the bottom, not his face had seen.
243And such the roughness of the hill, on which
245And as our surly supercilious lords,
246Big in their frowns, and haughty in their words,
247Look down on those, whose humble fruitful pain
248Their proud, and barren greatness must sustain:
249So looks the hill upon the stream; between
250There lies a spacious, and a fertile green,
252Thy Nyades, and with their nimble feet,
253Soft dances lead, although their airy shape
254All but a quick poetic sight escape.
258The sun has turn'd to gold the silver streams)
259To graze the ranker mead, that noble herd,
260On whose sublime and shady fronts is rear'd
261Nature's great master-piece; to show how soon
262Great things are made, but sooner much undone.
263Here have I seen our Charles, when great affairs
264Give leave to slacken, and unbend his cares,
265Chasing the royal stag, the gallant beast,
266Rous'd with the noise, 'twist hope and fear distress'd,
267Resolves 'tis better to avoid, than meet
268His danger, trusting to his winged feet:
269But when he sees the dogs, now by the view,
270Now by the scent, his speed with speed pursue,
271He tries his friends, amongst the lesser herd,
272Where he but lately was obey'd, and fear'd,
273Safety he seeks: the herd, unkindly wise,
274Or chases him from thence, or from him flies.
276To his friends' pity, and pursuers' scorn.
277    Wearied, forsaken, and pursu'd, at last
278All safety in despair of safety plac'd,
279Courage he thence assumes, resolv'd to bear
280All their assaults, since 'tis in vain to fear.
281But when he sees the eager chase renew'd,
282Himself by dogs, the dogs by men pursu'd.
283When neither speed, nor art, nor friends, nor force
284Could help him towards the stream he bends his course
285Hoping those lesser beasts would not assay
286An element more merciless than they.
287But fearless they pursue, nor can the flood
288Quench their dire thirst (alas) they thirst for blood.
289As some brave hero, whom his baser foes
290In troops surround, now these assail, now those,
291Though prodigal of life, disdains to die
292By vulgar hands; but if he can descry
293Some nobler foes approach, to him he calls
294And begs his fate, and then contented falls:
295So the tall stag amidst the lesser hounds,
296Repels their force, and wounds returns for wounds.
297Till Charles from his unerring hand lets fly
298A mortal shaft, then glad, and proud to die
299By such a wound he falls, the crystal flood
300Dying he dies, and purples with his blood.
301    This a more innocent, and happy chase,
303Fair liberty pursu'd, and meant a prey
304To tyranny, here turn'd, and stood at bay.
305When in that remedy all hope was plac'd
306Which was, or should have been at least the last;
307For armed subjects can have no pretence
308Against their princes, but their just defence,
309And whether then, or no, I leave to them
310To justify, who else themselves condemn:
311Yet might the fact be just, if we may guess
312The justness of an action from success.
313     Here was that charter seal'd, wherein the Crown
314All marks of arbitrary power lays down:
315Tyrant and slave, those names of hate and fear,
316The happier style of king and subject bear:
317Happy, when both to the same centre move,
318When kings give liberty, and subjects love.
319Therefore not long in force this charter stood;
321The subjects arm'd, the more their princes gave,
322But this advantage took, the more to crave:
323Till kings by giving, give themselves away.
324And even that power, that should deny, betray.
325."Who gives constrain'd, but his own fear reviles
327And they, whom no denial can withstand,
328Seem but to ask, while thy indeed command.
329Thus all to limit royalty conspire,
330While each forgets to limit his desire
332Being forc'd, their courage from despair recall.
333    When a calm river rais'd with sudden rains,
334Or snows dissolv'd o'erflows the' adjoining plains,
335The husbandmen with high-rais'd banks secure
336Their greedy hopes, and this he can endure.
338His channel to a new, or narrow course
339No longer then within his banks he dwells,
340First to a torrent, then a deluge swells:
341Stronger and fiercer by restraint he roars,
342And knows no bound, but makes his power his shores.
343Thus kings by grasping more than they can hold,
344First made their subjects by oppressions bold,
345And popular sway by forcing kings to give
346More, than was fit for subjects to receive,
347Ran to the same extreme, and one excess
348Made both by striving to be greater, less.
349Nor any way, but seeking to have more
350Makes either lose what each possess'd before.
351Therefore their boundless power till princes draw
352Within the channel, and the shores of law,
353And may the law, which teaches kings to sway
354Their sceptres, teach their subjects to obey.


1] The first version of "Cooper's Hill" was first published in 1642. John Denham (1615-69) inherited from his father, a notable judge, an estate at Egham in Surrey, and this location provides the poem with its organization. The speaker stands on the top of Cooper's Hill, which, like the nearby St. Anne's Hill, overlooks the extensive water-meadows known as Egham Mead, through which the river Thames flows on its way to London and the sea. Facing first to the east, he describes and reflects on distant London; turning north-west he describes and reflects on Windsor and its castle (a few miles away); looking down on the river and the meadow beneath the hill he describes a stag hunt and reflects on the relations between kings and subjects. As the poem moves from the distant to the near in topographical terms, it moves from indirect to direct commentary on the political situation as it appeared on the eve of the Civil War. The underlying idea of the poem, scenically and politically, is expressed in lines 223-39: it is the conflict between opposing principles that produces an equilibrium of forces; harmony is only possible because disharmony exists. Allied to this is a concept of reciprocity, announced in the opening lines of the poem; reciprocity implies mutual interdependence, reified in the law that should govern the relationship of the king to his subjects. Back to Line
2] Parnassus: a high mountain in Greece, sacred to the Muses, and suited to meditation. Back to Line
3] Helicon: another Greek mountain sacred to the Muses, notable for the spring called Hippocrene. Back to Line
14] Paul's: St. Paul's Cathedral in the city of London. This is the old medieval cathedral, which had been restored and partially rebuilt with some assistance from Charles I. It was to be destroyed in the Great Fire of London, 1666. Back to Line
15] such a muse: the renovation of St. Paul's, undertaken in the 1630s, had been celebrated by Edmund Waller in his poem ."Upon His Majesty's Repairing of Paul's.." Back to Line
23] meteors grow: meteors were supposed to be exhalations from the earth (hence ."meteorology." for the science of the weather). Back to Line
49] Windsor: on a rise overlooking the Thames stands the royal palace of Windsor Castle; the ."majestic load." of l. 65. Back to Line
57] stupendious: early form of "stupendous." Back to Line
61] thy master's: Charles I. Back to Line
68] Atlas: the mountain in North Africa. Atlas, a Titan, king of Mauritania, was a keen astronomer; when Perseus showed him the head of the gorgon Medusa he was turned into the mountain, which was supposed to support the heavenly spheres of the old astronomy. Back to Line
76] Cybele: wife of Saturn, and mother of the gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon. Some representations of her depict her wearing a tower as a headdress. Back to Line
83] Various stories attributed the foundation of Windsor Castle to Julius Caesar in 55 BC; to Brut, the legendary Trojan who left the Trojan settlement in Italy to settle in Britain and give it its name; to Albanact, his equally legendary son who became king of Scotland; to King Arthur of the Round Table, and to the Danish king of England, Knut or Canute (1016-35). Back to Line
86] Homer: the fact that seven cities claimed to be his birthplace was taken as an index of Homer's greatness as a poet. Back to Line
93] Edward: Edward III (1327-77) and his son, also Edward, known as the Black Prince (died 1376). Back to Line
94] lilies: the heraldic lilies of the French monarchy, claimed by Edward III and worn in his standard, won by his son the Black Prince, especially at the battle of Poitiers. The contrast is rather false; as the victor in the battle of Crécy (1346) Edward III had shown his own martial ability. Back to Line
95] Bellona: Edward III's consort, Queen Philippa, credited with the victory of the Scots at Neville's Cross in 1346 when her husband and son were campaigning in France. As a result of this victory, the Scots king, David II, was held a prisoner in England. Back to Line
98] Thy son the other brought: Edward, the Black Prince, captured Jean II of France at the battle of Poitiers, 1356. Back to Line
112] a royal pair: Charles I, of the Scottish house of Stuart, and his Queen, the French princess Henrietta Maria. Back to Line
117] thy great grandsire: Edward I, grandfather of Edward III, known as the ."hammer of the Scots.." Back to Line
125] that saint: St. George, a Christian soldier from Asia Minor, finally a martyr under the persecution of Diocletian. Soldiers returning from the Crusades brought his cult to England, and Edward III adopted him as the patron saint of England, replacing St. Edmund, and dedicated the chapel at Windsor Castle to him, making this the seat of the Order of the Garter (1348-9). Back to Line
127] The star of the Order shows the shield of St. George, a red cross on white ground, surrounded by a blue garter, inscribed with the motto ."Honi soit quy mal y pense.." Back to Line
129] Charles I, who as king of both Scotland and England (in which Denham includes Wales) unites the island of Great Britain, surrounded by blue sea. Back to Line
142] affect: desire. Back to Line
146] an emulous hill: St. Anne's Hill, not far from Cooper's Hill. Back to Line
149] th' adjoining abbey: Chertsey Abbey, a Benedictine monastery. Back to Line
152] Christian king: Henry VIII, who dissolved the monasteries and seized their property between 1536 and 1539. Back to Line
165] his learned pen: in 1521 Henry VIII published a Latin tract defending the seven sacraments against the attack of Martin Luther. The Pope thereupon gave him the title Fidei Defensor, ."Defender of the Faith.." Back to Line
171] block: a reference to Aesop's fable of the frogs who, rejecting the rule of a block of wood, were granted instead a stork for sovereign, that ate them up. Back to Line
178] calenture: ."a distemper peculiar to sailors in hot climates: wherein they imagine the sea to be green fields, and will throw themselves into it, if not restrained." (Johnson's Dictionary, 1755). Back to Line
192] Tagus and Pactolus: rivers celebrated for their sands of gold by classical poets. Back to Line
200] mower: the labourer with a scythe, who reaps the harvest. Back to Line
212] both Indies: the East Indies, associated with spices, and the West Indies, associated with gold (l. 212). Back to Line
221] Eridanus: The classical name for the river Po in Italy, celebrated by Virgil as the king of rivers. Back to Line
240] the self-enamour'd youth: Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in a still pool of water, not the moving water of a river. Back to Line
244] toils: nets for catching beasts, accoutrements of Diana the huntress. Back to Line
251] Dryades: nymphs or sprites of the woodlands, as naiads are river-nymphs. Back to Line
255] Faunus and Silvanus: rural gods of Italy. Back to Line
256] horrid: shaggy. Since the animals are deer, this may be an error for ."horned,." as in the corresponding line in the second version. Back to Line
257] elixir: the philosopher's stone, the substance capable of turning all metals to gold, as the alchemists believed. Back to Line
275] declining statesman: a minister of state whose power is waning. This simile encourages the reader to interpret the pursuit and death of the stag as an allegory of the trial and death of Lord Strafford in 1641; when his enemies in Parliament, unable to convict him of crimes, passed a bill of attainder that declared him a traitor; he wrote to Charles I, urging him to sign the bill into law (thus ensuring his own execution), for the sake of peace between the King and his subjects. Back to Line
302] the self-same place: Runny Mead, or Runnymede, is a part of the larger Egham Mead which lies below Cooper's Hill. Here in 1215 the barons compelled King John to accept the Magna Carta, or Great Charter. However, as Denham, notes, this positive achievement of concord out of discord did not bring an end to the struggle between kings and subjects. Back to Line
320] that seal: the matching contributions of liberty and love that Denham has just described. Back to Line
326] the quotation marks may be simply a way of drawing attention to this summation of what has been said; if the lines are a quotation, it has not been identified. Back to Line
331] Antaeus: a giant, son of Terra, the earth, and Neptune, god of the sea. When he wrestled with Hercules, he gained new strength from his mother every time he was thrown to the ground. Back to Line
337] bays: embankments ("bogs" in original text). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
John D. Baird
RPO Edition: