Cooper's Hill (1655)

Second Version

Original Text: 
Sir John Denham, Poems and Translations, with The Sophy (London: Henry Herringman, 1668). University of Toronto Library B-11 03456
4Those made not poets, but the poets those.
5And as Courts make not the Kings, but Kings the Court,
6So where the Muses and their train 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:
13My eye, which swift as thought contracts the space
14That lies between, and first salutes the place
15Crown'd with that sacred pile, so vast, so high,
16That whether 'tis a part of earth, or sky,
17Uncertain seems, and may be thought a proud
18Aspiring mountain, or descending cloud,
20Has bravely reach'd and soar'd above thy height:
21Now shalt thou stand though sword, or time, or fire,
23Secure, whilst thee the best of poets sings,
24Preserv'd from ruin by the best of kings.
25Under his proud survey the city lies,
26And like a mist beneath a hill doth rise;
27Whose state and wealth, the business and the crowd,
28Seems at this distance but a darker cloud:
29And is to him who rightly things esteems,
30No other in effect than what it seems:
31Where, with like haste, though several ways, they run
32Some to undo, and some to be undone;
33While luxury, and wealth, like war and peace,
34Are each the other's ruin, and increase;
35As rivers lost in seas some secret vein
36Thence reconveys, there to be lost again,
37Oh happiness of sweet retir'd content!
38To be at once secure, and innocent.
40Beauty with strength) above the valley swells
41Into my eye, and doth itself present
42With such an easy and unforc'd ascent,
44Access, no horror turns away our eyes:
45But such a rise, as doth at once invite
46A pleasure, and a reverence from the sight.
48Sate meekness, heighten'd with majestic grace,
49Such seems thy gentle height, made only proud
50To be the basis of that pompous load,
51Than which, a nobler weight no mountain bears,
53When Nature's hand this ground did thus advance,
54'Twas guided by a wiser power than chance;
55Mark'd out for such an use, as if 'twere meant
57Nor can we call it choice, when what we choose,
58Folly, or blindness only could refuse.
59A crown of such majestic tow'rs doth grace
61Do homage to her, yet she cannot boast
62Amongst that numerous, and celestial host,
63More heroes than can Windsor, nor doth fame's
64Immortal book record more noble names.
65Not to look back so far, to whom this isle
66Owes the first glory of so brave a pile,
68The British Arthur, or the Danish Knute,
69(Though this of old no less contest did move,
71(Like him in birth, thou should'st be like in fame,
72As thine his fate, if mine had been his flame)
73But whosoe'er it was, nature design'd
74First a brave place, and then as brave a mind.
75Not to recount those several kings, to whom
76It gave a cradle, or to whom a tomb,
80Not only to thy bed, but to thy fame,
81She to thy triumph led one captive king,
84Or victory thy royal thoughts did move)
85Each was a noble cause, and nothing less
86Than the design, has been the great success:
87Which foreign kings, and emperors esteem
88The second honour to their diadem.
89Had thy great destiny but given thee skill,
90To know as well, as power to act her will,
91That from those kings, who then thy captives were,
93Who should possess all that thy mighty power,
94Or thy desires more mighty, did devour;
95To whom their better fate reserves whate'er
96The victor hopes for, or the vanquish'd fear;
98And all that since these sister nations bled,
99Had been unspilt, had happy Edward known
100That all the blood he spill'd, had been his own.
102Soldier and martyr, and his arms confin'd
105Who to his realms that azure round hath join'd,
106Which nature for their bound at first design'd.
107That bound, which to the world's extremest ends,
108Endless itself, its liquid arms extends;
109Nor doth he need those emblems which we paint,
110But is himself the soldier and the saint.
111    Here should my wonder dwell, and here my praise,
112But my fix'd thoughts my wand'ring eye betrays
114A chapel crown'd, till in the common fate,
116Fall on our times, where ruin must reform.)
117Tell me (my muse) what monstrous dire offence,
119To such a rage? was 't luxury, or lust?
120Was he so temperate, so chaste, so just?
121Were these their crimes? they were his own much more:
122But wealth is crime enough to him that's poor,
123Who having spent the treasures of the crown,
124Condemns their luxury to feed his own.
125And yet this act, to varnish o'er the shame
126Of sacrilege, must bear devotion's name.
127No crime so bold, but would be understood
128A real, or at least a seeming good.
129Who fears not to do ill, yet fears the name,
130And free from conscience, is a slave to fame.
131Thus he the church at once protects, and spoils:
133And thus to th' ages past he makes amends,
134Their charity destroys, their faith defends.
135Then did religion in a lazy cell,
136In empty, airy contemplations dwell;
138As much too active, like the stork devours.
139Is there no temperate region can be known,
140Betwixt their frigid, and our torrid zone?
141Could we not wake from that lethargic dream,
142But to be restless in a worse extreme?
143And for that lethargy was there no cure,
145Can knowledge have no bound, but must advance
146So far, as to make us wish for ignorance?
147And rather in the dark to grope our way,
148Than led by a false guide to err by day?
149Who sees these dismal heaps, but would demand
150What barbarous invader sack'd the land?
152This desolation, but a Christian king;
153When nothing but the name of zeal appears
154'Twixt our best actions and the worst of theirs,
155What does he think our sacrilege would spare,
156When such th' effects of our devotions are?
157    Parting from thence 'twixt anger, shame and fear,
158Those for what's past, and this for what's too near:
159My eye descending from the hill, surveys
161Thames, the most lov'd of all the ocean's sons,
162By his old sire to his embraces runs,
163Hasting to pay his tribute to the sea,
164Like mortal life to meet eternity.
165Though with such streams he no resemblance hold,
167His genuine, and less guilty wealth t' explore,
168Search not his bottom, but survey his shore;
169O'er which he kindly spreads his spacious wing,
170And hatches plenty for th' ensuing spring.
171Nor then destroys it with too fond a stay,
173Nor with a sudden and impetuous wave,
174Like profuse kings, resumes the wealth he gave.
175No unexpected inundations spoil
177But God-like his unwearied bounty flows;
178First loves to do, then loves the good he does.
179Nor are his blessings to his banks confin'd,
180But free, and common, as the sea or wind;
181When he to boast, or to disperse his stores
182Full of the tributes of his grateful shores,
184Brings home to us, and makes both Indies ours;
186Cities in deserts, woods in cities plants.
187So that to us no thing, no place is strange,
188While his fair bosom is the world's exchange.
189O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
190My great example, as it is my theme!
191Though deep, yet clear, though gentle, yet not dull,
192Strong without rage, without o'er-flowing full.
194Whose fame in thine, like lesser currents lost,
195Thy nobler streams shall visit Jove's abodes,
196To shine amongst the stars, and bathe the gods.
197Here nature, whether more intent to please
198Us or herself, with strange varieties,
199(For things of wonder give no less delight
200To the wise maker's, than beholders' sight.
201Though these delights from several causes move,
203Wisely she knew, the harmony of things,
204As well as that of sounds, from discords springs.
205Such was the discord, which did first disperse
206Form, order, beauty through the universe;
207While dryness moisture, coldness heat resists,
208All that we have, and that we are, subsists.
209While the steep horrid roughness of the wood
210Strives with the gentle calmness of the flood.
211Such huge extremes when Nature doth unite,
212Wonder from thence results, from thence delight.
213The stream is so transparent, pure, and clear,
215So fatally deceiv'd he had not been,
216While he the bottom, not his face had seen.
217But his proud head the airy mountain hides
218Among the clouds; his shoulders, and his sides
219A shady mantle clothes; his curled brows
220Frown on the gentle stream, which calmly flows,
221While winds and storms his lofty forehead beat:
222The common fate of all that's high or great.
223Low at his foot a spacious plain is plac'd,
224Between the mountain and the stream embrac'd:
225Which shade and shelter from the hill derives,
226While the kind river wealth and beauty gives;
227And in the mixture of all these appears
228Variety, which all the rest endears.
229This scene had some bold Greek, or British bard
230Beheld of old, what stories had we heard,
232Their feasts, their revels, and their amorous flames?
233'Tis still the same, although their airy shape
234All but a quick poetic sight escape.
237To graze the ranker mead, that noble herd,
239Nature's great master-piece; to show how soon
240Great things are made, but sooner are undone.
241Here have I seen the King, when great affairs
242Give leave to slacken, and unbend his cares,
243Attended to the chase by all the flower
244Of youth, whose hopes a nobler prey devour:
245Pleasure with praise, and danger, they would buy,
246And with a foe that would not only fly.
247The stag now conscious of his fatal growth,
248At once indulgent to his fear and sloth,
249To some dark covert his retreat had made,
250Where nor man's eye, nor Heaven's should invade
251His soft repose; when th' unexpected sound
252Of dogs, and men, his wakeful ear doth wound:
253Rous'd with the noise, he scarce believes his ear,
254Willing to think th' illusions of his fear
255Had given this false alarm, but straight his view
256Confirms, that more than all he fears is true.
257Betray'd in all his strengths, the wood beset,
258All instruments, all arts of ruin met;
259He calls to mind his strength, and then his speed,
260His winged heels, and then his armed head;
261With these t' avoid, with that his fate to meet:
262But fear prevails, and bids him trust his feet.
263So fast he flies, that his reviewing eye
264Has lost the chasers, and his ear the cry;
265Exulting, till he finds, their nobler sense
266Their disproportion'd speed does recompense.
267Then curses his conspiring feet, whose scent
268Betrays that safety which their swiftness lent.
269Then tries his friends, among the baser herd,
270Where he so lately was obey'd, and fear'd,
271His safety seeks: the herd, unkindly wise,
272Or chases him from thence, or from him flies.
274To his friends' pity, and pursuers' scorn,
275With shame remembers, while himself was one
276Of the same herd, himself the same had done.
278The scenes of his past triumphs, and his loves;
279Sadly surveying where he rang'd alone
280Prince of the soil, and all the herd his own;
281And like a bold knight errant did proclaim
282Combat to all, and bore away the dame;
283And taught the woods to echo to the stream
284His dreadful challenge, and his clashing beam.
285Yet faintly now declines the fatal strife;
286So much his love was dearer than his life.
287Now every leaf, and every moving breath
288Presents a foe, and every foe a death.
289Wearied, forsaken, and pursu'd, at last
290All safety in despair of safety plac'd,
291Courage he thence resumes, resolv'd to bear
292All their assaults, since it was vain to fear.
293And now too late he wishes for the fight
294That strength he wasted in ignoble flight:
295But when he sees the eager chase renew'd,
296Himself by dogs, the dogs by men pursu'd:
297He straight revokes his bold resolve, and more
298Repents his courage, than his fear before;
299Finds that uncertain ways unsafest are,
300And doubt a greater mischief than despair.
301Then to the stream, when neither friends, nor force,
302Nor speed, nor art avail, he shapes his course;
303Thinks not their rage so desperate t' assay
304An element more merciless than they.
305But fearless they pursue, nor can the flood
306Quench their dire thirst; alas, they thirst for blood.
308Which wanting sea to ride, or wind to fly,
309Stands but to fall reveng'd on those that dare
310Tempt the last fury of extreme despair.
311So fares the stag among th' enraged hounds,
312Repels their force, and wounds returns for wounds.
313And as a hero, whom his baser foes
314In troops surround, now these assails, now those,
315Though prodigal of life, disdains to die
316By common hands; but if he can descry
317Some nobler foe's approach, to him he calls,
318And begs his fate, and then contented falls.
319So when the King a mortal shaft lets fly
320From his unerring hand, then glad to die,
321Proud of the wound, to it resigns his blood,
322And stains the crystal with a purple flood.
323    This a more innocent, and happy chase,
325Fair liberty pursu'd, and meant a prey
326To lawless power, here turn'd, and stood at bay.
327When in that remedy all hope was plac'd
328Which was, or should have been at least, the last.
329Here was that charter seal'd, wherein the Crown
330All marks of arbitrary power lays down:
331Tyrant and slave, those names of hate and fear,
332The happier style of king and subject bear:
333Happy, when both to the same centre move,
334When kings give liberty, and subjects love.
335Therefore not long in force this charter stood;
337The subjects arm'd, the more their princes gave,
338Th' advantage only took the more to crave:
339Till kings by giving, give themselves away.
340And even that power, that should deny, betray.
341."Who gives constrain'd, but his own fear reviles
343Thus kings, by grasping more than they could hold,
344First made their subjects by oppression bold:
345And popular sway, by forcing kings to give
346More than was fit for subjects to receive,
347Ran to the same extremes; and one excess
348Made both, by striving to be greater, less.
349When a calm river rais'd with sudden rains,
350Or snows dissolv'd, o'erflows the' adjoining plains,
351The husbandmen with high-rais'd banks secure
352Their greedy hopes, and this he can endure.
354His channel to a new, or narrow course;
355No longer then within his banks he dwells,
356First to a torrent, then a deluge swells:
357Stronger, and fiercer by restraint he roars,
358And knows no bound, but makes his power his shores.


1] The second version of "Cooper's Hill" was first published in 1655. John Denham (1615-69; knighted in 1661) 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 first version of Denham's poem is a work of the early 1640s; its conclusion contrasted the overwhelming force of a river in angry flood with the misplaced efforts of men to attempt to control instead of to cooperate with nature as a metaphor for the relationship of a king to his people. A decade and more later, when Denham came to revise his poem, events had invalidated his metaphor. Charles I had lost the war and his head, and England was a Commonwealth under Lord Protector Cromwell. The prophetic part of the original conclusion is dropped, and Charles I becomes less prominent overall; his name disappears, and he is ."the King,." a king now in the past tense. The immediacy of the first version is moderated, and the poem retreats from the world of practical politics to a more generalized view of kings and people. The fundamental pattern of thought remains the same: it is the interplay of opposed and complementary forces that makes the world and the universe in which we live, and an analogous interplay is necessary for good government. Without discord there could be no harmony, but if harmony cannot be achieved, discord becomes destructive. 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
19] 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. 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
22] zeal: religious enthusiasm; here more specifically the puritan desire to abolish bishops and destroy their cathedrals. In 1655 St. Paul's was being used as cavalry quarters. Back to Line
39] Windsor: the royal palace of Windsor Castle stands on a hill overlooking the Thames two miles from Cooper's Hill. Back to Line
43] stupendious: early form of "stupendous." Back to Line
47] thy mighty master: the current sovereign is the master of the Castle, but ."sate." in the next line indicates that Denham is referring to Charles I. Back to Line
52] 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
56] prevent: anticipate. Back to Line
60] The gods' great mother: 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
67] 67-8. 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
70] 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
77] Edward: Edward III (1327-77) and his son, also Edward, known as the Black Prince (died 1376). Back to Line
78] 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
79] 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
82] the second: Jean II of France was captured by the Black Prince at the battle of Poitiers (1356). Back to Line
83] that order: the Order of the Garter, established by Edward III in 1348-9. Back to Line
92] a royal pair: Charles I, of the Scottish house of Stuart, and his Queen, the French princess Henrietta Maria. Back to Line
97] thy great grandsire: Edward I, grandfather of Edward III, known as the ."hammer of the Scots.." Back to Line
101] that patron: 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 Back to Line
103] 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
104] 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
113] neighbouring hill: St. Anne's Hill, not far from Cooper's Hill. Back to Line
115] adjoining abbey. Chertsey Abbey, a Benedictine monastery. Back to Line
118] Christian king: Henry VIII, who dissolved the monasteries and seized their property between 1536 and 1539. Back to Line
132] styles: pens. 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
137] 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
144] 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
151] no Goth, no Turk: the Goths pillaged Rome in 410; the Ottoman Turks overthrew the Byzantine Empire in 1453. Back to Line
160] wanton: luxuriant in vegetation, and also irregular, matching the ."straying." of the Thames, which winds considerably at this point. Back to Line
166] foam is amber: Ovid tells how the sisters of Phaeton mourned him on the banks of the river Eridanus (the Po in Italy); they were turned into poplar trees, and their tears are borne down the river in the form of amber (Metamorphoses, 2: 364-6). their gravel gold: both the Tagus of modern Portugal and the Pactolus of Asia Minor were reputed to have sands of gold. Back to Line
172] overlay: suffocate by lying upon. Back to Line
176] mower: the labourer with a scythe, who reaps the harvest. Back to Line
183] flying towers: sailing ships. Back to Line
185] wants: is lacking. Back to Line
193] Eridanus: the classical name of the river Po in Italy, celebrated by Virgil as the king of rivers. Here, however, the reference is metaphorical: the Eridanus of heaven is the Milky Way. Back to Line
202] so . . . thus: in one way . . . in a different way. Back to Line
214] 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
231] dames: sweethearts. Back to Line
235] Faunus and Silvanus: rural gods of Italy. Back to Line
236] horned host: deer. Back to Line
238] fronts: foreheads. Back to Line
273] declining statesman: a minister of state whose power is waning. The following couplet (275-6), by generalizing the idea of the statesman, decisively blocks the reader from any inclination to see the pursuit and death of the stag as an allegory of the trial and death of Strafford (see note to l. 275 of the first version). Back to Line
277] conscious: knowing (OED "conscious, a.", 2). Back to Line
307] a ship: a sailing ship, probably an English merchant ship attacked by the galleys of the Barbary pirates. Back to Line
324] the selfsame 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
336] that seal: the matching contributions of liberty and love that Denham has just described. Back to Line
342] 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
353] bays: embankments. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
John D. Baird
RPO Edition: