The Snail

Original Text: 
Richard Lovelace, Lucasta, Posthume Poems (1659). Facs. edn.: Scolar Press, 1972. PR 3542 L2 1649A ROBA.
1Wise emblem of our politic world,
2Sage snail, within thine own self curl'd;
3Instruct me softly to make haste,
4Whilst these my feet go slowly fast.
5      Compendious snail! thou seem'st to me,
7And in each diagram dost fling
8Thee from the point unto the ring;
9A figure now triangular,
10An oval now, and now a square;
11And then a serpentine dost crawl,
12Now a straight line, now crook'd, now all.
14Th'art up and openest thy ray,
15And ere the morn cradles the moon
16Th'art broke into a beauteous noon.
17Then when the sun sups in the deep,
18Thy silver horns ere Cynthia's peep;
20New Phoebus heav'st thy pleasant head.
21      Who shall a name for thee create,
22Deep riddle of mysterious state?
23Bold Nature that gives common birth
24To all products of seas and earth,
25Of thee, as earthquakes, is afraid,
26Nor will thy dire deliv'ry aid.
27      Thou thine own daughter then, and sire,
28That son and mother art entire,
29That big still with thy self dost go,
30And liv'st an aged embryo;
32Thou from thyself a while dost play;
33But frighted with a dog or gun,
34In thine own belly thou dost run,
35And as thy house was thine own womb,
36So thine own womb concludes thy tomb.
37      But now I must (analyz'd king)
39Thou great stay'd husband still within,
40Thou, thee, that's thine dost discipline;
42Thou mov'st thy self and tenement,
44Remove your men and city too;
45Then after a sad dearth and rain,
46Thou scatterest thy silver train;
47And when the trees grow nak'd and old,
48Thou clothest them with cloth of gold,
49Which from thy bowels thou dost spin,
50And draw from the rich mines within.
51      Now hast thou chang'd thee saint; and made
52Thy self a fane that's cupola'd;
53And in thy wreathed cloister thou
54Walkest thine own grey friar too;
55Strict, and lock'd up, th'art hood all o'er,
56And ne'er eliminat'st thy door.
57On salads thou dost feed severe,
58And 'stead of beads thou dropp'st a tear;
59And when to rest, each calls the bell,
60Thou sleep'st within thy marble cell,
61Where in dark contemplation plac'd,
62The sweets of nature thou dost taste;
63Who now with time thy days resolve,
65Like a shot star, which doth repair
66Upward, and rarify the air.


6] Large: liberal, generous. Back to Line
13] Preventing: anticipating. Back to Line
19] A witty reference to the usual mythology of Tethys and Phoebus. Back to Line
31] cubs of India: bear cubs thought to be born unformed and licked into shape by the mother. Back to Line
38] economic: pertaining to the management of a household. Back to Line
41] progress: royal journey. Back to Line
43] Scythians: in classical literature the inhabitants of the areas north and northeast of the Black Sea. Back to Line
64] Nostoc, a jelly-like algae, also called "star-shot" or "star-shoot" found in fields and meadows and thought to be remains of a shooting star. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
3RP 1.349.