The Mistress, Or Several Copies Of Love-verses Quotes

Abraham Cowley

"Lukewarmness I Account A Sin"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Cowley had the misfortune to be a mild and rather moderate person living in a robust and even violent age; as a result, he often found himself placed in ridiculous and sometimes very uncomfortable positions. He received a good education and had earned himself a fellowship at Cambridge when the Puritan commissioners dispossessed him and set him adrift. He and his friends espoused the royalist cause and followed the king, first to Oxford and later to Paris, where Charles II elected to spend his exile. During his stay in Paris Cowley was given various secret-service assignments, which he seems to have carried out with a notable lack of enthusiasm. He must have been quite inept at cloak-and-dagger work: Charles II suspected him of treason, and Cromwell had him imprisoned as a spy. Cowley's political convictions were sincere enough but so mildly expressed that they were unconvincing. He eventually retired to the country where he studied medicine and botany, meanwhile writing essays and continuing to compose poems. A precocious poet, he had produced his first volume at the age of fifteen. His work reveals much inventiveness and versatility, but he was again unfortunate in that it must be compared with two giants, Donne and Milton. He produced an unfinished Biblical epic, the Davideis, which may have given the latter some ideas for Paradise Lost. Another work, The Mistress, was inspired by Donne but is not closely imitative. It is a collection of lyric verse detailing the pangs of unrequited love. Cowley sometimes casts these poems in the style of Donne, and occasionally employs intricate and striking metaphors or plays on words; however, his work is not metaphysical in the way that Donne's is. Instead, it possesses a certain cheerful pessimism and is at times either whimsical or mildly witty. It is also characterized by gracefulness and precision. "The Request" is a good example:

If she be coy, and scorn my noble fire;
If her chill heart I cannot move;
Why I'll enjoy the very love,
And make a mistress of my own desire.
Flames their most vigorous heat do hold,
And purest light, if compass'd round with cold:
So, when sharp Winter means most harm,
The springing plants are by the snow itself kept warm.
But do not touch my heart, and so be gone;
Strike deep thy burning arrows in!
Lukewarmness I account a sin,
As great in love as in religion.
Come arm'd with flames; for I would prove
All the extremities of mighty Love.
Th' excess of heat is but a fable;
We know the torrid zone is now found habitable.