Madam, so may my verses pleasing be,
So may you laugh at them and not at me,
'Tis something to you gladly I would say;
But how to do't I cannot find the way.
I would avoid the common beaten ways
To women used, which are love or praise:
As for the first, the little wit I have
Is not yet grown so near unto the grave,
But that I can, by that dim fading light,
Perceive of what, or unto whom I write.
Let such as in a hopeless, witless rage,
Can sigh a quire, and read it to a page;
Such is do backs of books and windows fill,
With their too furious diamond or quill;
Such as were well resolved to end their days
With a loud laughter blown beyond the seas;
Who are so mortified that they can live
Contemned of all the world, and yet forgive,
Write love to you: I would not willingly
Be pointed at in every company;
As was that little tailor, who till death
Was hot in love with Queen Elizabeth:
And, for the last, in all my idle days
I never yet did living woman praise
In prose or verse: and when I do begin
I'll pick some woman out as full of sin
As you are full of virtue; with a soul
As black as you are white; a face as foul
As you are beautiful: for it shall be
Out of the rules of physiognomy
So far, that I do fear I must displace
The art a little, to let in her face.
It shall att least four faces be below
The devil's; and her parched corpse shall show
In her loose skill as if some sprite she were
Kept in a bag by some great conjurer.
Her breath shall be as horrible and wild
As every word you speak is sweet and mild;
It shall be such a one as will not be
Covered with any art or policy:
But let her take all powders, fumes, and drink,
She shall make nothing but a dearer stink;
She shall have such a foot and such a nose,
She shall not stand in anything but prose;
If I bestow my praises upon such,
'Tis charity, and I shall merit much.
My praise will come to her like a full bowl,
Bestowed at most need on a thirsty soul;
Where, if I sing your praises in my rhyme,
I lose my ink, my paper, and my time;
And nothing add to your o'erflowing store,
And tell you nought, but what you knew before.
Nor do the virtuous-minded (which I swear,
Madam, I think you are) endure to hear
Their own perfections into questions brought,
But stop their ears at them; for if I thought
You took a pride to have your virtues known,
Pardon me, madam, I should think them none.
To what a length is this strange letter grown,
In seeking of a subject, yet finds none!
But your brave thoughts, which I so much respect
Above your glorious titles, shall accept
These harsh disordered lines. I shall ere long
Dress up your virtues new, in a new song;
Yet far from all base praise and flattery,
Although I know whate'er my verses be,
They will like the most servile flattery shew,
If I write truth, and make the subject you.