’Twas wit at first, and wine, that made them live

This snippet is from Henry Vaughan, English metaphysical poet (1622-95). What is interesting is the description of a gathering of poets in a London tavern, all intent on boozing, smoking, & womanising. An interesting insight into the intersection between art & everyday life in the seventeenth century

A Rhapsody

Occasionally written upon a meeting with some of his friends at the Globe Tavern, in a chamber painted overhead with a cloudy sky and some few dispersed stars and on the sides with landscapes, hills, shepherds, and sheep.

Darkness and stars i’ the midday! they invite
Our active fancies to believe it night;
For taverns need no sun but for a sign,
Where rich tobacco and quick tapers shine,
And royal, witty sack, the poet’s soul,
With brighter suns than he doth gild the bowl;
As though the pot and poet did agree
Sack should to both illuminator be.
That artificial cloud with its curled brow

Tells us ’tis late; and that blue space below
Is fired with many stars; mark, how they break
In silent glances o’er the hills and speak
The evening to the plains; where, shot from far,
They meet in dumb salutes, as one great star.
The room, methinks, grows darker, and the air
Contracts a sadder color and less fair;
Or is ’t the drawer’s skill: hath he no arts
To blind us so we can’t know pints from quarts?
No, no, ’tis night; look where the jolly clown

Musters his bleating herd and quits the down.
Hark! how his rude pipe frets the quiet air
Whilst every hill proclaims Lycoris fair.
Rich, happy man! that canst thus watch and sleep,
Free from all cares, but thy wench, pipe, and sheep.
But see, the moon is up; view where she stands
Sentinel o’er the door, drawn by the hands
Of some base painter that for gain hath made

Her face the landmark to the tippling trade.
This cup to her, that to Endymion give,
’Twas wit at first, and wine, that made them live.
Choke may the painter! and his box disclose
No other colors than his fiery nose;
And may we no more of his pencil see
Than two churchwardens and mortality.

Should we go now a-wandering, we should meet
With catchpoles, whores, and carts in every street,
Now when each narrow lane, each nook and cave,
Signposts and shop-doors pimp for every knave,
When riotous sinful plush and telltale spurs
Walk Fleet Street and the Strand, when the soft stirs
Of bawdy, ruffled silks turn night to day,
And the loud whip and coach scolds all the way,

When lust of all sorts and each itchy blood
From the Tower-wharf to Cymbeline and Lud
Hunts for a mate, and the tired footman reels
’Twixt chairmen, torches, and the hackney wheels.
Come, take the other dish; it is to him
That made his horse a senator.  Each brim

Look big as mine! The gallant, jolly beast
Of all the herd (you’ll say) was not the least.
Now crown the second bowl, rich as his worth,
I’ll drink it to; he! that like fire broke forth
Into the Senate’s face, crossed Rubicon,
And the state’s pillars, with their laws thereon,
And made the dull gray beards and furred gowns fly

Into Brundisium, to consult and lie.
This to brave Sulla!  Why should it be said
We drink more to the living than the dead?
Flatt’rers and fools do use it. Let us laugh
At our own honest mirth; for they that quaff
To honor others do like those that sent
Their gold and plate to strangers to be spent.
Drink deep; this cup be pregnant; and the wine
Spirit of wit to make us all divine,

That big with sack and mirth we may retire
Possessors of more souls and nobler fire,
And by the influx of this painted sky
And labored forms, to higher matters fly;
So, if a nap shall take us, we shall all
After full cups have dreams poetical.
Let’s laugh now, and the pressed grape drink
Till the drowsy day-star wink,
And in our merry, mad mirth run
Faster and farther than the sun;
And let none his cup forsake
Till that star again doth wake;
So we men below shall move
Equally with the gods above.

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