Aphra Behn, A Congratulatory Poem to Her Sacred Majesty, Queen Mary Upon Her Arrival in England (1689)

Aphra Behn was approaching the end of her career by the Glorious Revolution. During the previous two decades, she had established a reputation as both a prolific playwright and an apologist for the Stuart regime. According to Behn’s most authoritative biographer, Janet Todd, Behn was probably asked to write this Congratulatory Poem by the Williamite bishop Gilbert Burnet. Unlike Burnet, though, Behn approached the Glorious Revolution with apprehension. Her discomfort is apparent in this poem to Queen Mary.

Behn does not address William anywhere in her poem, although she does discuss James II, whom William and Mary usurped. In the first stanza, for instance, Behn describes James as ‘an Unhappy dear Lov’d Monarch’. Throughout, she focuses on Mary’s ‘Virtues’, inherited from her father: Mary possesses ‘his God-like attributes’. This was hardly treasonable, unlike Arthur Maynwaring’s splenetic satire Tarquin and Tullia (1689). But such praise of Mary’s father does force the modern reader to question where Behn’s loyalties lay: with Mary or her father? There is no clear answer. Rather, Behn wrestles with issues of allegiance to the new regime.


While my sad muse the darkest covert sought,
To give a loose to melancholy thought;
Oppressed, and sighing with the heavy weight
Of an unhappy dear loved monarch’s fate;
A lone retreat, on Thames’s brink she found,
With murmuring osiers fringed, and bending willows crowned,
Through the thick shade could dart no cheerful ray,
Nature dwelt here as in disdain of day·
Content, and pleased with nobler solitude,
No wood-gods, fawns, nor loves did here intrude,
Nor nests for wanton birds, the glade allows;
Scarce the soft winds were heard amongst the boughs.

While thus she lay resolved to tune no more
Her fruitless songs on Britain’s faithless shore,
All on a sudden through the woods there rung,
Loud sounds of joy that Io Peans sung.
Maria! blest Maria! was the theme,
Great Britain’s happy genius, and her queen.

The river nymphs their crystal courts forsake,
Curl their blue locks, and shelly trumpets take;
And the surprising news along the shore,
In raptured songs the wandering virgins bore;
Whilst mourning Echo now forgot her sighs,
And sung the new taught anthem to the skies.

All things in nature, a new face put on,
Thames with harmonious purlings glides along,
And tells her ravished banks, she lately bore
A prize more great than all her hidden store,
Or all the sun it self ever saw before.

The brooding Spring, her fragrant bloom sent out,
Scattering her early perfumes round about;
No longer waits the lazy teeming hours,
But ere her time produced her odorous flowers;
Maria’s eyes anticipate the May,
And life inspired beyond the god of day.

The muses all upon this theme divine,
Tuned their best lays, the muses all, but mine,
Sullen with stubborn loyalty she lay,
And saw the world its eager homage pay,
While Heav’n and Earth on the new scene looked gay.
But oh! what human fortitude can be
Sufficient to resist a deity?
Even our allegiance here, too feebly pleads,
The change in so divine a form persuades;
Maria with the sun has equal force,
No opposition stops her glorious course,
Her pointed beams through all a passage find,
And fix their rays triumphant in the mind.

And now I wished among the crowds to adore,
And constant wishing did increase my power;
From every thought a new-born reason came
Which fortified by bright Maria’s fame,
Inspir’d my genius with new life and flame,
And thou, great Lord, of all my vows, permit
My muse who never failed obedience yet,
To pay her tribute at Maria’s feet,
Maria so divine a part of you,
Let me be just, but just with honour too.

Resolved, she joined her chorus with the throng,
And to the listening groves Maria’s virtues sung;
Maria all enchanting, gay, and young,
All hail illustrious daughter of a king,
Shining without, and glorious all within,
Whose eyes beyond your scantier power give laws,
Command the word, and justify the cause;
Nor to secure your empire needs more arms
Than your resistless, and all conquering charms;
Minerva thus alone, old Troy sustain’d,
Whilst her blessed image with three gods remained;
But oh! your form and manner to relate,
The envying fair as soon may imitate,
’Tis all engaging sweet, ’tis all surprising great;
A thousand beauties triumph in your air,
Like those of soft young loves your smiles appear,
And to the unguarded hearts, as dangerous are.

All nature’s charms are opened in your face,
You look, you talk, with more than human grace;
All that is wit, all that is eloquence.
The births of finest thought and noblest sense,
Easy and natural from your language break,
And ’tis eternal music when you speak;
Through all no formal nicety is seen,
But free and generous your majestic mean,
In every motion, every part a queen;
All that is great and lovely in the sex,
Heaven did in this one glorious wonder fix,
Apellis thus to dress the queen of love,
Robbed the whole race, a goddess to improve.

Yet if with sighs we view that lovely face,
And all the lines of your great father’s trace,
Your virtues should forgive, while we adore
That face that awes, and charms our hearts the more;
But if the monarch in your looks we find,
Behold him yet more glorious in your mind;
’Tis there his God-like attributes we see.
A gracious sweetness, affability,
A tender mercy and true piety;
And virtues even sufficient to atone
For all the ills the ungrateful world has done,
Where several factions, several interests sway,
And that is still is right who gains the day;
How ever they differ, this they all must grant,
Your form and mind, no one perfection want,
Without all angel, and within all saint.

The murmuring world till now divided lay,
Vainly debating whom they should obey,
Till you great Caesar’s offspring blessed our isle,
The differing multitudes to reconcile;
Thus stiff-necked Israel in defiance stood,
Till they beheld the prophet of their God;
Who from the mount with dazzling brightness came,
And eyes all shining with celestial flame;
Whose awful Looks, dispelled each rebel thought,
And to a just compliance, the wild nations brought.