Literature

‘On My Birthday, July 21’: A Poem by Matthew Prior

In this poem, Prior (1664-1721) takes his birthday (July 21) as an opportunity to chastise the woman he loves for treating him with ‘scorn’ and denying him. A birthday poem that is also a love poem, albeit one about thwarted love, ‘On My Birthday, July 21’ is the latest in our ‘post a poem a day’ series.

On My Birthday, July 21

I, my dear, was born to-day—
So all my jolly comrades say:
They bring me music, wreaths, and mirth,
And ask to celebrate my birth:
Little, alas! my comrades know
That I was born to pain and woe;
To thy denial, to thy scorn,
Better I had ne’er been born:
I wish to die, even whilst I say—
‘I, my dear, was born to-day.’
I, my dear, was born to-day:
Shall I salute the rising ray,
Well-spring of all my joy and woe?
Clotilda, thou alone dost know.
Shall the wreath surround my hair?
Or shall the music please my ear?
Shall I my comrades’ mirth receive,
And bless my birth, and wish to live?
Then let me see great Venus chase
Imperious anger from thy face;
Then let me hear thee smiling say—
‘Thou, my dear, wert born to-day.’

If you enjoyed ‘On My Birthday, July 21’, you might also like Christina Rossetti’s ‘A Birthday’.

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