Two Poems by Jonathan Swift

ODE TO DOCTOR WILLIAM SANCROFT[1]
LATE LORD BISHOP OF CANTERBURY

WRITTEN IN MAY, 1689,
AT THE DESIRE OF THE LATE LORD BISHOP OF ELY


I

Truth is eternal, and the Son of Heaven,
    Bright effluence of th'immortal ray,
Chief cherub, and chief lamp, of that high sacred Seven,
Which guard the throne by night, and are its light by day;
    First of God's darling attributes,
    Thou daily seest him face to face,
Nor does thy essence fix'd depend on giddy circumstance
    Of time or place,
Two foolish guides in every sublunary dance;
  How shall we find Thee then in dark disputes?
  How shall we search Thee in a battle gain'd,
  Or a weak argument by force maintain'd?
In dagger contests, and th'artillery of words,
(For swords are madmen's tongues, and tongues are madmen's swords,)
    Contrived to tire all patience out,
    And not to satisfy the doubt?


II

  But where is even thy Image on our earth?
    For of the person much I fear,
Since Heaven will claim its residence, as well as birth,
And God himself has said, He shall not find it here.
For this inferior world is but Heaven's dusky shade,
By dark reverted rays from its reflection made;
  Whence the weak shapes wild and imperfect pass,
  Like sunbeams shot at too far distance from a glass;
       Which all the mimic forms express,
Though in strange uncouth postures, and uncomely dress;
    So when Cartesian artists try
  To solve appearances of sight
    In its reception to the eye,
And catch the living landscape through a scanty light,
    The figures all inverted show,
    And colours of a faded hue;
  Here a pale shape with upward footstep treads,
    And men seem walking on their heads;
    There whole herds suspended lie,
  Ready to tumble down into the sky;
  Such are the ways ill-guided mortals go
  To judge of things above by things below.
Disjointing shapes as in the fairy land of dreams,
  Or images that sink in streams;
  No wonder, then, we talk amiss
  Of truth, and what, or where it is;
  Say, Muse, for thou, if any, know'st,
Since the bright essence fled, where haunts the reverend ghost?


III

If all that our weak knowledge titles virtue, be
(High Truth) the best resemblance of exalted Thee,
    If a mind fix'd to combat fate
With those two powerful swords, submission and humility,
    Sounds truly good, or truly great;
Ill may I live, if the good Sancroft, in his holy rest,
    In the divinity of retreat,
  Be not the brightest pattern earth can show
    Of heaven-born Truth below;
  But foolish man still judges what is best
    In his own balance, false and light,
    Following opinion, dark and blind,
    That vagrant leader of the mind,
Till honesty and conscience are clear out of sight.


IV

And some, to be large ciphers in a state,
Pleased with an empty swelling to be counted great,
Make their minds travel o'er infinity of space,
  Rapt through the wide expanse of thought,
  And oft in contradiction's vortex caught,
To keep that worthless clod, the body, in one place;
Errors like this did old astronomers misguide,
Led blindly on by gross philosophy and pride,
    Who, like hard masters, taught the sun
    Through many a heedless sphere to run,
Many an eccentric and unthrifty motion make,
  And thousand incoherent journeys take,
    Whilst all th'advantage by it got,
    Was but to light earth's inconsiderable spot.
The herd beneath, who see the weathercock of state
  Hung loosely on the church's pinnacle,
Believe it firm, because perhaps the day is mild and still;
But when they find it turn with the first blast of fate,
    By gazing upward giddy grow,
    And think the church itself does so;
  Thus fools, for being strong and num'rous known,
  Suppose the truth, like all the world, their own;
And holy Sancroft's motion quite irregular appears,
    Because 'tis opposite to theirs.


V

In vain then would the Muse the multitude advise,
  Whose peevish knowledge thus perversely lies
    In gath'ring follies from the wise;
  Rather put on thy anger and thy spite,
    And some kind power for once dispense
  Through the dark mass, the dawn of so much sense,
To make them understand, and feel me when I write;
  The muse and I no more revenge desire,
Each line shall stab, shall blast, like daggers and like fire;
  Ah, Britain, land of angels! which of all thy sins,
    (Say, hapless isle, although
    It is a bloody list we know,)
Has given thee up a dwelling-place to fiends?
    Sin and the plague ever abound
In governments too easy, and too fruitful ground;
     Evils which a too gentle king,
     Too flourishing a spring,
     And too warm summers bring:
   Our British soil is over rank, and breeds
   Among the noblest flowers a thousand pois'nous weeds,
   And every stinking weed so lofty grows,
   As if 'twould overshade the Royal Rose;
   The Royal Rose, the glory of our morn,
      But, ah! too much without a thorn.


VI

Forgive (original mildness) this ill-govern'd zeal,
'Tis all the angry slighted Muse can do
     In the pollution of these days;
  No province now is left her but to rail,
  And poetry has lost the art to praise,
     Alas, the occasions are so few:
     None e'er but you,
     And your Almighty Master, knew
  With heavenly peace of mind to bear
(Free from our tyrant passions, anger, scorn, or fear)
The giddy turns of popular rage,
And all the contradictions of a poison'd age;
  The Son of God pronounced by the same breath
    Which straight pronounced his death;
  And though I should but ill be understood,
  In wholly equalling our sin and theirs,
  And measuring by the scanty thread of wit
  What we call holy, and great, and just, and good,
(Methods in talk whereof our pride and ignorance make use,)
  And which our wild ambition foolishly compares
    With endless and with infinite;
  Yet pardon, native Albion, when I say,
Among thy stubborn sons there haunts that spirit of the Jews,
  That those forsaken wretches who to-day
    Revile his great ambassador,
  Seem to discover what they would have done
  (Were his humanity on earth once more)
To his undoubted Master, Heaven's Almighty Son.


VII

But zeal is weak and ignorant, though wondrous proud,
  Though very turbulent and very loud;
    The crazy composition shows,
Like that fantastic medley in the idol's toes,
  Made up of iron mixt with clay,
  This crumbles into dust,
  That moulders into rust,
  Or melts by the first shower away.
Nothing is fix'd that mortals see or know,
Unless, perhaps, some stars above be so;
    And those, alas, do show,
  Like all transcendent excellence below;
    In both, false mediums cheat our sight,
And far exalted objects lessen by their height:
    Thus primitive Sancroft moves too high
    To be observed by vulgar eye,
    And rolls the silent year
    On his own secret regular sphere,
And sheds, though all unseen, his sacred influence here.


VIII

Kind star, still may'st thou shed thy sacred influence here,
  Or from thy private peaceful orb appear;
  For, sure, we want some guide from Heaven, to show
  The way which every wand'ring fool below
    Pretends so perfectly to know;
  And which, for aught I see, and much I fear,
     The world has wholly miss'd;
  I mean the way which leads to Christ:
Mistaken idiots! see how giddily they run,
  Led blindly on by avarice and pride,
    What mighty numbers follow them;
    Each fond of erring with his guide:
  Some whom ambition drives, seek Heaven's high Son
  In Caesar's court, or in Jerusalem:
    Others, ignorantly wise,
Among proud doctors and disputing Pharisees:
What could the sages gain but unbelieving scorn;
  Their faith was so uncourtly, when they said
That Heaven's high Son was in a village born;
    That the world's Saviour had been
    In a vile manger laid,
    And foster'd in a wretched inn?


IX

Necessity, thou tyrant conscience of the great,
Say, why the church is still led blindfold by the state;
  Why should the first be ruin'd and laid waste,
  To mend dilapidations in the last?
And yet the world, whose eyes are on our mighty Prince,
    Thinks Heaven has cancell'd all our sins,
And that his subjects share his happy influence;
Follow the model close, for so I'm sure they should,
But wicked kings draw more examples than the good:
  And divine Sancroft, weary with the weight
Of a declining church, by faction, her worst foe, oppress'd,
    Finding the mitre almost grown
    A load as heavy as the crown,
  Wisely retreated to his heavenly rest.


X

  Ah! may no unkind earthquake of the state,
    Nor hurricano from the crown,
Disturb the present mitre, as that fearful storm of late,
  Which, in its dusky march along the plain,
    Swept up whole churches as it list,
    Wrapp'd in a whirlwind and a mist;
Like that prophetic tempest in the virgin reign,
  And swallow'd them at last, or flung them down.
  Such were the storms good Sancroft long has borne;
  The mitre, which his sacred head has worn,
Was, like his Master's Crown, inwreath'd with thorn.
Death's sting is swallow'd up in victory at last,
    The bitter cup is from him past:
    Fortune in both extremes
  Though blasts from contrariety of winds,
    Yet to firm heavenly minds,
Is but one thing under two different names;
And even the sharpest eye that has the prospect seen,
  Confesses ignorance to judge between;
And must to human reasoning opposite conclude,
To point out which is moderation, which is fortitude.


XI

Thus Sancroft, in the exaltation of retreat,
  Shows lustre that was shaded in his seat;
    Short glimm'rings of the prelate glorified;
Which the disguise of greatness only served to hide.
    Why should the Sun, alas! be proud
    To lodge behind a golden cloud?
Though fringed with evening gold the cloud appears so gay,
'Tis but a low-born vapour kindled by a ray:
    At length 'tis overblown and past,
    Puff'd by the people's spiteful blast,
The dazzling glory dims their prostituted sight,
  No deflower'd eye can face the naked light:
  Yet does this high perfection well proceed
    From strength of its own native seed,
This wilderness, the world, like that poetic wood of old,
    Bears one, and but one branch of gold,
  Where the bless'd spirit lodges like the dove,
And which (to heavenly soil transplanted) will improve,
To be, as 'twas below, the brightest plant above;
  For, whate'er theologic levellers dream,
    There are degrees above, I know,
    As well as here below,
  (The goddess Muse herself has told me so),
  Where high patrician souls, dress'd heavenly gay,
  Sit clad in lawn of purer woven day.
There some high-spirited throne to Sancroft shall be given,
    In the metropolis of Heaven;
Chief of the mitred saints, and from archprelate here,
    Translated to archangel there.


XII

Since, happy saint, since it has been of late
  Either our blindness or our fate,
  To lose the providence of thy cares
Pity a miserable church's tears,
  That begs the powerful blessing of thy prayers.
  Some angel, say, what were the nation's crimes,
  That sent these wild reformers to our times:
    Say what their senseless malice meant,
    To tear religion's lovely face:
  Strip her of every ornament and grace;
In striving to wash off th'imaginary paint?
  Religion now does on her death-bed lie,
Heart-sick of a high fever and consuming atrophy;
How the physicians swarm to show their mortal skill,
And by their college arts methodically kill:
Reformers and physicians differ but in name,
  One end in both, and the design the same;
Cordials are in their talk, while all they mean
  Is but the patient's death, and gain--
  Check in thy satire, angry Muse,
  Or a more worthy subject choose:
Let not the outcasts of an outcast age
Provoke the honour of my Muse's rage,
  Nor be thy mighty spirit rais'd,
  Since Heaven and Cato both are pleas'd--

[The rest of the poem is lost.]

[Footnote 1: Born Jan., 1616-17; died 1693. For his life, see "Dictionary
of National Biography."--_W. E. B._]



ODE TO THE HON. SIR WILLIAM TEMPLE [2]

WRITTEN AT MOOR-PARK IN JUNE 1689


I

Virtue, the greatest of all monarchies!
      Till its first emperor, rebellious man,
    Deposed from off his seat,
  It fell, and broke with its own weight
Into small states and principalities,
    By many a petty lord possess'd,
But ne'er since seated in one single breast.
      'Tis you who must this land subdue,
      The mighty conquest's left for you,
      The conquest and discovery too:
      Search out this Utopian ground,
      Virtue's Terra Incognita,
      Where none ever led the way,
Nor ever since but in descriptions found;
    Like the philosopher's stone,
With rules to search it, yet obtain'd by none.


II

      We have too long been led astray;
Too long have our misguided souls been taught
      With rules from musty morals brought,
      'Tis you must put us in the way;
      Let us (for shame!) no more be fed
      With antique relics of the dead,
    The gleanings of philosophy;
    Philosophy, the lumber of the schools,
    The roguery of alchymy;
      And we, the bubbled fools,
Spend all our present life, in hopes of golden rules.


III

But what does our proud ignorance Learning call?
    We oddly Plato's paradox make good,
Our knowledge is but mere remembrance all;
Remembrance is our treasure and our food;
Nature's fair table-book, our tender souls,
We scrawl all o'er with old and empty rules,
    Stale memorandums of the schools:
    For learning's mighty treasures look
      Into that deep grave, a book;
  Think that she there does all her treasures hide,
And that her troubled ghost still haunts there since she died;
Confine her walks to colleges and schools;
    Her priests, her train, and followers, show
    As if they all were spectres too!
    They purchase knowledge at th'expense
    Of common breeding, common sense,
    And grow at once scholars and fools;
    Affect ill-manner'd pedantry,
Rudeness, ill-nature, incivility,
    And, sick with dregs and knowledge grown,
    Which greedily they swallow down,
Still cast it up, and nauseate company.


IV

    Curst be the wretch! nay, doubly curst!
      (If it may lawful be
    To curse our greatest enemy,)
  Who learn'd himself that heresy first,
    (Which since has seized on all the rest,)
That knowledge forfeits all humanity;
Taught us, like Spaniards, to be proud and poor,
  And fling our scraps before our door!
Thrice happy you have 'scaped this general pest;
Those mighty epithets, learned, good, and great,
Which we ne'er join'd before, but in romances meet,
We find in you at last united grown.
      You cannot be compared to one:
    I must, like him that painted Venus' face,
    Borrow from every one a grace;
Virgil and Epicurus will not do,
      Their courting a retreat like you,
Unless I put in Caesar's learning too:
    Your happy frame at once controls
    This great triumvirate of souls.


V

Let not old Rome boast Fabius' fate;
    He sav'd his country by delays,
      But you by peace.[1]
    You bought it at a cheaper rate;
Nor has it left the usual bloody scar,
      To show it cost its price in war;
War, that mad game the world so loves to play,
      And for it does so dearly pay;
For, though with loss, or victory, a while
      Fortune the gamesters does beguile,
Yet at the last the box sweeps all away.


VI

      Only the laurel got by peace
        No thunder e'er can blast:
      Th'artillery of the skies
        Shoots to the earth and dies:
And ever green and flourishing 'twill last,
Nor dipt in blood, nor widows' tears, nor orphans' cries.
      About the head crown'd with these bays,
      Like lambent fire, the lightning plays;
Nor, its triumphal cavalcade to grace,
    Makes up its solemn train with death;
It melts the sword of war, yet keeps it in the sheath.


VII

The wily shafts of state, those jugglers' tricks,
Which we call deep designs and politics,
(As in a theatre the ignorant fry,
    Because the cords escape their eye,
      Wonder to see the motions fly,)
    Methinks, when you expose the scene,
    Down the ill-organ'd engines fall;
Off fly the vizards, and discover all:
      How plain I see through the deceit!
      How shallow, and how gross, the cheat!
  Look where the pulley's tied above!
  Great God! (said I) what have I seen!
      On what poor engines move
The thoughts of monarchs and designs of states!
  What petty motives rule their fates!
How the mouse makes the mighty mountains shake!
The mighty mountain labours with its birth,
  Away the frighten'd peasants fly,
  Scared at the unheard-of prodigy,
Expect some great gigantic son of earth;
        Lo! it appears!
  See how they tremble! how they quake!
Out starts the little beast, and mocks their idle fears.


VIII

  Then tell, dear favourite Muse!
  What serpent's that which still resorts,
  Still lurks in palaces and courts?
    Take thy unwonted flight,
    And on the terrace light.
      See where she lies!
    See how she rears her head,
    And rolls about her dreadful eyes,
To drive all virtue out, or look it dead!
'Twas sure this basilisk sent Temple thence,
And though as some ('tis said) for their defence
    Have worn a casement o'er their skin,
      So wore he his within,
Made up of virtue and transparent innocence;
    And though he oft renew'd the fight,
And almost got priority of sight,
    He ne'er could overcome her quite,
In pieces cut, the viper still did reunite;
    Till, at last, tired with loss of time and ease,
Resolved to give himself, as well as country, peace.


IX

Sing, beloved Muse! the pleasures of retreat,
And in some untouch'd virgin strain,
Show the delights thy sister Nature yields;
Sing of thy vales, sing of thy woods, sing of thy fields;
        Go, publish o'er the plain
    How mighty a proselyte you gain!
How noble a reprisal on the great!
      How is the Muse luxuriant grown!
        Whene'er she takes this flight,
        She soars clear out of sight.
These are the paradises of her own:
      Thy Pegasus, like an unruly horse,
        Though ne'er so gently led,
To the loved pastures where he used to feed,
Runs violent o'er his usual course.
    Wake from thy wanton dreams,
      Come from thy dear-loved streams,
    The crooked paths of wandering Thames.
        Fain the fair nymph would stay,
      Oft she looks back in vain,
    Oft 'gainst her fountain does complain,
      And softly steals in many windings down,
      As loth to see the hated court and town;
And murmurs as she glides away.


X

    In this new happy scene
  Are nobler subjects for your learned pen;
    Here we expect from you
More than your predecessor Adam knew;
Whatever moves our wonder, or our sport,
Whatever serves for innocent emblems of the court;
    How that which we a kernel see,
(Whose well-compacted forms escape the light,
  Unpierced by the blunt rays of sight,)
    Shall ere long grow into a tree;
Whence takes it its increase, and whence its birth,
Or from the sun, or from the air, or from the earth,
    Where all the fruitful atoms lie;
  How some go downward to the root,
    Some more ambitious upwards fly,
  And form the leaves, the branches, and the fruit.
You strove to cultivate a barren court in vain,
Your garden's better worth your nobler pain,
Here mankind fell, and hence must rise again.


XI

Shall I believe a spirit so divine
      Was cast in the same mould with mine?
Why then does Nature so unjustly share
Among her elder sons the whole estate,
      And all her jewels and her plate?
Poor we! cadets of Heaven, not worth her care,
Take up at best with lumber and the leavings of a fare:
      Some she binds 'prentice to the spade,
      Some to the drudgery of a trade:
Some she does to Egyptian bondage draw,
Bids us make bricks, yet sends us to look out for straw:
      Some she condemns for life to try
To dig the leaden mines of deep philosophy:
Me she has to the Muse's galleys tied:
In vain I strive to cross the spacious main,
    In vain I tug and pull the oar;
    And when I almost reach the shore,
Straight the Muse turns the helm, and I launch out again:
      And yet, to feed my pride,
Whene'er I mourn, stops my complaining breath,
With promise of a mad reversion after death.


XII

Then, Sir, accept this worthless verse,
  The tribute of an humble Muse,
'Tis all the portion of my niggard stars;
  Nature the hidden spark did at my birth infuse,
And kindled first with indolence and ease;
    And since too oft debauch'd by praise,
'Tis now grown an incurable disease:
In vain to quench this foolish fire I try
    In wisdom and philosophy:
    In vain all wholesome herbs I sow,
      Where nought but weeds will grow
Whate'er I plant (like corn on barren earth)
      By an equivocal birth,
    Seeds, and runs up to poetry.

[Footnote 2: Sir William Temple was ambassador to the States of Holland,
and had a principal share in the negotiations which preceded the treaty
of Nimeguen, 1679.]

 


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