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Edward Farr, ed.  Select Poetry of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth.  1845.
 
The Immortality of the Soul
VII. Sir John Davies
 
        
Proved by Several Reasons:
1st, The Desire of Knowledge; 2nd, The Motion of the Soul; 3rd, From Contempt of Death in the righteous; 4th, From Fear of Death in the wicked; and 5th, From the General Desire of Immortality.

HER 1 onely end is neuer-ending blisse,
  Which is th’ eternall face of God to see;
Who last of ends, and first of causes is:
  And to do this, she must eternall bee.
 
How senselesse then, and dead a soule hath hee,        5
  Which thinks his soule doth with his body dye;
Or thinks not so, but so would haue it bee,
  That he might sinne with more securitie!
 
For though these light and vicious persons say,
  “Our soule is but a smoke, or aiery blast,        10
Which during life doth in her nostrils play,
  And when we die, doth turne to wind at last:”
 
Although they say, “Come, let vs eat and drinke;
  Our life is but a sparke which quickly dyes:”
Though thus they say, they know not what to thinke,        15
  But in their minds ten thousand doubts arise.
 
Therefore no heretikes desire to spread
  Their light opinions, like these Epicures;
For so their staggering thoughts are comforted,
  And other men’s assent their doubt assures.        20
 
Yet though these men against their conscience striue,
  There are some sparkles in their flintie breasts,
Which cannot be extinct, but still reuiue;
  That, though they would, they cannot quite be beasts.
 
But whoso makes a mirror of his mind,        25
  And doth with patience view himselfe therein,
His soule’s eternity shall cleerly find,
  Though th’ other beauties be defac’t with sinne.
 
First, in man’s minde we find an appetite
  To learne and know the truth of euerie thing,        30
Which is connaturall and borne with it,
  And from the Essence of the Soule doth spring.
 
With this desire shee hath a natiue might
  To find out euerie truth, if she had time;
Th’ innumerable effectes to sort aright,        35
  And by degrees from cause to cause to clime.
 
But since our life so fast away doth slide,
  As doth a hungry eagle through the wind,
Or as a ship transported with the tide,
  Which in their passage leaue no print behind:        40
 
Of which swift litle time so much we spend,
  While some few things we through the sense do straine,
That our short race of life is at an end,
  Ere we the principles of skill attaine:
 
Or God (which to vaine ends hath nothing done)        45
  In vaine this appetite and pow’r hath giuen;
Or else our knowledge, which is here begon,
  Hereafter must bee perfected in heauen.
 
God neuer gave a pow’r to one whole kind,
  But most part of that kinde did vse the same;        50
Most eyes haue perfect sight, though some be blind;
  Most leggs can nymbly run, though some be lame.
 
But in this life no soule the truth can know
  So perfectly, as it hath pow’r to doe:
If then perfection be not found below,        55
  An higher place must make her mount thereto.
 
Againe, how can shee but immortall bee,
  When with the motions of both will and wit
She still aspireth to eternitie,
  And neuer rests till shee attaine to it?        60
 
Water in conduit-pipes can rise no higher
  Than the well-head from whence it first doth spring:
Then since to eternall God she doth aspire,
  Shee cannot be but an eternall thing.
 
All mouing things to other things do moue        65
  Of the same kind, which shewes their nature such:
So earth fals downe, and fire doth mount aboue,
  Till both their proper elements do touch.
 
And as the moysture which the thirstie earth
  Suckes from the sea to fill her emptie veines,        70
From out her wombe at last doth take a birth,
  And runnes a nymph along the grassie plaines:
 
Long doth shee stay, as loath to leaue the land,
  From whose soft side she first did issue make:
Shee tastes all places, turnes to euery hand,        75
  Her flowrie bankes vnwilling to forsake;
 
Yet Nature so her streames doth leade and carry,
  As that her course doth make no finall stay,
Till she herselfe vnto the ocean marry,
  Within whose watry bosome first she lay:        80
 
Euen so the soule, which in this earthly mold
  The Spirit of God doth secretlie infuse,
Because at first she doth the earth behould,
  And onely this materiall world she viewes;
 
At first our mother-earth shee holdeth dere,        85
  And doth embrace the world and worldly things;
Shee flyes close by the ground, and houers here,
  And mounts not vp with her celestiall wings:
 
Yet vnder heauen shee cannot light on ought
  That with her heauenly nature doth agree;        90
She cannot rest, she cannot fixe her thought,
  She cannot in this world contented bee.
 
For who did euer yet in honor, wealth,
  Or pleasure of the sense, contentment find?
Who euer ceasd to wish, when he had health?        95
  Or hauing wisedome, was not vext in mind?
 
Then as a bee, which among weeds doth fall,
  Which seeme sweet floures, with lustre fresh and gay,
She lights on that, and this, and tasteth all,
  But pleasd with none, doth rise and sore away:        100
 
So, when the soule finds here no true content,
  And, like Noah’s doue, can no sure footing take,
She doth returne from whence she first was sent,
  And flyes to him that first her wings did make.
 
Wit, seeking truth, from cause to cause ascends,        105
  And neuer rests, till it the first attaine:
Will, seeking good, finds many middle ends,
  But neuer stayes, till it the last do gaine.
 
Now God the Truth, and first of Causes is;
  God is the last good end, which lasteth still;        110
Being Alpha and Omega nam’d for this,
  Alpha to wit, Omega to the will.
 
Sith then her heauenly kind shee doth bewray,
  In that to God she doth directly moue,
And on no mortall thing can make her stay,        115
  Shee cannot be from hence, but from aboue.
 
And yet this first true Cause, and last good End,
  She cannot heere so well and truly see:
For this perfection she must yet attend,
  Till to her Maker shee espoused bee.        120
 
As a King’s daughter, being in person sought
  Of diuerse princes, which doe neighbour neare,
On none of them can fixe a constant thought,
  Though shee to all doe lend a gentle eare;
 
Yet can she loue a forraine Emperour,        125
  Whom of great worth and powre she heares to be,
If she be woo’d but by embassadour,
  Or but his letters, or his pictures see;
 
For well she knowes that when she shal be brought
  Into the kingdome where her Spouse doth raigne,        130
Her eyes shall see what shee conceiu’d in thought,
  Himselfe, his state, his glorie, and his traine:
 
So while the virgin Soule on earth doth stay,
  Shee woo’d and tempted is ten thousand wayes
By these great powers, which on the earth beare sway,        135
  The wisdome of the world, wealth, pleasure, praise:
 
With these sometime she doth her time beguile,
  These do by fits her phantasie possesse;
But she distasts them all within a while,
  And in the sweetest finds a tediousnesse:        140
 
But if vpon the world’s Almightie King
  She once doe fixe her humble louing thought,
Who by his picture drawne in euery thing,
  And sacred messages, her loue hath sought;
 
Of him she thinks she cannot thinke too much;        145
  This hony tasted, still is euer sweete;
The pleasure of her rauisht thought is such,
  As almost here she with her blisse doth meete.
 
But when in heauen she shall his Essence see,
  This is her soueraigne good and perfect blisse;        150
Her longings, wishings, hopes, all finisht bee,
  Her ioyes are full, her motions rest in this:
 
There is she crownd with garlands of content;
  There doth shee manna eate and nectar drinke;
That presence doth such high delights present,        155
  As neuer tongue could speake, nor hart could thinke.
 
For this, the better soules do oft despise
  The bodie’s death, and doe it oft desire;
For when on ground the burthened ballance lyes,
  The emptie part is lifted vp the higher.        160
 
But if the bodie’s death the Soule should kill,
  Then death must needs against her nature bee;
And were it so, all soules would flie it still,
  For Nature hates and shunnes her contrarie:
 
For all things else, which Nature makes to bee,        165
  Their being to preserue are chiefly taught;
And though some things desire a chaunge to see,
  Yet neuer thing did long to turne to nought.
 
If then by death the Soule were quenched quite,
  She could not thus against her nature runne,        170
Since euery senselesse thing, by Nature’s light,
  Doth presentation seeke, destruction shunne.
 
Nor could the world’s best spirits so much erre,
  If death tooke all, that they should all agree
Before this life their honor to preferre;        175
  For what is praise to things that nothing bee?
 
Againe, if by the bodie’s prop shee stand;
  If on the bodie’s life her life depend,
As Meleager’s on the fatall brand,
  The bodie’s good she onely would intend:        180
 
We should not find her halfe so braue and bold,
  To leade it to the warres, and to the seas,
To make it suffer watchings, hunger, cold,
  When it might feed with plentie, rest with ease.
 
Doubtlesse all soules haue a suruiuing thought;        185
  Therefore of death we thinke with quiet mind:
But if we thinke of being turn’d to nought,
  A trembling horror in our soules we find.
 
And as the better spirit, when she doth beare
  A scorne of death, doth shew she cannot dye;        190
So when the wicked Soule death’s face doth feare,
  Euen then she proues her owne eternity.
 
For when Death’s forme appeares, she feareth not
  An vtter quenching or extinguishment;
She would be glad to meete with such a lot,        195
  That so shee might all future ill preuent.
 
But she doth doubt what after may befall;
  For Nature’s law accuseth her within,
And saith, Tis true that is affirm’d by all,
  That after death there is a paine for sinne.        200
 
Then she which hath bene hudwinckt from her birth,
  Doth first herselfe within Death’s mirrour see;
And when her bodie doth returne to earth,
  She first takes care how she alone shal be.
 
Who euer sees these irreligious men        205
  With burthen of a sicknessse weake and faint,
But heares them talking of religion then,
  And vowing of their soules to euery saint?
 
When was there euer cursed atheist brought
  Vnto the gibbet, but he did adore        210
That blessed Power, which he had set at nought,
  Scorn’d and blasphemed all his life before?
 
These light vaine persons still are drunke and mad
  With surfettings and pleasures of their youth;
But at their deaths they are fresh, sober, sad;        215
  Then they discerne, and then they speake the truth.
 
If then all soules, both good and bad, do teach,
  With generall voyce, that soules can neuer dye;
’Tis not man’s flatt’ring glose, but Nature’s speach,
  Which, like God’s oracle, can neuer lye.        220
 
Hence springs that vniuersal strong desire,
  Which all men haue, of Immortalitie:
Not some few spirits vnto this thought aspire,
  But all men’s minds in this vnited bee.
 
Then this desire of Nature is not vaine;        225
  She couets not impossibilities:
Fond thoughts may fall into some idle braine,
  But one assent of all is euer wise.
 
From hence that generall care and studie springs,
  That launching and progression of the mind,        230
Which all men haue so much of future things,
  As they no joy doe in the present find.
 
From this desire that maine desire proceeds,
  Which all men haue suruiuing fame to gaine,
By tombes, by bookes, by memorable deedes;        235
  For she that this desires doth still remaine.
 
Hence, lastly, springs care of posterities;
  For things their kind would euerlasting make:
Hence is it that old men doe plant young trees,
  The fruit whereof another age shall take.        240
 
If we these rules vnto ourselues apply,
  And view them by reflection of the mind,
All these true notes of immortalitie
  In our hearts’ tables we shall written find.
 
And though some impious wits do questions moue,        245
  And doubt if soules immortal be, or no;
That doubt their immortalitie doth proue,
  Because they seeme immortal things to know.
 
For he which reasons on both parts doth bring,
  Doth some things mortal, some immortal call:        250
Now, if himselfe were but a mortall thing,
  He could not iudge immortall things at all.
 
For when we iudge, our minds wee mirrours make;
  And as those glasses which material bee,
Formes of materiall things do onely take;        255
  For thoughts or minds in them we cannot see;
 
So when wee God and angels do conceive,
  And think of truth, which is eternal too,
Then doe our minds immortal forms receive,
  Which, if they mortal were, they could not doo.        260
 
And as, if beasts conceived what reason were,
  And that conception should distinctly shew,
They should the name of reasonable beare;
  For without reason none could reason know;
 
So when the Soule mounts with so high a wing,        265
  As of eternal things she doubts can moue,
She proofes of her eternity doth bring,
  Ev’n when she strives the contrary to prove.
 
For ev’n the thought of immortality,
  Being an act done without the bodie’s aid,        270
Shews that herself alone could moue and bee,
  Although the body in the graue were laid.
 
Note 1. VII. Sir John Davies.—An eminent lawyer, he was born in 1570, and died in 1620. His “Nosce Teipsum, or The Soul of Man and the Immortality thereof,” from which the extracts in this volume are taken, first appeared in 1599, and it was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth. [back]
 
 
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