Verse > Anthologies > Edward Farr, comp. > Elizabethan Poetry
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Edward Farr, ed.  Select Poetry of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth.  1845.
 
False and True Knowledge
VII. Sir John Davies
 
WHY did my parents send me to the schooles,
  That I with knowledge might enrich my mind,
Since the desire to know first made men fooles,
  And did corrupt the roote of all mankind?
 
For when God’s hand had written in the harts        5
  Of the first parents all the rules of good,
So that their skill enfusd did passe all arts
  That euer were, before or since the flood;
 
And when their reason’s eye was sharpe and cleere,
  And, as an eagle can behold the sunne,        10
Could haue approch’t th’ eternall light as neere
  As the intellectual angels could haue done;
 
Euen then to them the spirit of lies suggests,
  That they were blind, because they saw not ill,
And breathes into their incorrupted breasts        15
  A curious wish, which did corrupt their will.
 
For that same ill they straight desir’d to know;
  Which ill, being nought but a defect of good,
In all God’s works the diuell could not shew,
  While man, their lord, in his perfection stood:        20
 
So that themselues were first to do the ill,
  Ere they thereof the knowledge could attaine;
Like him that knew not poison’s power to kill,
  Vntill, by tasting it, himselfe was slaine.
 
Euen so, by tasting of that fruite forbid,        25
  Where they sought knowledge, they did error find;
Ill they desir’d to know, and ill they did;
  And, to giue Passion eyes, made Reason blind:
 
For then their minds did first in Passion see
  Those wretched shapes of miserie and woe,        30
Of nakednesse, of shame, of pouertie,
  Which then their owne experience made them know.
 
But then grew Reason darke, that she no more
  Could the faire formes of Good and Truth discerne:
Battes they became, who eagles were before;        35
  And this they got by their desire to learne.
 
But we, their wretched offspring, what do we?
  Doe not wee still tast of the fruite forbid,
Whiles, with fond fruitlesse curiositie,
  In bookes prophane we seeke for knowledge hid?        40
 
What is this knowledge but the skie-stolne fire,
  For which the thiefe 1 still chain’d in ice doth sit,
And which the poore rude satyre 2 did admire,
  And needs would kisse, but burnt his lips with it?
 
What is it but the cloud of emptie raine,        45
  Which when Ioue’s guest 3 imbrac’t, he monsters got?
Or the false pailes, 4 which, oft being fild with paine,
  Receiu’d the water, but retain’d it not?
 
Shortly, what is it but the fierie coach,
  Which the youth 5 sought, and sought his death withall?        50
Or the boye’s 6 wings, which, when he did approch
  The sunne’s hote beames, did melt and let him fall?
 
And yet, alas! when all our lampes are burnd,
  Our bodies wasted, and our spirits spent;
When we haue all the learned volumes turnd,        55
  Which yeeld men’s wits both helpe and ornament;
 
What can we know, or what can we discerne,
  When error chokes the windowes of the minde?
The diuers formes of things how can we learne,
  That haue bene euer from our birth-day blind?        60
 
When Reason’s lampe, which, like the sunne in skie,
  Throughout man’s litle world her beames did spread,
Is now become a sparkle, which doth lie
  Vnder the ashes, halfe extinct and dead;
 
How can we hope that through the eye and eare        65
  This dying sparkle, in this cloudie place,
Can recollect these beames of knowledge cleare,
  Which were enfus’d in the first minds by grace?
 
So might the heire, whose father hath in play
  Wasted a thousand pound of auncient rent,        70
By painefull earning of one grote a day,
  Hope to restore the patrimonie spent.
 
The wits that div’d most deepe and soar’d most hie,
  Seeking man’s pow’rs, haue found his weaknes such:
Skill comes so slow, and life so fast doth flie;        75
  We learne so litle, and forget so much:
 
For this the wisest of all morall men
  Said, he knew nought, but that he nought did know;
And the great mocking maister mockt not then,
  When he said, Truth was buried deepe below.        80
 
For how may we to other things attaine,
  When none of vs his own soule vnderstands?
For which the diuell mockes our curious braine,
  When, Know thyselfe, his oracle commands.
 
For why should we the busie soule beleeue,        85
  When boldly she concludes of that and this,
When of herselfe she can no iudgment geue,
  Nor how, nor whence, nor where, nor what she is?
 
All things without, which round about we see,
  We seeke to know, and how therewith to do:        90
But that whereby we reason, liue, and be,
  Within ourselves, we strangers are thereto.
 
We seeke to know the mouing of each spheare,
  And the straunge cause of th’ ebbs and flouds of Nile;
But of that clocke within our breasts we beare,        95
  The subtill motions we forget the while.
 
We that acquaint ourselues with euery zoane,
  And pass both tropikes, and behold both poles,
When we come home, are to ourselues vnknowne,
  And vnacquainted still with our own soules.        100
 
We studie speech, but others we perswade;
  We leech-craft learne, but others cure with it;
We interpret lawes which other men haue made,
  But reade not those which in our harts are writ.
 
It is because the minde is like the eye,        105
  Through which it gathers knowledge by degrees;
Whose rayes reflect not, but spread outwardly;
  Not seeing itselfe, when other things it sees.
 
No, doubtlesse: for the minde can backward cast
  Vpon herself her vnderstanding light;        110
But she is so corrupt, and so defac’t,
  And her owne image doth herselfe affright:
 
As is the fable of the ladie faire,
  Which for her lust was turn’d into a cow;
When thirstie to a streame she did repaire,        115
  And saw herselfe transform’d, she wist not how,
 
At first she startles, then she stands amaz’d;
  At last with terror she from thence doth flie,
And loathes the watrie glasse wherein she gaz’d,
  And shunnes it still, though she for thirst do die.        120
 
Euen so man’s soule, which did God’s image beare,
  And was at first faire, good, and spotlesse pure,
Since with her sinnes her beauties blotted were,
  Doth of all sights her owne sight least endure:
 
For euen at first reflection she espies        125
  Such strange chymeras, and such monsters there,
Such toyes, such antikes, and such vanities,
  As she retires and shrinkes for shame and feare.
 
And as the man loues least at home to bee,
  That hath a sluttish house, haunted with sprites;        130
So she, impatient her owne faults to see,
  Turnes from herselfe, and in strange things delites.
 
For this, few know themselues: for merchants broke
  View their estate with discontent and paine;
And seas are troubled, when they doe reuoke        135
  Their flowing waues into themselues againe.
 
And while the face of outward things we find
  Pleasing and faire, agreeable and sweete,
These things transport, and carrie out the mind,
  That with herselfe herselfe can neuer meete.        140
 
Yet if Affliction once her warres begin,
  And threat the feeble Sense with sword and fire,
The minde contracts herselfe, and shrinketh in,
  And to herselfe she gladly doth retire;
 
As spiders toucht seeke their web’s inmost part;        145
  As bees in stormes vnto their hiues returne;
As bloud in danger gathers to the hart;
  As men seek towns, when foes the country burne.
 
If ought can teach vs ought, Affliction’s lookes,
  Making vs looke vnto ourselues so neare,        150
Teach vs to know ourselues beyond all bookes,
  Or all the learned schooles that euer were.
 
This mistresse lately pluckt me by the eare,
  And many a golden lesson hath me taught;
Hath made my senses quicke, and reason cleare,        155
  Reformd my will, and rectifide my thought.
 
So do the winds and thunder cleanse the ayre;
  So working leas settle and purge the wine;
So lopt and pruned trees doe florish faire;
  So doth the fire the drossie gold refine.        160
 
Neither Minerua, nor the learned Muse,
  Nor rules of art, nor precepts of the wise,
Could in my braine those beames of skill enfuse,
  As but the glaunce of this dame’s angrie eyes.
 
Shee within listes my raunging mind hath brought,        165
  That now beyond myselfe I will not go:
Myselfe am center of my circling thought,
  Onely myselfe I studie, learne, and know.
 
I know my body’s of so fraile a kinde,
  As force without, feauers within can kill:        170
I know the heauenly nature of my minde,
  But ’tis corrupted both in wit and will.
 
I know my soule hath power to know all things,
  Yet is she blinde and ignorant in all:
I know I am one of Nature’s litle kings,        175
  Yet to the least and vilest things am thrall.
 
I know my life’s a paine, and but a span;
  I know my sense is mockt with euery thing;
And, to conclude, I know myselfe a man,
  Which is a proud, and yet a wretched thing.        180
 
Note 1. Prometheus. [back]
Note 2. See Æsop’s Fables. [back]
Note 3. Ixion. [back]
Note 4. Of the Danaïdes. [back]
Note 5. Phaëton. [back]
Note 6. Icarus. [back]
 
 
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