Verse > Anthologies > Edward Farr, comp. > Jacobean Poetry
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Edward Farr, ed.  Select Poetry of the Reign of King James the First.  1847.
 
I Would and Would Not
VI. B. N.
 
I WOULD 1 I were a man of greatest power
That swaies a scepter on this world’s great masse,
That I might sit on toppe of pleasure’s tower,
And make my will my way, where ere I passe—
That law might have her being from my breath:        5
My smile might be a life, my frowne a death.
 
And yet I would not; for then doe I feare
Envy or malice would betray my trust,
And some vile spirit, though against the haire,
Would seeke to lay mine honor in the dust:        10
Treason or murther would beset me so,
I should not knowe who were my friend or foe.
 
No, I doe rather wish the lowe estate,
And be an honest man of meane degree;
Belov’d for good, and give no cause of hate,        15
And clime no higher than a hawthorne-tree;
Pay every man his owne, give reason right,
And worke all day, and take my rest at night.
 
For sure in courtes are worlds of costly cares,
That comber reason in his course of rest:        20
Let me but learne how thrift both spends and spares,
And make enough as good as any feast,
And fast and pray—my daies may have good end,
And welcome all that pleaseth God to send!
 
I would I were a player, and could act        25
As many parts as came upon a stage;
And in my braine could make a full compact
Of all that passeth betwixt youth and age;
That I might have five shares in every play,
And let them laugh that bear the bell away.        30
 
And yet I would not; for then doe I feare
If I should gall some gooscappe with my speech,
That he would fret and fume, and chafe and sweare,
As if some flea had bit him by the breech;
And in some passion, or strange agonie,        35
Disturbe both mee and all the companie.
 
I would I were a poet, and could write
The passage of this paltry world in rime;
And talke of warres and many a valiant fight,
And how the captaines did to honour clime;        40
Of wise and faire, of gratious, vertuous, kinde,
And of the bounty of a noble minde.
 
But speake but little of the life of love,
Because it is a thing so harde to finde:
And touch but little at the turtle-dove,        45
Seeing there are but few byrdes of that kinde:
And libell against lewde and wicked harts,
That on the earth do play the devill’s parts.
 
And yet I would not; for then would my braines
Be with a world of toyes intoxicate;        50
And I should fall upon a thousand vaines
Of this and that, and well I know not what:
When some would say, that saw my frantick fittes,
Surely the poet is beside his wittes.
 
I would I were a man of warlike might,        55
And had the title of a general,
To point the captaines every one their fight,
Where should the vanguard and the rereward fall:
Who should be leaders of the forlorne hope,
And who the entrance to the army ope.        60
 
And yet I would not; for then I might see
How discontent might cause a mutinie,
Whereby the army might in danger be
To be surprized by the enemie,
Or by the loss of men, for honor’s gaine,        65
To wound my conscience with a bloody paine.
 
No; I had rather praise the course of peace,
And study how to helpe to holde the same;
And how soone quarrels ill begun may cease,
And how to keepe accord in quiet frame:        70
That old and young may live contented so,
That to their graves may all in quiet goe.
 
I would I were an excellent divine,
That had the Bible at my fingers’ ends:
The world might heare out of this mouth of mine        75
How God did make his enemies his friends:
I were so follow’de as if none but I
Could plainely speake of true divinity.
 
And yet I would not; for then ten to one
I should be call’d but a precisian,        80
Or formalist; and might go preach alone
Unto my holy brother puritan;
And so be flouted for my zealous love,
In taking pains for other men’s behove.
 
No; I had rather read and understand        85
The rules of grace, that have the learned led
To know the power of the Almighty hand,
And with what foode the blessed flocke are fed;
Rather than with a thund’ring and long praier
To leade into presumption or despaire.        90
 
To tell you truely what I wish to be,
And never would be other, if I could,
But in the comfort of the heavens’ decree
In soule and body that I ever should—
Though in the world, not to the world to live,        95
But to my God my service wholly give.
 
This would I be, and would none other be,
But a religious servant of my God;
And know there is none other God but He,
And willingly to suffer mercy’s rod;        100
Joy in his grace, and live but in his love,
And seeke my blisse but in the heaven above.
 
And I would frame a kind of faithfull praier
For all estates within the state of grace;
That carefull love might never know despaire,        105
No servile feare might faithfull love deface:
And this would I both day and night devise,
To make my humble spirits exercise.
 
And I would read the rules of sacred life;
Perswade the troubled soule to patience;        110
The husband care, and comfort to the wife,
To childe and servant due obedience,
Faith to the friend, and to the neighbour peace;
That love might live, and quarrels all may cease.
 
Pray for the health of all that are diseased,        115
Confession unto all that are convicted,
And patience unto all that are displeased,
And comfort unto all that are afflicted,
And mercy unto all that have offended,
And grace to all, that all may be amended.        120
 
Flatter not folly with an idle faith,
Nor let earth stand upon her own desart;
But shewe what wisdome in the Scripture saith,
The fruitfull hand doth shew the faithfull heart;
Believe the word, and thereto bend thy will,        125
And teach obedience for a blessed skill.
 
Chide sinners as the father doth his childe,
And keepe them in the awe of loving feare;
Make sin most hatefull, but in words be milde,
That humble patience may the better heare;        130
And wounded conscience may receive reliefe,
When true repentance pleads the sinner’s griefe.
 
Yet flatter not the foul delight of sinne,
But make it loathsome in the eie of love,
And seeke the heart with holy thoughts to winne        135
Unto the best way to the soul’s behove:
So teach, so live, that both in word and deede
The world may joy thy heavenly rules to reade.
 
Heale the infect of sinne with oile of grace,
And wash the soule with true Contrition’s teares;        140
And when Confession shews her heavy case,
Deliver Faith from all infernal feares,
That when high Justice threatens sin with death,
Mercy again may give Repentance breath.
 
Thus would I spend in service of my God        145
The ling’ring howres of these few daies of mine,
To shew how sin and death are overtrod,
But by the vertue of the power divine;
Our thoughts but vaine, our substance slime and dust,
And only Christ for our eternal trust!        150
 
This would I be; and say ‘would not’ no more,
But only—not be otherwise than this:
All in effect, but, as I said before,
The life in that life’s kingdome’s love of His,
My glorious God, whose grace all comfort gives,        155
Than be on earth the greatest man that lives.
 
Note 1. VI. B. N.—In 1614, a small volume 4to was published, with the brief title of “I would and would not,” and the address to the reader is signed B. N., the inverted initials, it is supposed, of Nicholas Breton. The poem consists of 174 stanzas, and the volume of twenty-two leaves only. [back]
 
 
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