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.
 
A Description of Justice
VII. Giles Fletcher
 
BUT 1 Justice had no sooner Mercy seen,
Smoothing the wrinkles of her Father’s brow,
But up she starts and throwes herself between:
As when a vapour from a moory slough,
Meeting with fresh Eoüs, that but now        5
  Open’d the world, which all in darknesse lay,
  Doth heaven’s bright face of his rayes disarray,
And sads the smiling orient of the springing day.
 
She was a virgin of austere regard,
Not as the world esteemes her, deaf and blinde,        10
But as the eagle, that hath oft compar’d
Her eye with heav’n’s, so, and more brightly shin’d
Her lamping sight; for she the same could wind
  Into the solid heart, and with her eares
  The silence of the thought loud speaking heares,        15
And in one hand a pair of even scoals she weares.
 
No riot of affection revell kept
Within her breast, but a still apathy
Possessed all her soul, which softly slept
Securely without tempest—no sad crie        20
Awakes her pitie, but wrong’d Povertie,
  Sending his eyes to heav’n swimming in teares,
  With hideous clamours ever struck her eares,
Whetting the blazing sword that in her hand she beares.
 
The winged lightning is her Mercury,        25
And round about her mightie thunders sound:
Impatient of himself, lies pining by
Pale Sickness, with his kercher’d head upwound,
And thousand noisome plagues attend her round;
  But if her clowdie brow but once grow foul,        30
  The flints do melt, and rocks to water rowl,
And airie mountains shake, and frighted shadows howl.
 
Famine, and bloodies Care, and bloodie war,
Want, and the want of knowledge how to use,
Abundance, Age, and Fear, that runnes afarre        35
Before his fellow Grief, that aye pursues
His winged steps; for who would not refuse
  Grief’s companie, a dull and rawbon’d spright,
  That lanks the cheeks, and pales the freshest sight,
Unbosoming the cheerefull breast of all delight.        40
 
Before this cursed throng goes Ignorance,
That needs will leade the way he cannot see:
And, after all, Death doth his flag advance,
And, in the midst, Strife still would roguing be,
Whose ragged flesh and cloaths did well agree;        45
  And round about amazed Horror flies,
  And, over all, Shame veils his guiltie eyes,
And underneath Hell’s hungrie throat still yawning lies.
 
Upon two stonie tables, spread before her,
She lean’d her bosome, more than stonie hard;        50
There slept th’ unpartiall judge, and strict restorer
Of wrong or right, with pain or with reward;
There hung the score of all our debts, the card
  Where good and bad, and life and death, were painted:
  Was never heart of mortall so untainted,        55
But when that scroul was read, with thousand terrors fainted.
 
Witness the thunder that mount Sinai heard,
When all the hill with fierie clouds did flame,
And wand’ring Israel, with the sight afeard,
Blinded with seeing, durst not touch the same,        60
But like a wood of shaking leaves became.
  On this dread Justice, she, the living law,
  Bowing herself, with a majestique awe,
All heaven, to heare her speech, did into silence draw.
 
Dread Lord of spirits, well thou didst devise        65
To fling the world’s rude dunghill, and the drosse
Of the old Chaos, furthest from the skies,
And thine own seat, that heare the childe of losse,
Of all the lower heav’n the curse and crosse;
  That wretch, beast, caytive, monster—man, might spend,        70
  (Proud of the mire, in which his soul is pend)
Clodded in lumps of clay, his wearie life to end.
 
His bodie dust—where grew such cause of pride?
His soul thy image—what could he envie?
Himself most happie, if he so would bide:        75
Now grown most wretched, who can remedie?
He slew himself, himself the enemie.
  That his own soul would her own murder wreak,—
  If I were silent, heaven and earth would speak:
And, if all fail’d, these stones would into clamours break.        80
 
How many darts made furrows in his side,
When she, that out of his own side was made,
Gave feathers to their flight! where was the pride
Of their new knowledge? whither did it fade,
When, running from thy voice into the shade,        85
  He fled thy sight, himself of sight bereav’d;
  And for his shield a leavie armour weav’d,
With which, vain man, he thought, God’s eies to have deceiv’d?
 
And well he might delude those eies, that see
And judge by colours: for who ever saw        90
A man of leaves, a reasonable tree?
But those that from this stock their life did draw,
Soon made their father godly, and by law
  Proclaimed trees almighty: gods of wood,
  Of stocks, and stones, with crowns of laurell stood        95
Templed, and fed by fathers with their children’s bloud.
 
The sparkling fanes, that burn in beaten gold,
And, like the starres of heaven in midst of night,
Black Egypt as her mirrours, doth behold,
Are but the dens where idol-snakes delight        100
Again to cover Satan from their sight:
  Yet these are all their gods, to whom they vie
  The crocodile, the cock, the rat, the flie—
Fit gods, indeed, for such men to be served by.
 
The fire, the winde, the sea, the sunne and moon,        105
The flitting aire, and the swift-winged houres,
And all the watchmen, that so nimbly runne
And sentinel about the walled towers
Of the world’s citie in their heav’nly bowrs;
  And, lest their pleasant gods should want delight,        110
  Neptune spues out the lady Aphrodite,
And but in heav’n proud Juno’s peacocks scorn to lite.
 
The senselesse earth, the serpent, dog, and cat,
And, worse than all these, man, and worst of men,
Usurping Jove, and swilling Bacchus fat,        115
And drunk with the vine’s purple bloud, and then
The fiend himself they conjure from his den,
  Because he onely yet remain’d to be
  Worse than the worst of men—they flee from thee,
And weare his altar-stones out with their pliant knee.        120
 
All that he speaks (and all he speaks are lies)
Are oracles; ’tis he (that wounded all)
Cures all their wounds; he (that puts out their eyes)
That gives them light; he (that death first did call
Into the world) that with his orizall        125
  Inspirits earth: he Heav’n’s alseeing eye,
  In earth’s great prophet, he, whom rest doth flie,
That on salt billows doth, as pillows, sleeping lie.
 
But let him in his cabin restlesse rest,
The dungeon of dark flames, and freezing fire,        130
Justice in heav’n against man makes request
To God, and of his angels doth require
Sinne’s punishment: if what I did desire,
  Or who, or against whom, or why or where,
  Of, or before whom ignorant I were,        135
Then should my speech their sands of sins to mountains reare.
 
Were not the heav’ns pure, in whose courts I sue;
The Judge to whom I sue, just to requite him;
The cause for sinne, the punishment most due;
Justice herself the plaintiffe to endite him;        140
The angels holy, before whom I cite him;
  He against whom, wicked, unjust, impure;—
  Then might he sinfull live, and die secure,
Or triall might escape, or triall might endure.
 
The judge might partiall be, and over-prayed;        145
The place appeal’d from, in whose courts he sues;
The fault excus’d, or punishment delay’d,
The parties self-accus’d, that did accuse;
Angels for pardon might their prayers use:
  But now no starre can shine, no hope be got.        150
  Most wretched creature, if he knew his lot,—
And yet more wretched farre because he knowes it not.
 
What should I tell how barren earth is grown
All for to starve her children? didst not thou
Water with heav’nly showers her wombe unsown,        155
And drop down clouds of flow’rs—didst not thou bowe
Thine easie ear unto the plowman’s vow—
  Long might he look, and look, and look in vain,
  Might load his harvest in an empty wain,
And beat the woods, to finde the poor oak’s hungry grain.        160
 
The swelling sea seethes in his angry waves,
And smites the earth, that dares the traitors nourish;
Yet oft his thunder their light cork outbraves,
Mowing the mountains, on whose temples flourish
Whole woods of garlands; and their pride to cherish,        165
  Plowe through the seas green fields, and nets display,
  To catch the flying windes, and steal away,
Cooz’ning the greedie sea, pris’ning their nimble prey.
 
How often have I seen the waving pine,
Tost on a waterie mountain, knock his head        170
At heav’n’s too patient gates, and with salt brine
Quench the moon’s burning horns; and safely fled
From heav’n’s revenge, her passengers, all dead
  With stiffe astonishment, tumble to hell!
  How oft the sea all earth would overswell,        175
Did not thy sandie girdle binde the mightie swell.
 
Would not the aire be filld with streams of death,
To poison the quick rivers of their blood,
Did not thy windes fan, with their panting breath,
The flitting region? would not th’ hastie flood        180
Emptie itself into the sea’s wide wood,
  Didst not thou leade it wandring from his way,
  To give men drink, and make his waters stray,
To fresh the flowrie medows, through whose fields they play?
 
Who makes the sources of the silver fountains        185
From the flint’s mouth and rockie valleys slide,
Thickning the airie bowels of the mountains?
Who hath the wilde heards of the forrest tide
In their cold dens, making them hungry bide
  Till man to rest be laid? can beastly he        190
  That should have most sense, onely senseles be,
And all things else, beside himself, so awfull see?
 
Were he not wilder than the savage beast,
Prouder than haughty hills, harder than rocks,
Colder than fountains from their springs releast,        195
Lighter than aire, blinder than senseles stocks,
More changing then the river’s curling locks,—
  If reason would not, sense would soon reprove him,
  And unto shame, if not to sorrow, move him,
To see cold flouds, wilde beasts, dull stocks, hard stones, outlove him.        200
 
Under the weight of sinne the earth did fall,
And swallowed Dathan; and the raging winde,
And stormie sea, and gaping whale, did call
For Jonas; and the aire did bullets finde,
And shot from heav’n a stony showre, to grinde        205
  The five proud kings, that for their idols fought;
  The sunne itself stood still to fight it out,
And fire from heav’n flew down, when sinne to heav’n did shout.
 
Should any to himself for safety flie?
The way to save himself, if any were,        210
Were to fly from himself: should he relie
Upon the promise of his wife? but there
What can he see, but that he most may fear,
  A siren, sweet to death? upon his friends?
  Who that he needs, or that he hath not, lends;        215
Or wanting aid himself, aid to another sends?
 
His strength? but dust: his pleasure? cause of pain:
His hope? false courtier: youth or beauty? brittle:
Intreatie? fond: repentance? late and vain:
Just recompence? the world were all too little:        220
Thy love? he hath no title to a tittle:
  Hell’s force? in vain her furies hell shall gather:
  His servants, kinsmen, or his children rather?
His childe, if good, shall judge; if bad, shall curse his father.
 
His life? that brings him to his end, and leaves him:        225
His end? that leaves him to begin his wo:
His goods? what good in that, that so deceives him?
His gods of wood? their feet, alas! are slow
That go to help, that must be helpt to go:
  Honour? great worth? ah, little worth they be        230
  Unto their owners: wit? that makes him see
He wanted wit, that thought he had it, wanting thee.
 
The sea to drink him quick? that casts his dead:
Angels to spare? they punish: night to hide?
The world shall burn in light: the heav’ns to spread        235
Their wings to save him? heav’n itself shall slide,
And rowl away like melting starres, that glide
  Along their oylie threeds: his minde pursues him:
  His house to shrowd, or hills to fall, and bruise him?
As seargeants both attache, and witnesses accuse him.        240
 
What need I urge—what they must needs confesse—
Sentence on them, condemn’d by their own lust?
I crave no more, and thou canst give no lesse,
Than death to dead men, justice to unjust;
Shame to most shamefull, and most shameles dust:        245
  But if thy Mercy needs will spare her friends,
  Let Mercy there begin, where Justice ends.
’Tis cruell Mercy that the wrong from right defends.
 
She ended, and the heavenly hierarchies,
Burning in zeal, thickly imbranded 2 were;        250
Like to an armie that allarum cries,
And every one shakes his ydraded 3 speare,
And the Almightie’s self, as he would teare
  The Earth, and her firm basis quite in sunder,
  Flam’d all in just revenge, and mightie thunder;        255
Heav’n stole itself from Earth by clouds that moisten’d under.
 
Note 1. VII. Giles Fletcher.—This author was born in the city of London, about the year 1588. He was the son of Dr. Giles Fletcher, and nephew of Richard Fletcher, Bishop of London. He was educated at Westminster School, and at Trinity College, Cambridge. While at Cambridge, and apparently before he took his bachelor’s degree, Fletcher wrote his noble poem entitled “Christ’s Victorie;” the first edition of which appeared in 1610. About two years after he received ordination, and he subsequently became rector of Alderton in Suffolk, where he died about 1623. Mr. Willmott, in his “Lives of Sacred Poets,” justly remarks that this author “has not received the attention due to his genius, either from his contemporaries or from posterity.” “Christ’s Victorie” is, indeed, one of the finest religious poems in the English language. It consists of four cantos, and in every part his “golden phrases flie,” in a stream of “choicest rhetorie.” [back]
Note 2. Mustered in aims. [back]
Note 3. Dreaded, or terrific. [back]
 
 
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