Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Restoration Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Restoration Verse.  1910.
 
To Mr. Hobbes
By Abraham Cowley (1618–1667)
 
          VAST bodies of philosophy
              I oft have seen, and read,
              But all are bodies dead,
          Or bodies by art fashioned;
I never yet the living soul could see,        5
              But in thy books and thee.
          ’Tis only God can know
Whether the fair idea thou dost show
Agree entirely with his own or no.
              This I dare boldly tell,        10
’Tis so like truth ’twill serve our turn as well.
Just, as in nature, thy proportions be,
As full of concord their variety,
As firm the parts upon their centre rest,
And all so solid are that they at least        15
As much as nature, emptiness detest.
 
Long did the mighty Stagirite 1 retain
The universal intellectual reign,
Saw his own country’s short-lived leopard slain; 2
The stronger Roman eagle did out-fly, 3        20
Oftener renewed his age, and saw that die.
Mecca 4 itself, in spite of Mahomet, possest,
And, chased by a wild deluge from the east,
His monarchy new planted in the west.
But as in time each great imperial race        25
Degenerates, and gives some new one place:
          So did this noble empire waste,
          Sunk by degrees from glories past,
And in the school-men’s hands it perished quite at last.
          Then nought but words it grew,        30
          And those all barbarous too.
        It perished, and it vanished there,
The life and soul breathed out, became but empty air.
 
The fields which answer’d well the ancients’ plough,
Spent and outworn return no harvest now,        35
In barren age wild and unglorious lie,
        And boast of past fertility,
The poor relief of present poverty.
      Food and fruit we now must want
          Unless new lands we plant.        40
We break up tombs with sacrilegious hands;
          Old rubbish we remove;
To walk in ruins, like vain ghosts, we love,
        And with fond divining wands 5
          We search among the dead        45
          For treasures burièd,
        Whilst still the liberal earth does hold
So many virgin mines of undiscovered gold.
 
The Baltic, Euxine, and the Caspian,
And slender-limbed Mediterranean, 6        50
Seem narrow creeks to thee, and only fit
For the poor wretched fisher-boats of wit.
Thy nobler vessel the vast ocean tries,
          And nothing sees but seas and skies,
          Till unknown regions it descries,        55
Thou great Columbus of the golden lands of new philosophies,
          Thy task was harder much than his,
          For thy learn’d America is
        Not only found out first by thee,
And rudely left to future industry;        60
    But thy eloquence and thy wit,
Has planted, peopled, built, and civilis’d it.
 
          I little thought before,
          (Nor being my own self so poor
          Could comprehend so vast a store)        65
      That all the wardrobe of rich eloquence,
          Could have afforded half enough,
          Of bright, of new, and lasting stuff,
To clothe the mighty limbs of thy gigantic sense.
Thy solid reason like the shield from heaven        70
          To the Trojan hero given,
Too strong to take a mark from any mortal dart,
Yet shines with gold and gems in every part,
And wonders on it graved by the learn’d hand of art;
          A shield that gives delight        75
          Even to the enemies’ sight,
Then, when they’re sure to lose the combat by ’t.
 
Nor can the snow which now cold age does shed
          Upon thy reverend head,
Quench or allay the noble fires within,        80
          But all which thou hast been,
          And all that youth can be thou’rt yet,
          So fully still dost thou
Enjoy the manhood, and the bloom of wit,
And all the natural heat, but not the fever too.        85
So contraries on Ætna’s top conspire;
Here hoary frosts, and by them breaks out fire.
A secure peace the faithful neighbours keep,
Th’ emboldened snow next to the flame does sleep.
          And if we weigh, like thee,        90
          Nature, and causes, we shall see
          That thus it needs must be,
To things immortal time can do no wrong,
And that which never is to die, for ever must be young.
 
Note 1. Stagirite: Aristotle, so called from the town of Stagira, where he was born, situated near the Bay of Strimon in Macedonia. [back]
Note 2. Saw his own country’s short-lived leopard slain: “Out-lasted the Græcian empire, which in the visions of Daniel, is represented by a Leopard with four wings upon the back, and four heads. Cf. Chap. vii. 6. (Grosart). [back]
Note 3. Stronger Roman eagle did out-fly: “Was received even beyond the bounds of the Roman Empire, and out-lived it.” (Grosart). [back]
Note 4. Mecha: the town in Arabia where Mahumet was born. [back]
Note 5. Divining wand: Virgula Divina, is a two-forked branch of an hazel-tree, which is used for the finding out either of veins, or hidden treasures of gold or silver; and being carried about, bends downwards (or rather is said to do so) when it comes to the place where they lie. (Grosart). [back]
Note 6. The Baltic, Euxine, and the Caspian, / And slender-limbed Mediterranean: The navigation of the ancients was confined to these seas, as they seldom ventured out into the ocean. [back]
 
 
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