Verse > Anthologies > George Willis Cooke, ed. > The Poets of Transcendentalism: An Anthology
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George Willis Cooke, comp.  The Poets of Transcendentalism: An Anthology.  1903.
 
Excellence
By Amos Bronson Alcott (1799–1888)
 
WHERE is that good, which wise men please to call
The chiefest? Doth any such befall
Within man’s reach? or is there such a good at all?
 
If such there be, it neither must expire
Nor change; than which there can be nothing higher:        5
Such good must be the utter point of man’s desire.
 
It is the mark to which all hearts must tend;
Can be desired for no other end
Than for itself, on which all other goods depend.
 
What may this excellence be? Doth it subsist        10
A real essence clouded in the mist
Of curious art, or clear to every eye that list?
 
Or is ’t a tart idea, to procure
An edge, and keep the practice soul in ure
Like that dear chymic dust, or puzzling quadrature?        15
 
Where shall I seek this good? where shall I find
This cath’lic pleasure, whose extremes may bind
My thoughts, and fill the gulf of my insatiate mind?
 
Lies it in treasure? in full heaps untold?
Doth gouty Mammon’s griping hand infold        20
This secret saint in secret shrines of sov’reign gold?
 
No, no, she lies not there; wealth often sours
In keeping; makes us hers, in seeming ours;
She slides from Heaven indeed, but not in Danae’s showers.
 
Lives she in honor? No. The royal crown        25
Builds up a creature, and then batters down:
Kings raise thee with a smile and raze thee with a frown.
 
In pleasure? No. Pleasure begins in rage;
Acts the fool’s part on earth’s uncertain stage:
Begins the play in youth, and epilogues in age.        30
 
These, these are bastard goods; the best of these
Torment the soul with pleasing it; and please,
Like waters gulp’d in fevers, with deceitful ease.
 
Earth’s flatt’ring dainties are but sweet distresses,
Mole-hills perform the mountains she professes,        35
Alas! can earth confer more good than earth possesses?
 
Mount, mount, my soul, and let my thoughts cashier
Earth’s vain delights, and make thy full career
At Heaven’s eternal joys: stop, stop, thy courser there.
 
There shall thy soul possess uncareful treasure:        40
There shalt thou swim in never-fading pleasure,
And blaze in honor far above the frowns of Cæsar.
 
Lord, if my hope dare let her anchor fall,
On thee, the chiefest good, no need to call
For earth’s inferior trash; thou, thou art All in All.        45
 
 
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