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 Mercy
VII. Giles Fletcher
 
AS when the cheerfull sunne, elamping wide
Glads all the world with his uprising ray,
And wooes the widow’d earth afresh to pride,
And paints her bosome with the flowrie May,
Her silent sister steals him quite away,        5
  Wrapt in a sable cloud, from mortall eyes:
  The hastie starres at noon begin to rise,
And headlong to his early roost the sparrow flies:
 
But soon as he again disshadow’d is,
Restoring the blind world his blemisht sight,        10
As though another day were newly ris,
The coozned birds busily take their flight,
And wonder at the shortnesse of the night;
  So Mercie once againe herself displayes
  Out from her sister’s cloud, and open layes        15
Those sunshine looks, whose beams would dim a thousand dayes.
 
How may a worm, that crawls along the dust,
Clamber the azure mountains, thrown so high,
And fetch from thence thy fair idea just,
That in those sunny courts doth hidden lie,        20
Cloath’d with such light as blindes the angel’s eye?
  How may weak mortall ever hope to file
  His unsmooth tongue, and his depostrate stile?
O raise thou from his corse thy now entomb’d exile!
 
One touch would rouze me from my sluggish hearse,        25
One word would call me to my wished home,
One look would polish my afflicted verse,
One thought would steal my soul from her thick lome,
And force it wandring up to heav’n to come,
  There to importune, and to beg apace        30
  One happy favour of thy sacred grace,
To see—what though it lose her eyes?—to see thy face.
 
If any ask why roses please the sight?
Because their leaves upon thy cheeks do bowre:
If any ask why lilies are so white?        35
Because their blossomes in thy hand do flowre:
Or why sweet plants so gratefull odours showre?
  It is because thy breath so like they be:
  Or why the orient sunne so bright we see?
What reason can we give but from thine eies and thee?        40
 
Ros’d in all lovely crimsin are thy cheeks,
Where beauties indeflourishing abide,
And as to passe his fellow either seeks,
Seems both do blush at one another’s pride;
And on thine eyelids, waiting thee beside,        45
  Ten thousand graces sit, and when they move
  To earth their amourous belgards from above,
They flie from heav’n, and on their wings convey thy love.
 
All of discoloured plumes their wings are made,
And with so wondrous art the quills are wrought,        50
That whensoere they cut the ayrie glad,
The winde into their hollow pipes is caught,
As seems the spheres with them they down have brought:
  Like to the sev’n-fold reed of Arcadie
  Which Pan of Syrinx made, when she did flie        55
To Ladon sands, and at his sighs sung merrily.
 
As melting hony dropping from the combe,
So still the words that spring between thy lips;
Thy lips where smiling sweetnesse keeps her home,
And heav’nly eloquence pure manna sips:        60
He that his pen but in that fountain dips,
  How nimbly will the golden phrases flie,
  And shed forth streams of choicest rhetorie,
Welling celestiall torrents out of poesie!
 
Like as the thirstie land, in summer’s heat,        65
Calls to the clouds, and gapes at ev’ry showre
As though her hungry clefts all heav’n would eat,
Which if high God into her bosome poure,
Though much refresht, yet more she could devoure;
  So hang the greedie eares of angels sweet,        70
  And ev’ry breath a thousand Cupids meet,
Some flying in, some out, and all about her fleet.
 
Upon her breast Delight doth softly sleep,
And of eternal joy is brought abed,
Those snowie mountelets, through which do creep        75
The milkie rivers, that are inly bred
In silver cisterns, and themselves do shed
  To wearie travellers, in heat of day
  To quench their fierie thirst, and to allay
With dropping nectar-flouds the furie of their way.        80
 
If any wander, thou dost call him back;
If any be not forward, thou incit’st him;
Thou dost expect, if any should grow slack;
If any seem but willing, thou invit’st him;
Or if he do offend thee, thou acquit’st him:        85
  Thou find’st the lost, and follow’st him that flies,
  Healing the sick, and quickning him that dies,
Thou art the lame man’s friendly staffe, the blinde man’s eyes.
 
So fair thou art, that all would thee behold;
But none can thee behold, thou art so fair;        90
Pardon, O pardon then thy vassall bold,
That with poore shadows strives thee to compare,
And match the things, which he knows matchlesse are.
  O thou vive mirrour of celestiall grace,
  How can frail colours pourtraict out thy face,        95
Or paint in flesh thy beautie in such ’semblance base?
 
Her upper garment was a silken lawn,
With needlework richly embroidered,
Which she herself with her own had drawn,
And all the world therein had pourtrayed,        100
With threeds so fresh and lively coloured,
  That seem’d the world she new created there;
  And the mistaken eye would rashly sweare
The silken trees did grow, and the beasts living were.
 
Low at her feet the Earth was cast alone,        105
(As though to kisse her foot it did aspire,
And gave itself for her to tread upon,)
With so unlike and different attire,
That ev’ry one that saw it did admire
  What it might be, was of so various hew;        110
  For to itself it oft so diverse grew,
That still it seem’d the same, and still it seem’d a new.
 
And here and there few men she scattered,
(That in their thought the world esteem but small,
And themselves great,) but she with one fine threed        115
So short, and small, and slender, wove them all,
That like a sort of busy ants, that crawl
  About some molehill, so they wandered;
  And round about the waving sea was shed:
But, for the silver sands, small pearls were sprinkled.        120
 
So curiously the underwork did creep,
And curling circlets so well shadowed lay,
That afar off the waters seem’d to sleep;
But those that neare the margin pearl did play,
Hoarcely enwaved were with hastie sway,        125
  As though they meant to rock the gentle eare,
  And hush the former that enslumbred were:
And here a dangerous rock the flying ships did fear.
 
High in the airie element there hung
Another cloudy sea, that did disdain        130
(As though his purer waves from heaven sprung)
To crawl on earth, as doth the sluggish main:
But it the earth would water with his rain,
  That eb’d and flow’d, as winde and season would,
  And oft the sunne would cleave the limber mould,        135
To alabaster rocks, that in the liquid rowl’d.
 
Beneath those sunny banks a darker cloud,
Dropping with thicker dew, did melt apace,
And bent itself into a hollow shroud,
On which, if Mercy did but cast her face,        140
A thousand colours did the bow enchace,
  That wonder was to see the silk distain’d
  With the resplendance from her beauty gain’d,
And Iris paints her locks with beams so lively feign’d.
 
About her head a Cyprus heav’n she wore,        145
Spread like a veil upheld with silver wire,
In which the starres so burnt in golden ore,
As seem’d the azure web was all on fire:
But hastily, to quench their sparkling ire,
  A floud of milk came rowling up the shore,        150
  That on his curded wave swift Argus bore,
And the immortall swan, that did her life deplore.
 
Yet strange it was so many starres to see,
Without a sunne to give their tapers light:
Yet strange it was not, that it so should be;        155
For, where the sunne centers himself by right,
Her face and locks did flame, that at the sight
  The heav’nly veil, that else should nimbly move,
  Forgot his flight, and all incensed with love,
With wonder and amazement, did her beauty prove.        160
 
Over her hung a canopie of state,
Not of rich tissew, nor of spangled gold,
But of a substance though not animate,
Yet of a heav’nly and spirituall mold,
That onely eyes of spirits might behold;        165
  Such light as from main rocks of diamound,
  Shooting their sparks at Phœbus, would rebound,
And little angels, holding hands, danct all around.
 
Seemed those little sprights, through nimblesse bold,
The stately canopy bore on their wings,        170
But them itself, as pendants, did uphold,
Besides the crowns of many famous kings:
Among the rest, there David ever sings,
  And now, with yeares grown young, renews his layes
  Unto his golden harp, and dities playes,        175
Psalming aloud in well-tun’d songs his Maker’s praise.
 
Thou Self-idea of all joyes to come,
Whose love is such, would make the rudest speak,
Whose love is such, would make the wisest dumbe,
O, when wilt thou thy too long silence break,        180
And overcome the strong to save the weak?
  If thou no weapons hast, thine eyes will wound
  Th’ Almightie’s self, that now stick on the ground,
As though some blessed object there did them empound.
 
Ah! miserable abject of disgrace,        185
What happiness is in thy miserie!
I both must pitie and envie thy case;
For she, that is the glory of the skie,
Leaves heaven blinde, to fix on thee her eye.
  Yet her (though Mercie’s self esteems not small)        190
  The world despis’d, they her Repentance call,
And she herself despises, and the world, and all.
 
Deeply, alas! empassioned she stood,
To see a flaming brand tost up from hell,
Boyling her heart in her own lustfull blood,        195
That oft for torment she would loudly yell:
Now she would sighing sit, and now she fell
  Crouching upon the ground, in sackcloth trust; 1
  Early and late she played, and fast she must,
And all her hair hung full of ashes and of dust.        200
 
Of all most hated, yet hated most of all
Of her own self she was; disconsolat
(As though her flesh did but infunerall
Her buried ghost) she in an arbour sat
Of thornie briar, weeping her cursed state;        205
  And her before a hastie river fled,
  Which her blinde eyes with faithfull penance fed,
And, all about, the grasse with teares hung down his head.
 
Her eyes, though blinde abroad, at home kept fast,
Inwards they turn’d, and lookt into her head,        210
At which she often started as agast,
To see so fearfull spectacles of dread;
And with one hand her breast she martyred,
  Wounding her heart the same to mortifie;
  The other a fair damsell held her by,        215
Which if but once let go, she sunk immediatly.
 
But Faith was quick, and nimble as the heav’n,
As if of love and light she all had been,
And though of present sight her sense were reav’n,
Yet she could see the things could not be seen:        220
Beyond the starres, as nothing were between,
  She fixed her sight, disdaining things below:
  Into the sea she could a mountain throw,
And make the sunne to stand, and waters backwards flow.
 
Such when as Mercy her beheld from high,        225
In a dark valley, drown’d with her own teares,
One of her graces she sent hastily,
Smiling Eirene, 2 that a garland weares
Of guilded olive on her fairer haires,
  To crown the fainting soul’s true sacrifice,        230
  Whom when as sad Repentance coming spies,
The holy desperado wipt her smiling eyes.
 
But Mercie felt a kind remorse to runne
Through her soft vains, and therefore, hying fast
To give an end to silence, thus begunne:—        235
“Aye-honour’d Father, if no joy thou hast
But to reward desert, reward at last.”
  The devil’s voice spoke with a serpent’s tongue,
  Fit to hisse out the words so deadly stung,
And let him die, death’s bitter charms so sweetly sung.        240
 
He was the father of that hopeless season,
That, to serve other gods, forgot their own,
The reason was, thou wast above their reason:
They would have any gods rather than none,
A beastly serpent, or a senseless stone:        245
  And these, as Justice hates, so I deplore;
  But the upplowed heart, all rent and tore,
Thou wounded by itself, I gladly would restore.
 
He was but dust; why fear’d he not to fall?
And, being fall’n, how can he hope to live?        250
Cannot the hand destroy him that made all?
Could he not take away, as well as give?
Should man deprave, and should not God deprive?
  Was it not all the world’s deceiving spirit
  (That, bladder’d up with pride of his own merit,        255
Fell in his rise,) that him of heav’n did disinherit?
 
He was but dust; how could he stand before him?
And, being fall’n, why should he fear to die?
Cannot the hand that made him first, restore him?
Deprav’d of sinne, should he deprived lie        260
Of grace? can he not hide infirmitie
  That gave him strength I unworthy the forsaking,
  He is, whoever weighs, without mistaking,
Or Maker of the man, or manner of his making.
 
Who shall thy temple incense any more,        265
Or at thy altar crown the sacrifice,
Or strew with idle flow’rs the hallow’d flore?
Or what should prayer deck with herbs and spice
Her vialls breathing orisons of price?
  If all must pay that which all cannot pay,        270
  O first begin with me, and Mercie slay,
And thy thrice-honoured Sonne that now beneath doth stray.
 
But if or he, or I, may live and speak,
And heaven can joy to see a sinner weep,
O let not Justice’ iron sceptre break        275
A heart alreadie broke, that low doth creep,
And with prone humblesse her feet’s dust doth sweep.
  Must all go by desert? is nothing free?
  Ah! if but those that onely worthy be,
None should thee ever see, none should thee ever see.        280
 
What hath man done, that man shall not undo,
Since God to him is grown so neare akin?
Did his foe slay him? he shall slay his foe:
Hath he lost all? he all again shall winne:
Is sinne his master? he shall master sinne.        285
  Too hardy soul, with sinne the field to trie:
  The onely way to conquer was to flie,
But thus long death hath liv’d, and now death’s self shall die.
 
He is a path, if any be misled;
He is a robe, if any naked be:        290
If any chance to hunger, he is bread;
If any be a bondman, he is free;
If any be but weak, how strong is he!
  To dead men life he is, to sick men health;
  To blinde men sight, and to the needie wealth—        295
A pleasure without losse, a treasure without stealth.
 
Who can forget,—never to be forgot—
The time that all the world in slumber lies,
When like the starres, the singing angels shot
To earth, and heaven awaked all his eyes,        300
To see another sunne at midnight rise
  On earth? was never sight of pareil fame;
  For God before man like himself did frame,
But God himself now like a mortal man became.
 
A childe he was, and had not learnt to speak,        305
That with his word the world before did make;
His mother’s arms him bore, he was so weak,
That with one hand the vaults of heaven could shake.
See how small room my infant Lord doth take,
  Whom all the world is not enough to hold!        310
  Who of his yeares, or of his age, hath told?
Never such age so young, never a childe so old.
 
And yet but newly he was infanted,
And yet alreadie he was sought to die;
Yet scarcely born, alreadie banished;        315
Nor able yet to go, and forc’t to flie:
But scarcely fled away, when, by and by,
  The tyrant’s sword with bloud is all defil’d,
  And Rachel, for her sonnes, with furie wild,
Cries, O thou cruell king, and, O my sweetest childe.        320
 
Egypt his nurse became, where Nilus springs,
Who straight to entertain the rising sunne
The hasty harvest in his bosome brings;
But now for drieth 3 the fields were all undone,
And now with waters all is overrunne!        325
  So fast the Cynthian mountains pour’d their snow,
  When once they felt the Sunne so neare them glow,
That Nilus Egypt lost, and to a sea did grow.
 
The Angels carol’d loud their song of peace;
The cursed oracles were strucken dumbe,        330
To see their Shepherd the poore shepherds presse;
To see their King the kingly sophies come;
And them to guide unto his Master’s home
  A starre comes dauncing up the Orient,
  That springs for joy over the strawy tent,        335
Where gold, to make their Prince a crown, they all present.
 
Young John, glad childe! before he could be born,
Leapt in the wombe his joy to prophecie;
Old Anna, though with age all spent and worn,
Proclaims her Saviour to posteritie,        340
And Simeon fast his dying notes doth plie.
  Oh, how the blessed souls about him trace!
  It is the Sire of heaven thou dost embrace:
Sing, Simeon, sing—sing, Simeon, sing apace!
 
With that the mighty thunder dropt away        345
From God’s unwarie arm, now milder grown,
And melted into teares; as if to pray
For pardon, and for pitie, it had known,
That should have been for sacred vengeance thrown:
  There too the armies angelique devow’d        350
  Their former rage, and all to Mercy bow’d:
Their broken weapons at her feet they gladly strow’d.
 
“Bring, bring, ye Graces, all your silver flaskets,
Painted with every choicest flowre that growes,
That I may soon unflow’r your fragrant baskets,        355
To strow the fields with odours where he goes;
Let whatsoere he treads on be a rose.”
  So down she let her eyelids fall, to shine
  Upon the rivers of bright Palestine,
Whose woods drop honey, and her rivers skip with wine.        360
 
Note 1. trussed. [back]
Note 2. Peace. [back]
Note 3. drought. [back]
 
 
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