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.
 
Contentation
By Charles Cotton (1630–1687)
 
Directed to my Dear Father and most Worthy Friend, Mr. Izaak Walton

HEAVEN, what an age is this! what race
Of giants are sprung up, that dare
Thus fly in the Almighty’s face,
And with His providence make war!
 
I can go nowhere but I meet        5
With malcontents and mutineers,
As if in life was nothing sweet,
And we must blessings reap in tears.
 
O senseless man, that murmurs still
For happiness, and does not know,        10
Even though he might enjoy his will,
What he would have to make him so.
 
Is it true happiness to be
By undiscerning Fortune placed
In the most eminent degree        15
Where few arrive, and none stand fast?
 
Titles and wealth are Fortune’s toils
Wherewith the vain themselves ensnare
The great are proud of borrowed spoils
The miser’s plenty breeds his care.        20
 
The one supinely yawns at rest,
The other eternally doth toil,
Each of them equally a beast,
A pampered horse, or labouring moil.
 
The Titulado’s oft disgraced        25
By public hate or private frown,
And he whose hand the creature raised
Has yet a foot to kick him down.
 
The drudge who would all get, all save,
Like a brute beast both feeds and lies,        30
Prone to the earth, he digs his grave,
And in every labour dies.
 
Excess of ill-got, ill-kept pelf,
Does only death and danger breed;
Whilst one rich worldling starves himself        35
With what would thousand others feed.
 
By which we see what wealth and power
—Although they make men rich and great—
The sweets of life do often sour,
And gull ambition with a cheat.        40
 
Nor is he happier than these
Who, in a moderate estate,
Where he might safely live at ease,
Has lusts that are immoderate;
 
For he, by those desires misled,        45
Quits his own vine’s securing shade,
T’ expose his naked, empty head
To all the storms man’s peace invade.
 
Nor is he happy who is trim,
Tricked up in favours of the fair,        50
Mirrors, with every breath made dim,
Birds caught in every wanton snare.
 
Woman, man’s greatest woe, or bliss,
Does ofter far, than serve, enslave,
And with the magic of a kiss        55
Destroys whom she was made to save.
 
O fruitful grief, the world’s disease!
And vainer man to make it so,
Who gives his miseries increase
By cultivating his own woe.        60
 
There are no ills but what we make
By giving shapes and names to things;
Which is the dangerous mistake
That causes all our sufferings.
 
We call that sickness which is health,        65
That persecution which is grace;
That poverty which is true wealth,
And that dishonour which is praise.
 
Providence watches over all,
And that with an impartial eye;        70
And if to misery we fall
’Tis through our own infirmity.
 
’Tis want of foresight makes the bold
Ambitious youth to danger climb,
And want of virtue when the old        75
At persecution do repine.
 
Alas, our time is here so short
That, in what state soe’er ’tis spent
Of joy or woe, does not import,
Provided it be innocent.        80
 
But we may make it pleasant too
If we will take our measures right,
And not what Heaven has done undo
By an unruly appetite.
 
’Tis Contentation that alone        85
Can make us happy here below,
And, when this little life is gone,
Will lift us up to Heaven too.
 
A very little satisfies
An honest and a grateful heart,        90
And who would more than will suffice
Does covet more than is his part.
 
That man is happy in his share
Who is warm clad, and cleanly fed,
Whose necessaries bound his care,        95
And honest labour makes his bed;
 
Who free from debt, and clear from crimes,
Honours those laws that others fear;
Who ill of princes in worst times
Will neither speak himself, nor hear;        100
 
Who from the busy world retires
To be more useful to it still,
And to no greater good aspires
But only the eschewing ill;
 
Who, with his angle, and his books,        105
Can think the longest day well spent,
And praises God when back he looks,
And finds that all was innocent.
 
This man is happier far than he
Whom public business oft betrays,        110
Through labyrinths of policy,
To crooked and forbidden ways.
 
The world is full of beaten roads,
But yet so slippery withal,
That where one walks secure, ’tis odds        115
A hundred and a hundred fall.
 
Untrodden paths are then the best,
Where the frequented are unsure,
And he comes soonest to his rest
Whose journey has been most secure.        120
 
It is Content alone that makes
Our pilgrimage a pleasure here,
And who buys sorrow cheapest takes
An ill commodity too dear.
 
But he has Fortune’s worst withstood,        125
And Happiness can never miss,
Can covet naught, but where he stood,
And thinks him happy where he is.
 
 
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