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.
 
Upon Nothing
By John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647–1680)
 
NOTHING! thou elder brother even to shade,
That hadst a being ere the world was made,
And (well fixed) art alone of ending not afraid.
 
Ere Time and Place were, Time and Place were not,
When primitive Nothing Something straight begot,        5
Then all proceeded from the great united—What?
 
Something, the general attribute of all,
Sever’d from thee, its sole original,
Into thy boundless self must undistinguish’d fall.
 
Yet Something did thy mighty power command,        10
And from thy fruitful emptiness’s hand
Snatch’d men, beasts, birds, fire, air, and land.
 
Matter, the wicked’st offspring of thy race,
By Form assisted, flew from thy embrace;
And rebel Light obscured thy reverend dusky face.        15
 
With Form and Matter, Time and Place did join;
Body, thy foe, with thee did leagues combine,
To spoil thy peaceful realm, and ruin all thy line.
 
But turn-coat Time assists the foe in vain,
And, bribed by thee, assists thy short-liv’d reign,        20
And to thy hungry womb drives back thy slaves again.
 
Though mysteries are barr’d from laic eyes,
And the divine alone, with warrant, pries
Into thy bosom, where the truth in private lies;
 
Yet this of thee the wise may freely say,        25
Thou from the virtuous Nothing tak’st away,
And to be part with thee the wicked wisely pray.
 
Great Negative! how vainly would the wise
Inquire, define, distinguish, teach, devise?
Didst thou not stand to point their dull philosophies.        30
 
Is, or is not, the two great ends of Fate,
And, true or false, the subject of debate,
That perfect or destroy the vast designs of Fate;
 
When they have rack’d the politician’s breast,
Within thy bosom most securely rest,        35
And, when reduced to thee, are least unsafe and best.
 
But Nothing, why does Something still permit,
That sacred monarchs should at council sit,
With persons highly thought at best for nothing fit?
 
Whilst weighty Something modestly abstains        40
From princes’ coffers, and from statesmen’s brains,
And nothing there like stately Nothing reigns.
 
Nothing, who dwell’st with fools in grave disguise,
For whom they reverend shapes and forms devise,
Lawn sleeves, and furs, and gowns, when they like thee look wise.        45
 
French truth, Dutch prowess, British policy,
Hibernian learning, Scotch civility,
Spaniards’ dispatch, Danes’ wit, are mainly seen in thee.
 
 
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