Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. II. Ben Jonson to Dryden
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. II. The Seventeenth Century: Ben Jonson to Dryden
Extracts from Pindarique Odes: Brutus
By Abraham Cowley (1618–1667)
EXCELLENT Brutus, of all human race
The best till nature was improved by grace,
Till men above themselves faith raised more
        Than reason above beasts before;
Virtue was thy life’s centre, and from thence        5
Did silently and constantly dispense
        The gentle vigorous influence
To all the wide and fair circumference:
And all the parts upon it lean’d so easily,
Obey’d the mighty force so willingly,        10
That none could discord or disorder see
        In all their contrariety;
Each had his motion natural and free,
And the whole no more moved than the whole world could be.
From thy strict rule some think that thou didst swerve        15
(Mistaken honest men) in Caesar’s blood;
What mercy could the tyrant’s life deserve,
From him who kill’d himself rather than serve?
Th’ heroic exaltations of good
        Are so far from understood,        20
We count them vice: alas, our sight’s so ill,
That things which swiftest move seem to stand still.
We look not upon virtue in her height,
On her supreme idea, brave and bright,
        In the original light:        25
    But as her beams reflected pass
Through our own nature or ill custom’s glass.
        And ’tis no wonder so,
        If with dejected eye
    In standing pools we seek the sky,        30
That stars so high above should seem to us below.
        Can we stand by and see
Our mother robb’d, and bound, and ravish’d be,
        Yet not to her assistance stir,
Pleas’d with the strength and beauty of the ravisher?        35
Or shall we fear to kill him, if before
        The cancell’d name of friend he bore?
    Ungrateful Brutus do they call?
Ungrateful Caesar who could Rome enthrall!
An act more barbarous and unnatural        40
(In th’ exact balance of true virtue tried)
Than his successor Nero’s parricide!
    There’s none but Brutus could deserve
    That all men else should wish to serve,
And Caesar’s usurped place to him should proffer;        45
None can deserve ’t but he who would refuse the offer.
Ill fate assumed a body thee t’ affright,
And wrapped itself i’ th’ terrors of the night,
I’ll meet thee at Philippi, said the sprite;
        I’ll meet thee there, saidst thou,        50
    With such a voice, and such a brow,
As put the trembling ghost to sudden flight,
        It vanished as a taper’s light
        Goes out when spirits appear in sight.
One would have thought ’t had heard the morning crow,        55
    Or seen her well-appointed star
Come marching up the eastern hill afar.
Nor durst it in Philippi’s field appear,
    But unseen attacked thee there.
Had it presumed in any shape thee to oppose,        60
Thou wouldst have forced it back upon thy foes:
        Or slain ’t like Cæsar, though it be
A conqueror and a monarch mightier far than he.
What joy can human things to us afford,
When we see perish thus by odd events,        65
    Ill men, and wretched accidents,
The best cause and best man that ever drew a sword?
                When we see
The false Octavius, and wild Antony,
        Godlike Brutus, conquer thee?        70
What can we say but thine own tragic word,
That virtue, which had worshipped been by thee
As the most solid good, and greatest deity,
        By this fatal proof became
        An idol only, and a name?        75
    Hold, noble Brutus, and restrain
The bold voice of thy generous disdain:
        These mighty gulfs are yet
Too deep for all thy judgment and thy wit.
The time’s set forth already which shall quell        80
Stiff reason, when it offers to rebel;
        Which these great secrets shall unseal,
        And new philosophies reveal.
A few years more, so soon hadst thou not died,
Would have confounded human virtue’s pride,        85
        And shew’d thee a God crucified.

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