Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. II. Ben Jonson to Dryden
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. II. The Seventeenth Century: Ben Jonson to Dryden
 
Extract from Samson Agonistes
By John Milton (1608–1674)
 
[1667; æt. 59. See full text.]
*        *        *        *        *
MANY are the sayings of the wise,
In ancient and in modern books enroll’d,
Extolling patience as the truest fortitude;
And to the bearing well of all calamities,
All chances incident to man’s frail life,        5
Consolatories writ
With studied argument, and much persuasion sought,
Lenient of grief and anxious thought:
But with the afflicted in his pangs their sound
Little prevails, or rather seems a tune        10
Harsh, and of dissonant mood from his complaint:
Unless he feel within
Some source of consolation from above,
Secret refreshings, that repair his strength,
And fainting spirits uphold.        15
  God of our fathers! what is man,
That thou towards him with hand so various,
Or might I say contrarious,
Temper’st thy providence through his short course,
Not evenly, as thou rulest        20
The angelic orders, and inferior creatures mute,
Irrational and brute?
Nor do I name of men the common rout,
That, wandering loose about,
Grow up and perish, as the summer-fly,        25
Heads without name, no more remembered;
But such as thou hast solemnly elected,
With gifts and graces eminently adorned,
To some great work, thy glory,
And people’s safety, which in part they effect;        30
Yet toward these thus dignified, thou oft
Amidst their height of noon,
Changest thy countenance, and thy hand, with no regard
Of highest favours past
From thee on them, or them to thee of service.        35
  Nor only dost degrade them, or remit
To life obscured, which were a fair dismission,
But throw’st them lower than thou didst exalt them high,
Unseemly falls in human eye,
Too grievous for the trespass or omission;        40
Oft leavest them to the hostile sword
Of heathen and profane, their carcasses
To dogs and fowls a prey, or else captived;
Or to the unjust tribunals, under change of times,
And condemnation of the ungrateful multitude.        45
If these they ’scape, perhaps in poverty
With sickness and disease thou bow’st them down,
Painful diseases and deform’d,
In crude old age;
Though not disordinate, yet causeless suffering        50
The punishment of dissolute days: in fine,
Just or unjust, alike seem miserable,
For oft alike both come to evil end.
 
 
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