Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. I. Of Home: of Friendship
Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume I. Of Home: of Friendship.  1904.
Poems of Friendship
To Seek a Friend
William Cowper (1731–1800)
Extracts from “Friendship”

WHAT virtue, or what mental grace,
But men unqualified and base
  Will boast it their possession?
Profusion apes the noble part
Of liberality of heart,        5
  And dulness, of discretion.
If every polished gem we find
Illuminating heart or mind,
  Provoke to imitation;
No wonder friendship does the same,        10
That jewel of the purest flame,
  Or rather constellation.
No friendship will abide the test,
That stands on sordid interest,
  Or mean self-love erected;        15
Nor such as may awhile subsist,
Between the sot and sensualist,
  For vicious ends connected.
Who seek a friend should come disposed,
T’ exhibit in full bloom disclosed        20
  The graces and the beauties,
That form the character he seeks,
For ’t is a union that bespeaks
  Reciprocated duties.
But will sincerity suffice?        25
It is indeed above all price,
  And must be made the basis;
But ev’ry virtue of the soul
Must constitute the charming whole,
  All shining in their places.        30
A fretful temper will divide
The closest knot that may be tied,
  By ceaseless sharp corrosion;
A temper passionate and fierce
May suddenly your joys disperse        35
  At one immense explosion.
In vain the talkative unite
In hopes of permanent delight—
  The secret just committed,
Forgetting its important weight,        40
They drop through mere desire to prate,
  And by themselves outwitted.
How bright soe’er the prospect seems,
All thoughts of friendship are but dreams
  If envy chance to creep in;        45
An envious man, if you succeed,
May prove a dang’rous foe indeed,
  But not a friend worth keeping.
The great and small but rarely meet
On terms of amity complete;        50
  Plebeians must surrender,
And yield so much to noble folk,
It is combining fire with smoke,
  Obscurity with splendor.
Courtier and patriot cannot mix        55
Their het’rogeneous politics
  Without an effervescence,
Like that of salts with lemon-juice,
Which does not yet like that produce
  A friendly coalescence.        60
Religion should extinguish strife,
And make a calm of human life;
  But friends that chance to differ
On points which God has left at large,
How freely will they meet and charge!        65
  No combatants are stiffer.
To prove at last my main intent
Needs no expense of argument,
  No cutting and contriving—
Seeking a real friend, we seem        70
T’ adopt the chymists’ golden dream,
  With still less hope of thriving.
Sometimes the fault is all our own,
Some blemish in due time made known,
  By trespass or omission;        75
Sometimes occasion brings to light
Our friend’s defect long hid from sight,
  And even from suspicion.
Then judge yourself and prove your man
As circumspectly as you can,        80
  And, having made election,
Beware no negligence of yours,
Such as a friend but ill endures,
  Enfeeble his affection.
As similarity of mind,        85
Or something not to be defined
  First fixes our attention;
So manners decent and polite,
The same we practised at first sight,
  Must save it from declension.        90
Pursue the search, and you will find
Good sense and knowledge of mankind
  To be at least expedient,
And, after summoning all the rest,
Religion ruling in the breast        95
  A principal ingredient.

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