Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Elizabethan Verse
William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Elizabethan Verse.  1907.
Epistle to the Countess of Cumberland
By Samuel Daniel (1562–1619)
HE 1 that of such a height hath built his mind,
And reared the dwelling of his thoughts so strong,
As neither fear nor hope can shake the frame
Of his resolvèd powers; nor all the wind
Of vanity or malice pierce to wrong        5
His settled peace, or to disturb the same:
What a fair seat hath he, from whence he may
The boundless wastes and wealds of man survey!
And with how free an eye doth he look down
Upon these lower regions of turmoil!        10
Where all the storms of passion mainly beat
On flesh and blood: where honour, power, renown,
Are only gay afflictions, golden toil;
Where greatness stands upon as feeble feet
As frailty doth; and only great doth seem        15
To little minds, who do it so esteem.
He looks upon the mightiest monarch’s wars
But only as on stately robberies;
Where evermore the fortune that prevails
Must be the right: the ill-succeeding mars        20
The fairest and the best fac’d enterprise.
Great pirate Pompey lesser pirates quails:
Justice, he sees (as if seducèd) still
Conspires with power, whose cause must not be ill.
He sees the face of right t’appear as manifold        25
As are the passions of uncertain man;
Who puts it in all colours, all attires,
To serve his ends, and make his courses hold.
He sees, that let deceit work what it can,
Plot and contrive base ways to high desires,        30
That the all-guiding Providence doth yet
All disappoint, and mocks the smoke of wit.
Nor is he mov’d with all the thunder cracks
Of tyrants’ threats, or with the surly brow
Of Power, that proudly sits on others’ crimes;        35
Charg’d with more crying sins than those he checks.
The storms of sad confusion, that may grow
Up in the present for the coming times
Appal not him; that hath no side at all,
But of himself, and knows the worst can fall.        40
Although his heart (so near allied to Earth)
Cannot but pity the perplexèd state
Of troublous and distress’d Mortality,
That thus make way unto the ugly birth
Of their own sorrows, and do still beget        45
Affliction upon imbecility:
Yet seeing thus the course of things must run,
He looks thereon not strange, but as fore-done.
And whilst distraught ambition compasses,
And is encompass’d; whilst as craft deceives,        50
And is deceiv’d: whilst man doth ransack man
And builds on blood, and rises by distress;
And th’ inheritance of desolation leaves
To great-expecting hopes: he looks thereon,
As from the shore of peace, with unwet eye,        55
And bears no venture in impiety.
Note 1. This seems to me to have been the noblest moral ode in the language prior to some of Wordsworth’s Odes, of which, indeed, the Intimations of Immortality alone exceeds it. It was addressed to Margaret, Countess of Cumberland, to whose daughter, Lady Anne Clifford, Daniel was appointed tutor in 1600. Wordsworth quotes it in The Excursion, Bk. iv., lines 324–335 (Poetical Works, 1865, vol. vi., p. 132), and declares it to be “an admirable picture of the state of a wise man’s mind in a time of public commotion.” “Certainly,” writes Mr. Quiller-Couch (Adventures in Criticism, 1898, p. 58), “if ever a critic shall arise to deny poetry the virtue we so commonly claim for her, of fortifying men’s souls against calamity, this noble epistle will be all but the last post from which he will extrude her defenders.” [back]

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