An allegorical narrative in four cantos. Giles Fletcher's major poem is a long and typologically complex devotional poem in irregular Spenserians (ababbccc). In the address to the reader Fletcher praises "Thrice honoured Bartas, and our (I know no other name more glorious than his own) Mr. Edmund Spenser (two blessed souls) not thinking ten years enough, laying out their whole lives upon this one study." Frederic Ives Carpenter finds "echoes of Spenser on almost every page" Edmund Spenser (1923) 238, including in "Bk. ii, stanzas 23 f ... a very close imitation of Spenser's description [of Despair]" "Spenser's Cave of Despair" (1897) 266. The poem opens in Heaven, when Christ steps forward to atone for man's sinfulness.
Robert Anderson: "To compare the Christ's Victory and Triumph of G. Fletcher with the 'Paradise Regained' of Milton, and the 'Calvary' of Cumberland, would perhaps be too severe a trial; but they have many points of resemblance; and it is no small honour to G. Fletcher to have furnished hints to Milton" British Poets (1795) 4:487.
Edmund Gosse: "Of all the works written in direct discipleship of Spenser, Christ's Victory is undoubtedly the most coherent and the best. Such prodigies as [Joseph Beaumont's] Psyche can only be reverenced far off; such masses of poetic concrete as The Purple Island were made up to dip into and to quote from. Christ's Victory has the great advantage of being easy to read all through. In its style, again, we note a distinction between its author and the other learned and more or less admirable Spenserians; while their highest success was found in gaining for a little time that serene magnificence, without distinct elevation, which bore their model upon so soft and so steady a wing, Giles Fletcher aimed at higher majesties of melody and imagination than Spenser attempted, and not unfrequently he reached a splendour of phrase for a parallel to which we search the Faery Queen in vain. At the same time, it must not, in all candour, be forgotten that he lived in an age of rapid poetic decadence, and that his beautiful fancies are sometimes obscured by an uncouth phraseology and a studied use of bizarre and tasteless imagery" The Jacobean Poets (1894) 138-39.
W. J. Courthope: "His poem is divided into four parts: the action of the first, Christ's Victory in Heaven, begins towards the close of Christ's actual life on earth, so that all the facts mentioned in the second of the above stanzas [1-2] are presupposed; Christ's Victory on Earth is a fanciful version of the incidents of the Temptation; Christ's Triumph over Death relates (as far as it can be called narrative at all) the Saviour's Crucifixion and Burial; Christ's Triumph after Death is a description of the Resurrection and Ascension. The events recorded are real, not allegorical, though in the 'machinery' of the poem frequent use is made of the usual accompaniment of allegory, abstract impersonation" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 3:135-36.
George Saintsbury: "The interest of the Fletcher brothers for us consists mainly, and that of Giles (perhaps the better poet of the two) wholly, in their interesting if not exactly felicitous variations on the Spenserian stanza. These variations may have been dictated either by mere reverence for the master, whose influence was so obvious in both, or through a desire 'to create for oneself,' or perhaps by a mixture of the two feelings and a hope to escape the disastrous comparison by slightly innovating. It cannot be said, despite the extraordinary beauty, in a sort of prae-Raphaelite kind, of parts of Christ's Victory and fewer parts of the longer Purple Island, that either form is a success" History of English Prosody (1906-10) 2:115-16.
Herbert E. Cory: "Though his one important poem was published in 1610, perhaps before his brother had bidden farewell to the little pipe which emulated the youthful love-plaints of Colin, he is austere sometimes to the point of asceticism. He has a vatic fervor that places the Christ among the greatest religious poems of the period. The Christ begins with a noble and impressive allegory of the debate of Justice and Mercy before God. Justice has the winged lightning for her Mercury. About her throng pale Sickness, 'with kercher'd head,' Famine, bloodless Care, Age. Fear, and many more. Justice leans her bosom on two stony tables. Her speech inflames the Heavenly Hierarchies to destroy corrupted mankind. But Mercy steps forward like the sun from the clouds. Upon her breast sleeps Delight. She pleads for man, especially since Christ is now wandering on earth; and her efforts are successful" "Spenser, the Fletchers, and Milton" UCPMP 2 (326.
A. A. Jack: "The Miltonic borrowings [from Giles Fletcher] are not so marked as those from Phineas — a phrase or two only. But the Fairy attendants on the Visionary Banquet in Paradise Regained were evidently suggested by Giles Fletcher's Spenserian introductions in the Temptation canto" Chaucer and Spenser (1920) 309n.
J. B. Leishman: "I think it very possible that stanza 82 may have suggested to Milton the whole plan of his [Nativity] ode: 'The Angells caroll'd lowd their song of peace, | The cursed Oracles wear strucken dumb'" Milton's Minor Poems (1969) 58.
Frank S. Kastor: "Spenser's influence upon [the Fletchers] is apparent; its extent has been grossly exaggerated" Giles and Phineas Fletcher (1978) 144.
The poem was imitated by another Cambridge Poet, Thomas Robinson in Life and Death of Mary Magdalene (ca. 1620); see Richard F. Hardin on a "school of the Fletchers" in Spenser Encyclopedia (1990) 309.
The birth of him that no beginning knewe,
Yet gives beginning to all that are borne,
And how the Infinite farre greater grewe,
By growing lesse, and how the rising Morne,
That shot from heav'n, did backe to heaven retourne,
The obsequies of him that could not die,
And death of life, ende of eternitie,
How worthily he died, that died unworthily;
How God, and Man did both embrace each other,
Met in one person, heav'n, and earth did kiss,
And how a Virgin did become a Mother,
And bare that Sonne, who the worlds Father is,
And Maker of his mother, and how Bliss
Descended from the bosome of the High,
To cloath himselfe in naked miserie,
Sayling at length to heav'n, in earth, triumphantly,
Is the first flame, wherewith my whiter Muse
Doth burne in heavenly love, such love to tell.
O thou that didst this holy fire infuse,
And taught'st this brest, but late the grave of hell,
Wherein a blind, and dead heart liv'd, to swell
With better thoughts, send downe those lights that lend
Knowledge, how to begin, and how to end
The love, that never was, nor ever can be pend.
Ye sacred writings in whose antique leaves
The memories of heav'n entreasur'd lie,
Say, what might be the cause that Mercie heaves
The dust of sinne above th' industrious skie;
And lets it not to dust, and ashes flie?
Could Justice be of sinne so over-wooed,
Or so great ill be cause of so great good,
That bloody man to save, mans Saviour shed his blood?
Or did the lips of Mercie droppe soft speech
For traytrous man, when at th' Eternalls throne
Incensed Nemesis did heav'n beseech
With thundring voice, that justice might be showne
Against the Rebells, that from God were flowne;
O say, say how could Mercie plead for those
That scarcely made, against their Maker rose?
Will any slay his friend, that he may spare his foes?
There is a place beyond that flaming hill
From whence the starres their thin apparance shed,
A place, beyond all place, where never ill,
Nor impure thought was ever harboured,
But Sainctly Heroes are for ever s'ed
To keepe an everlasting Sabbaoths rest,
Still wishing that, of what th' ar still possest,
Enjoying but one joy, but one of all joyes best.
Here, when the ruine of that beauteous frame,
Whose golden building shin'd with everie starre
Of excellence, deform'd with age became,
Mercy, remembring peace in midst of warre,
Lift up the musique of her voice, to barre
Eternall fate, least it should quite erace
That from the world, which was the first worlds grace,
And all againe into their nothing, Chaos chase.
For what had all this All, which Man in one
Did not unite; the earth, aire, water, fire,
Life, sense, and spirit, nay the powrefull throne
Of the divinest Essence, did retire,
And his owne Image into clay inspire:
So that this Creature well might called be
Of the great world, the small epitomie,
Of the dead world, the live, and quicke anatomie.
But Justice had no sooner Mercy seene
Smoothing the wrinkles of her Fathers browe,
But up she starts, and throwes her selfe betweene.
As when a vapour, from a moory slough,
Meeting with fresh Eous, that but now
Open'd the world, which all in darkenesse lay,
Doth heav'ns bright face of his rayes disaray,
And sads the smiling orient of the springing day.
She was a Virgin of austere regard,
Not as the world esteemes her, deafe, and blind,
But as the Eagle, that hath oft compar'd
Her eye with heav'ns, so, and more brightly shin'd
Her lamping sight: for she the same could winde
Into the solid heart, and with her eares,
The silence of the thought loude speaking heares,
And in one hand a paire of even scoals she weares.
No riot of affection revell kept
Within her brest, but a still apathy
Possessed all her soule, which softly slept,
Securely, without tempest, no sad crie
Awakes her pittie, but wrong'd povertie,
Sending his eyes to heav'n swimming in teares,
With hideous clamours ever struck her eares,
Whetting the blazing sword, that in her hand she beares.
The winged Lightning is her Mercury,
And round about her mightie thunders sound:
Impatient of himselfe lies pining by
Pale Sicknes, with his kercher'd head upwound,
And thousand noysome plagues attend her round,
But if her clowdie browe but once growe foule,
The flints doe melt, and rocks to water rowle,
And ayrie mountaines shake, and frighted shadowes howle.
Famine, and bloodles Care, and bloodie Warre,
Want, and the Want of knowledge how to use
Abundance, Age, and Feare, that runnes afarre
Before his fellowe Greefe, that aye pursues
His winged steps; for who would not refuse
Greefes companie, a dull, and rawebon'd spright,
That lankes the cheekes, and pales the freshest sight,
Unbosoming the cheerefull brest of all delight;
Before this cursed throng, goes Ignorance,
That needes will leade the way he cannot see:
And after all, Death doeth his flag advaunce,
And in the mid'st, Strife still would roaguing be,
Whose ragged flesh, and cloaths did well agree:
And round about, amazed Horror flies,
And over all, Shame veiles his guiltie eyes,
And underneth, Hells hungrie throat still yawning lies.
Upon two stonie tables, spread before her,
She lean'd her bosome, more then stonie hard,
There slept th' unpartiall judge, and strict restorer
Of wrong, or right, with paine, or with reward,
There hung the skore of all our debts, the card
Whear good, and bad, and life, and death were painted:
Was never heart of mortall so untainted,
But when that scroule was read, with thousand terrors fainted.
Witnes the thunder that mount Sinai heard,
When all the hill with firie clouds did flame,
And wandring Israel, with the sight afeard,
Blinded with seeing, durst not touch the same,
But like a wood of shaking leaves became.
On this dead Justice, she, the Living Lawe,
Bowing herselfe with a majestique awe,
All heav'n, to heare her speech, did into silence drawe.
Dread Lord of Spirits, well thou did'st devise
To fling the worlds rude dunghill, and the drosse
Of the ould Chaos, farthest from the skies,
And thine owne seate, that heare the child of losse,
Of all the lower heav'n the curse, and crosse,
That wretch, beast, caytive, monster Man, might spend,
(Proude of the mire, in which his soule is pend)
Clodded in lumps of clay, his wearie life to end.
His bodie dust: whear grewe such cause of pride?
His soule thy Image: what could he enuie?
Himselfe most happie: if he so would bide:
Now grow'n most wretched, who can remedie?
He slewe himselfe, himselfe the enemie.
That his owne soule would her owne murder wreake,
If I were silent, heav'n and earth would speake,
And if all fayl'd, these stones would into clamours breake.
How many darts made furrowes in his side,
When she, that out of his owne side was made,
Gave feathers to their flight? whear was the pride
Of their newe knowledge; whither did it fade,
When, running from thy voice into the shade,
He fled thy sight, himselfe of sight bereav'd;
And for his shield a leavie armour weav'd,
With which, vain ma, he thought Gods eies to have deceav'd?
And well he might delude those eyes, that see,
And judge by colours: for who ever sawe
A man of leaves, a reasonable tree?
But those that from this stocke their life did drawe,
Soone made their Father godly, and by lawe
Proclaimed Trees almightie: Gods of wood,
Of stocks, and stones with crownes of laurell stood
Templed, and fed by fathers with their childrens blood.
The sparkling fanes, that burne in beaten gould,
And, like the starres of heav'n in mid'st of night,
Blacke Egypt, as her mirrhours, doth behould,
Are but the denns whear idoll-snakes delight
Againe to cover Satan from their sight:
Yet these are all their gods, to whome they vie
The Crocodile, the Cock, the Rat, the Flie.
Fit gods, indeede, for such men to be served by.
The Fire, the winde, the sea, the sunne, and moone,
The flitting Aire, and the swift-winged How'rs,
And all the watchmen, that so nimbly runne,
And centinel about the walled towers
Of the worlds citie, in their heav'nly bowr's.
And, least their pleasant gods should want delight,
Neptune spues out the Lady Aphrodite,
And but in heaven proude Junos peacocks skorne to lite.
The senselesse Earth, the Serpent, dog, and catte,
And woorse then all these, Man, and woorst of men
Usurping Jove, and swilling Bacchus fat,
And drunke with the vines purple blood, and then
The Fiend himselfe they conjure from his denne,
Because he onely yet remain'd to be
Woorse then the worst of men, they flie from thee,
And weare his altar-stones out with their pliant knee.
All that he speakes (and all he speakes are lies)
Are oracles, 'tis he (that wounded all)
Cures all their wounds, he (that put out their eyes)
That gives them light, he (that death first did call
Into the world) that with his orizall,
Inspirits earth: he heav'ns al-seeing eye,
He earths great Prophet, he, whom rest doth flie,
That on salt billowes doth, as pillowes, sleeping lie.
But let him in his cabin restles rest,
The dungeon of darke flames, and freezing fire,
Justice in heav'n against man makes request
To God, and of his Angels doth require
Sinnes punishment: if what I did desire,
Or who, or against whome, or why, or whear,
Of, or before whom ignorant I wear,
Then should my speech their sands of sins to mountaines rear.
Wear not the heav'ns pure, in whose courts I sue,
The Judge, to whom I sue, just to requite him,
The cause for sinne, the punishment most due,
Justice her selfe the plaintiffe to endite him,
The Angells holy, before whom I cite him,
He against whom, wicked, unjust, impure;
Then might he sinnefull live, and die secure,
Or triall might escape, or triall might endure,
The Judge might partiall be, and over-pray'd,
The place appeald from, in whose courts he sues,
The fault excus'd, or punishment delayd,
The parties selfe accus'd, that did accuse,
Angels for pardon might their praiers use:
But now no starre can shine, no hope be got.
Most wretched creature, if he knewe his lot,
And yet more wretched farre, because he knowes it not.
What should I tell how barren earth is growne,
All for to sterve her children, didst not thou
Water with heav'nly showers her wombe unsowne,
And drop downe cloudes of flow'rs, didst not thou bowe
Thine easie eare unto the plowmans vowe,
Long might he looke, and looke, and long in vaine
Might load his harvest in an emptie wayne,
And beat the woods, to finde the poore okes hungrie graine.
The swelling sea seethes in his angrie waves,
And smites the earth, that dares the traytors nourish,
Yet oft his thunder their light corke outbraves,
Mowing the mountaines, on whose temples flourish
Whole woods of garlands, and, their pride to cherish,
Plowe through the seaes greene fields, and nets display
To catch the flying winds, and steale away,
Coozning the greedie sea, prisning their nimble prey.
How often have I seene the waving pine,
Tost on a watrie mountaine, knocke his head
At heav'ns too patient gates, and with salt brine
Quench the Moones burning hornes, and safely fled
From heav'ns revenge, her passengers, all dead
With stiffe astonishment, tumble to hell?
How oft the sea all earth would overswell,
Did not thy sandie girdle binde the mightie well?
Would not the aire be fill'd with steames of death,
To poyson the quicke rivers of their blood,
Did not thy windes fan, with their panting breath,
The flitting region? would not the hastie flood
Emptie it selfe into the seas wide wood,
Did'st not thou leade it wandring from his way,
To give men drinke, and make his waters strey,
To fresh the flowrie medowes, through whose fields they play?
Who makes the sources of the silver fountaines
From the flints mouth, and rocky valleis slide,
Thickning the ayrie bowells of the mountaines?
Who hath the wilde heards of the forrest tide
In their cold denns, making them hungrie bide
Till man to rest be laid? can beastly he,
That should have most sense, onely senseles be,
And all things else, beside himselfe, so awefull see?
Wear he not wilder then the salvage beast,
Prowder then haughty hills, harder then rocks,
Colder then fountaines, from their springs releast,
Lighter then aire, blinder then senseles stocks,
More changing then the rivers curling locks,
If reason would not, sense would soone reproove him,
And unto shame, if not to sorrow, moove him,
To see cold floods, wild beasts, dul stocks, hard stones out-love him.
Under the weight of sinne the earth did fall,
And swallowed Dathan; and the raging winde,
And stormie sea, and gaping Whale, did call
For Jonas; and the aire did bullets finde,
And shot from heav'n a stony showre, to grinde
The five proud Kings, that for their idols fought,
The Sunne it selfe stood still to fight it out,
And fire fro heav'n flew downe, when sin to heav'n did shout.
Should any to himselfe for safety flie?
The way to save himselfe, if any were,
Wear to flie from himselfe: should he relie
Upon the promise of his wife? but there,
What can he see, but that he most may feare,
A Syren, sweete to death: upon his friends?
Who that he needs, or that he hath not lends?
Or wanting aide himselfe, ayde to another sends?
His strength? but dust: his pleasure? cause of paine:
His hope? false courtier: youth, or beawtie? brittle:
Intreatie? fond: repentance? late, and vaine:
Just recompence? the world wear all too little:
Thy love? he hath no title to a tittle:
Hells force? in vaine her furies hell shall gather:
His Servants, Kinsmen, or his children rather?
His child, if good, shall judge, if bad, shall curse his father.
His life? that brings him to his end, and leaves him:
His ende? that leaves him to beginne his woe:
His goods? what good in that, that so deceaves him?
His gods of wood? their feete, alas, are slowe
To goe to helpe, that must be help't to goe:
Honour, great woorth? ah, little woorth they be
Unto their owners: wit? that makes him see
He wanted wit, that thought he had it, wanting thee.
The sea to drinke him quicke? that casts hi[m] dead:
Angells to spare? they punish: night to hide?
The world shall burne in light: the heav'ns to spread
Their wings to save him? heav'n it selfe shall slide,
And rowle away like melting starres, that glide
Along their oylie threads: his minde pursues him:
His house to shrowde, or hills to fall, and bruse him?
As Seargeants both attache, and witnesses accuse him:
What need I urge, what they must needs confesse?
Sentence on them, condemn'd by their owne lust;
I crave no more, and thou canst give no lesse,
Then death to dead men, justice to unjust;
Shame to most shamefull, and most shameles dust:
But if thy Mercie needs will spare her friends,
Let Mercie there begin, where Justice endes.
Tis cruell Mercie, that the wrong from right defends.
She ended, and the heav'nly Hierarchies,
Burning in zeale, thickly imbranded weare:
Like to an armie, that allarum cries,
And every one shakes his ydraded speare,
And the Almighties selfe, as he would teare
The earth, and her firme basis quite in sunder,
Flam'd all in just revenge, and mightie thunder,
Heav'n stole it selfe from earth by clouds that moisterd under.
As when the cheerfull Sunne, elamping wide,
Glads all the world with his uprising raye,
And wooes the widow'd earth afresh to pride,
And paint[s] her bosome with the flowrie Maye,
His silent sister steales him quite away,
Wrap't in a sable clowde, from mortall eyes,
The hastie starres at noone begin to rise,
And headlong to his early roost the sparrowe flies.
But soone as he againe dishadowed is,
Restoring the blind world his blemish't sight,
As though another day wear newely ris,
The cooz'ned birds busily take their flight,
And wonder at the shortnesse of the night:
So Mercie once againe her selfe displayes,
Out from her sisters cloud, and open layes
Those sunshine lookes, whose beames would dim a thousand dayes.
How may a worme, that crawles along the dust,
Clamber the azure mountaines, thrown so high,
And fetch from thence thy faire Idea just,
That in those sunny courts doth hidden lie,
Cloath'd with such light, as blinds the Angels eye;
How may weake mortall ever hope to file
His unsmooth tongue, and his deprostrate stile?
O raise thou from his corse, thy now entomb'd exile.
One touch would rouze me from my sluggish hearse,
One word would call me to my wished home,
One looke would polish my afflicted verse,
One thought would steale my soule from her thicke lome,
And force it wandring up to heav'n to come,
Thear to importune, and to beg apace
One happy favour of thy sacred grace,
To see, (what though it loose her eyes?) to see thy face.
If any aske why roses please the sight,
Because their leaves upon thy cheekes doe bowre;
If any aske why lillies are so white,
Because their blossoms in thy hand doe flowre:
Or why sweet plants so gratefull odours shoure;
It is because thy breath so like they be:
Or why the Orient Sunne so bright we see;
What reason can we give, but from thine eies, and thee?
Ros'd all in lively crimsin ar thy cheeks,
Whear beawties indeflourishing abide,
And, as to passe his fellowe either seekes,
Seemes both doe blush at one anothers pride:
And on thine eyelids, waiting thee beside,
Ten thousand Graces sit, and when they moove
To earth their amourous belgards from above,
They flie from heav'n, and on their wings convey thy love.
All of discolour'd plumes their wings ar made,
And with so wondrous art the quills ar wrought,
That whensoere they cut the ayrie glade,
The winde into their hollowe pipes is caught:
As seemes the spheres with them they down have brought:
Like to the seaven-fold reede of Arcadie,
Which Pan of Syrinx made, when she did flie
To Ladon sands, and at his sighs sung merily.
As melting hony, dropping from the combe,
So still the words, that spring between thy lipps,
Thy lippes, whear smiling sweetnesse keepes her home,
And heav'nly Eloquence pure manna sipps,
He that his pen but in that fountaine dipps,
How nimbly will the golden phrases flie,
And shed forth streames of choycest rhetorie,
Welling celestiall torrents out of poesie?
Like as the thirstie land, in summers heat,
Calls to the cloudes, and gapes at everie showre,
As though her hungry clifts all heav'n would eat,
Which if high God into her bosome powre,
Though much refresht, yet more she could devoure:
So hang the greedie ears of Angels sweete,
And every breath a thousand cupids meete,
Some flying in, some out, and all about her fleet.
Upon her breast, Delight doth softly sleepe,
And of eternall joy is brought abed,
Those snowie mountelets, through which doe creepe
The milkie rivers, that ar inly bred
In silver cesternes, and themselves doe shed
To wearie Travailers, in heat of day,
To quench their fierie th[ir]st, and to allay
With dropping nectar floods, the furie of their way.
If any wander, thou doest call him backe,
If any be not forward, thou incit'st him,
Thou doest expect, if any should growe slacke,
If any seeme but willing, thou invit'st him,
Or if he doe offend thee, thou acquit'st him,
Thou find'st the lost, and follow'st him that flies,
Healing the sicke, and quickning him that dies,
Thou art the lame mans friendly staffe, the blind mans eyes.
So faire thou art that all would thee behold,
But none can thee behold, thou art so faire,
Pardon, O pardon then thy Vassall bold,
That with poore shadowes strives thee to compare,
And match the things, which he knowes matchlesse are;
O thou vive mirrhour of celestiall grace,
How can fraile colours pourtraict out thy face,
Or paint in flesh thy beawtie, in such semblance base?
Her upper garment was a silken lawne,
With needle-woorke richly embroidered,
Which she her selfe with her owne hand had drawne,
And all the world therein had pourtrayed,
With threads, so fresh, and lively coloured,
That seem'd the world she newe created thear,
And the mistaken eye would rashly swear
The silken trees did growe, and the beasts living wear.
Low at her feet the Earth was cast alone,
(As though to kisse her foot it did aspire,
And gave it selfe for her to tread upon)
With so unlike, and different attire,
That every one that sawe it, did admire
What it might be, was of so various hewe;
For to it selfe it oft so diverse grewe,
That still it seem'd the same, and still it seem'd a newe.
And here, and there few men she scattered,
(That in their thought the world esteeme but small,
And themselves great) but she with one fine thread
So short, and small, and slender wove them all,
That like a sort of busie ants, that crawle
About some molehill, so they wandered:
And round about the waving Sea was shed,
But, for the silver sands, small pearls were sprinkled.
So curiously the underworke did creepe,
And curling circlets so well shadowed lay,
That afar off the waters seem'd to sleepe,
But those that neere the margin pearle did play,
Hoarcely enwaved wear with hastie sway,
As though they meant to rocke the gentle eare,
And hush the former that enslumbred wear,
And here a dangerous rocke the flying ships did fear.
High in the ayrie element there hung
Another clowdy sea, that did disdaine
(As though his purer waves from heaven sprung)
To crawle on earth, as doth the sluggish maine:
But it the earth would water with his raine,
That eb'd, and flow'd, as winde, and season would,
And oft the Sun would cleave the limber mould
To alabaster rockes, that in the liquid rowl'd.
Beneath those sunny banks, a darker cloud,
Dropping with thicker deaw, did melt apace,
And bent it selfe into a hollowe shroude,
On which, if Mercy did but cast her face,
A thousand colours did the bowe enchace,
That wonder was to see the silke distain'd
With the resplendance from her beawtie gain'd,
And Iris paint her locks with beames, so lively feign'd.
About her head a cyprus heav'n she wore,
Spread like a veile, upheld with silver wire,
In which the starres so burn't in golden ore,
As seem'd, the azure web was all on fire,
But hastily, to quench their sparkling ire,
A flood of milke came rowling up the shore,
That on his curded wave swift Argus bore,
And the immortall swan, that did her life deplore.
Yet strange it was, so many starres to see
Without a Sunne, to give their tapers light:
Yet strange it was not, that it so should be:
For, where the Sunne centers himselfe by right,
Her face, and locks did flame, that at the sight,
The heavenly veile, that else should nimbly moove,
Forgot his flight, and all incens'd with love,
With wonder, and amazement, did her beautie proove.
Over her hung a canopie of state,
Not of rich tissew, nor of spangled gold,
But of a substance, though not animate,
Yet of a heav'nly, and spirituall mould,
That onely eyes of Spirits might behold:
Such light as from maine rocks of diamound,
Shooting their sparks at Phebus, would rebound,
And little Angels, holding hands, daunc't all around.
Seemed those little sprights, through nimbless bold,
The stately canopy bore on their wings,
But them it selfe, as pendants, did uphold,
Besides the crownes of many famous kings,
Among the rest, thear David ever sings,
And now, with yeares growne young, renewes his layes
Unto his golden harpe, and ditties playes,
Psalming aloud in well tun'd songs his Makers prayse.
Thou self-Idea of all joyes to come,
Whose love is such, would make the rudest speake,
Whose love is such, would make the wisest dumbe,
O when wilt thou thy too long silence breake,
And overcome the strong to save the weake!
If thou no weapons hast, thine eyes will wound
Th' Almighties selfe, that now sticke on the ground,
As though some blessed object thear did them empound.
Ah miserable Abject of disgrace,
What happines is in thy miserie?
I both must pittie, and envie thy case.
For she, that is the glorie of the skie,
Leaves heaven blind, to fix on thee her eye.
Yet her (though Mercies selfe esteems not small)
The world despis['d], they her Repentance call,
And she her selfe despises, and the world, and all.
Deepely, alas empassioned she stood,
To see a flaming brand, tost up from hell,
Boyling her heart in her owne lustfull blood,
That oft for torment she would loudely yell,
Now she would sighing sit, and nowe she fell
Crouching upon the ground, in sackcloath trust,
Early, and late she prayed, and fast she must,
And all her haire hung full of ashes, and of dust.
Of all most hated, yet hated most of all
Of her owne selfe she was; disconsolat
(As though her flesh did but infunerall
Her buried ghost) she in an arbour sat
Of thornie brier, weeping her cursed state,
And her before a hastie river fled,
Which her blind eyes with faithfull penance fed,
And all about, the grasse with tears hung downe his head.
Her eyes, though blind abroad, at home kept fast,
Inwards they turn'd, and look't into her head,
At which shee often started, as aghast,
To see so fearfull spectacles of dread,
And with one hand, her breast shee martyred,
Wounding her heart, the same to mortifie,
The other a faire damsell held her by,
Which if but once let goe, shee sunke immediatly.
But Faith was quicke, and nimble as the heav'n,
As if of love, and life shee all had been,
And though of present sight her sense were reaven,
Yet shee could see the things could not be seen:
Beyond the starres, as nothing wear between,
She fixt her sight, disdeigning things belowe,
Into the sea she could a mountaine throwe,
And make the Sun to stande, and waters backewards flowe.
Such when as Mercie her beheld from high,
In a darke valley, drownd with her owne tears,
One of her graces she sent hastily,
Smiling Eirene, that a garland wears
Of guilded olive, on her fairer hears,
To crowne the fainting soules true sacrifice,
Whom when as sad Repentance comming spies,
The holy Desperado wip't her swollen eyes.
But Mercie felt a kinde remorse to runne
Through her soft vaines, and therefore, hying fast
To give an end to silence, thus begunne.
Aye-honour'd Father, if no joy thou hast
But to reward desert, reward at last
The Devils voice, spoke with a serpents tongue,
Fit to hisse out the words so deadly stung,
And let him die, deaths bitter charmes so sweetely sung.
He was the father of that hopeles season,
That to serve other Gods, forgot their owne,
The reason was, thou wast above their reason:
They would have any Gods, rather then none,
A beastly serpent, or a senselesse stone:
And these, as Justice hates, so I deplore:
But the up-plowed heart, all rent, and tore,
Though wounded by it selfe, I gladly would restore.
He was but dust; Why fear'd he not to fall?
And beeing fall'n, how can he hope to live?
Cannot the hand destroy him, that made all?
Could he not take away, aswell as give?
Should man deprave, and should not God deprive?
Was it not all the worlds deceiving spirit,
(That, bladder'd up with pride of his owne merit,
Fell in his rise) that him of heav'n did disinherit?
He was but dust: how could he stand before him?
And beeing fall'n, why should he feare to die?
Cannot the hand that made him first, restore him?
Deprav'd of sinne, should he deprived lie
Of grace? can he not hide infirmitie
That gave him strength? unworthy the forsaking,
He is, who ever weighs, without mistaking,
Or Maker of the man, or manner of his making.
Who shall thy temple incense any more;
Or to thy altar crowne the sacrifice;
Or strewe with idle flow'rs the hallow'd flore;
Or what should Prayer deck with hearbs, and spice,
Her vialls, breathing orisons of price?
If all must paie that which all cannot paie?
O first begin with mee, and Mercie slaie,
And thy thrice-honour'd Sonne, that now beneath doth strey.
But if or he, or I may live, and speake,
And heav'n can joye to see a sinner weepe,
Oh let not Justice yron scepter breake
A heart alreadie broke, that lowe doth creep,
And with prone humblesse her feets dust doth sweep.
Must all goe by desert? is nothing free?
Ah, if but those that onely woorthy be,
None should thee ever see, none should thee ever see.
What hath man done, that man shall not undoe,
Since God to him is growne so neere a kin?
Did his foe slay him? he shall slay his foe:
Hath he lost all? he all againe shall win;
Is Sinne his Master? he shall master sinne:
Too hardy soule, with sinne the field to trie:
The onely way to conquer, was to flie,
But thus long death hath liv'd, and now deaths selfe shall die.
He is a path, if any be misled,
He is a robe, if any naked bee,
If any chaunce to hunger, he is bread,
If any be a bondman, he is free,
If any be but weake, howe strong is hee?
To dead men life he is, to sicke men health,
To blinde men sight, and to the needie wealth,
A pleasure without losse, a treasure without stealth.
Who can forget, never to be forgot,
The time, that all the world in slumber lies,
When, like the starres, the singing Angels shot
To earth, and heav'n awaked all his eyes,
To see another Sunne, at midnight rise,
On ear[t]h? was never sight of pareil fame,
For God before Man like himselfe did frame,
But God himselfe now like a mortall man became.
A Child he was, and had not learn't to speake,
That with his word the world before did make,
His Mothers armes him bore, he was so weake,
That with one hand the vaults of heav'n could shake,
See how small roome my infant Lord doth take,
Whom all the world is not enough to hold.
Who of his yeares, or of his age hath told?
Never such age so young, never a child so old.
And yet but newely he was infanted,
And yet alreadie he was sought to die,
Yet scarcely borne, alreadie banished,
Not able yet to goe, and forc't to flie,
But scarcely fled away, when by and by,
The Tyrans sword with blood is all defil'd,
And Rachel, for her sonnes with furie wild,
Cries, O thou cruell King, and O my sweetest child.
Egypt his Nource became, whear Nilus springs,
Who streit, to entertaine the rising sunne,
The hasty harvest in his bosome brings;
But now for drieth the fields wear all undone,
And now with waters all is overrunne,
So fast the Cynthian mountaines powr'd their snowe,
When once they felt the sunne so neere them glowe,
That Nilus Egypt lost, and to a sea did growe.
The Angells caroll'd lowd their song of peace,
The cursed Oracles wear strucken dumb,
To see their Sheapheard, the poore Sheapheards press,
To see their King, the Kingly Sophies come,
And them to guide unto his Masters home,
A Starre comes dauncing up the orient,
That springs for joye over the strawy tent,
Whear gold, to make their Prince a crowne, they all present.
Young John, glad child, before he could be borne,
Leapt in the woombe, his joy to prophecie,
Old Anna though with age all spent, and worne,
Proclaimes her Saviour to posteritie,
And Simeon fast his dying notes doeth plie.
Oh how the blessed soules about him trace.
It is the fire of heav'n thou doest embrace,
Sing, Simeon, sing, sing Simeon, sing apace.
With that the mightie thunder dropt away
From Gods unwarie arme, now milder growne,
And melted into teares, as if to pray
For pardon, and for pittie, it had knowne,
That should have been for sacred vengeance throwne:
Thereto the Armies Angelique dev[ow'd]
Their former rage, and all to Mercie b[ow'd],
Their broken weapons at her feet they gladly strow'd.
Bring, bring ye Graces all your silver flaskets,
Painted with every choicest flowre that growes,
That I may soone unflow'r your fragrant baskets,
To strowe the fields with odours whear he goes,
Let what so e're he treads on be a rose.
So downe shee let her eyelids fall, to shine
Upon the rivers of bright Palestine,
Whose woods drop honie, and her rivers skip with wine.
[Boas (1908) 1:18-39]