1625
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Brides Ornaments: Meditat. I. Knowledge.

The Brides Ornaments, viz. Five Meditations, Morall and Divine. 1. Knowledge, 2. Zeale, 3. Temperance, 4. Bountie, 5. Joy. [Books III and IV.]

Robert Aylett


This continuation of The Brides Ornaments, described at the end of Books I and II (1621) as being ready for publication. Robert Aylett defines the true nature and use of knowledge, describing James I as a Solomon in wisdom — though a Puritan in his theological views, Aylett was employed by Laud.



A daily warfare is a Christians life,
Where Souldiers all not onely stand in need
Of Armes and Valour (to maintaine the strife
The cursed Serpent makes with Adams seed)
But of this Treasure, Knowledge, both to feed
Their Soules with food most pure Celestiall,
And furnish with such Weapons as they need;
I therefore her Loves Treasurer doe call,
For we in daily want stand of her Treasure all.

By feigned Treasure; did the Serpent traine
Our two first Parents to their cursed sinne;
Pretending they should goodly Treasure gaine,
And Knowledge both of good and evill, win:
But good doth end where evill doth begin;
For drosse they do exchange their purest gold.
The Serpent bad without, themselves within
They find the evill, as the Serpent told:
But up to Heav'n flies good, which can no ill behold.

Thus all our Treasures lost we had before,
The Knowledge of Gods nature and his will,
And we become unarm'd, rude, naked, poore;
Of all things ignorant, but doing ill:
Now us our enemies may easily kill,
We having lost our weapons and our treasure:
Which wealth and weapons if regaine we will,
We must attend this heav'nly Lady's pleasure:
Divine sweet Knowledge not confin'd by weight or measure.

Thou Word Incarnate! whom aright to know
Is Life eternall, Joy, and happy rest,
To mee this Ladies wondrous Beauty show,
And richest treasures, which in golden Chest,
Thou hid'st from Hell and malice of the Beast;
Knowledge, contain'd in either Testament:
Wherein thy Will and Nature is exprest
How we should live and Serpents sting prevent,
How conquer Hell, and serve thee with a true intent.

Some Knowledge call, th' habit of demonstration,
Some her to know by causes doe define;
Some th' Understandings sound determination,
Wee her to heav'nly Doctrine here confine:
Which in a threefold Booke to man doth shine,
Of Creatures, first, and latter Testament,
The Book of Creatures shews Gods power divine,
The Law is much in types and shadowes spent,
Whereof the Gospel is the full accomplishment.

In Booke of creatures all men may observe
Gods Wisedome, Goodnesse; Power, and Providence,
By which he made the world and doth preserve
In truest motions, its circumference:
Sending from Heav'n rains sweetest influence;
Filling our hearts with Mirth and Joyfulnesse;
And giving all things, Motion, Being, Sense,
This doth Gods power and God-head plaine expresse,
But not his Will, which leads to endlesse happinesse.

Yet by this Booke are left without excuse
Idolaters who downe to stocks do fall;
Which their owne hands have made for such abuse,
And leave their Maker, blessed over all;
Who as his Power and Goodnesse generall
Appeares most plainly in this Worlds Creation;
So doth his gracious Bountie on them fall,
In sending food for daily sustentation,
And in their healths and lives continuall preservation;

The next two Bookes most plainly doe disclose
Gods Will particular and generall,
Particular to Patriarchs, Prophets, those
That till Christs time on God aright did call:
For this did not on all the Nations fall,
Gods will was then in Jury only knowne:
But now the Gospel soundeth out to all,
The seed thereof in ev'ry Nation's sowne,
Which doth reveal hid mysteries before unknowne.

The first, Gods power and providence doth shew;
The second, types out our Regeneration;
The third, directly leadeth us to know
All that is needfull for our owne Salvation;
Ev'n from Election to Glorification:
This Booke reveals all secret mysteries,
Hidden in Christ before the Worlds foundation;
Though Worldlings this as folly doe despise,
Yet this true Knowledge onely happy, makes and wise.

As some great Princes might and Majestie,
Is often to the meanest stranger knowne;
But his most secret counsell and decree,
To friends and counsellors is onely shown.
Evn' so the King of Kings holds not unknowne
From Heathens sight, his Majestie and might:
But hath disclosed onely to his owne,
The secret of his counsells, and delight;
Whereby they may him worship, please, and serve aright.

This is the Knowledge which I seek to trace,
This only doth true happinesse afford,
Whereof the onely cause is inward Grace,
And understanding Gods most holy Word:
The helpes which humane Learning do record;
Law, History, Arts, Physicke, Poetrie;
Are but as servants waiting on their Lord,
And hand-maids to their dame Divinite;
All Knowledge without this is foolish vanitie.

Sweet Grace, which dost true Knowledge of Gods will,
To Babes and sucklings oftentimes reveale,
When from great Clerkes of Wisedom and deepe skill;
Thy pleasure is this treasure to conceale;
Oh sacred breath! which in our hearts doth steale,
Like sweetest Zephyrus most pleasing winde,
Whence no man knowes, yet doth it surely seale,
That certaine Knowledge which I seeke to finde,
Knowledge of God and Christ the Saviour of mankinde.

All Graces that doe serve Loves Royall Queene
From heavenly Knowledge have their maintenance,
And alwayes in her company are seene,
None without Knowledge may neere Love advance;
With her are Diligence, and Temperance:
True Faith so neere her ever doth attend,
You would her take for Knowledge at a glance,
Though often Faith doth so her selfe transcend,
That shee beyond the reach of Knowledge doth ascend.

Not Faith alone, but Workes accompany
True Knowledge, who in words doth make profession
He knowes God, but in Workes doth him deny,
Is ev'n a lyar by his own confession;
How many from this rule doe make digression?
That would in Knowledge be accounted high,
But give themselves to Pride, Lust, and Oppression;
Envy, dissembling, Schisme, Idolatry
Alas true Knowledge never kept such company.

Some only seeke to know, that they may know;
And this is foolish curiositie,
And some of Learning make a goodly show,
And this is base and idle vanitie;
Some Knowledge seeke for their utilitie,
Or their preferment, which is filthy gaine,
Some to teach other, which is Charitie,
Some by this Knowledge seeke Heav'n to attaine,
To know and walke not right is damnable and vain.

I liken this true Knowledge to the flower,
Or blossome springing from the root of Grace,
That doth most gloriously adorn Loves bower,
And fils with pleasant odours all the place;
Which blossome beautifull in little space,
It selfe into most goodly fruits doth spend,
Faith, Mercy, Peace, each good and perfect grace,
Which fruit so farre the flower doth transcend,
God, Men, and Angels tast it, and the same commend.

As Blossomes doe not from root lively spring,
That after blowing have a fruitlesse fall;
So Knowledge that in Workes is vanishing,
Had never any root from grace at all.
But is like to good seed that's said to fall
From sowers hand, down by the high-way side,
Whose rooting being shallow, loose, and small,
Could not the Suns hot scorching heat abide;
But in the blade, with some, small light affliction dide.

Some liken heav'nly Knowledge to the Sunne
Then which in this world nothing more to sight
Objected is: But we by Sinne become,
Like him born blinde, depriv'd of naturall light.
Till some Power supernaturall enlight,
And though more plaine in this world nothing's showne,
Than Gods eternall Godhead, goodnesse, might;
Yet untill Grace enlighten 'tis unknowne,
No cause hereof in God but in our selves is knowne.

Knowledge is like the talents which the Lord,
When he went forth did to his servants lend:
The first who his own talent up did hoard,
Like him that for his Knowledge doth contend;
But therewith not himselfe, nor others mend:
Hee that with talents two, gain'd other twaine,
Is he that doth his time and labour spend
To save himselfe, and those with him remaine,
But he that gain'd the five; seeks all mens soules to gaine.

I Knowledge to the Virgins Lamps compare,
Which foolish maids had common with the Wise,
Oile works of Pietie and Mercy are;
Which foolish Virgins idlely do misprise,
But when one, Loe the Bridegrome comes, out cryes,
The foolish Virgins Lamps are spent and done,
Wherefore they must to merits merchandize,
And borrow when they of their owne have none,
The Churches Treasury will furnish ev'ry one.

Like Widowes Oile, that doth encrease by spending,
Like flames that lightning others, gaine more light
Like Usurers coine, that doth augment by lending;
Like Joy, that most encreaseth by delight.
Like Manna that the Angels food is hight,
Whereof each gathers what may him suffice:
Except such as in Flesh-pots more delight,
Like Springs which more you draw, the faster rise,
Like Tutors, who by teaching Schollers, grow more wise.

No Simile can her so well expresse,
As infinite and boundlesse treasury;
Or Sea of waters which become no lesse:
Though Fountaines all with streams it doth supply.
How infinite is this grand Mystery,
To lay of nothing this huge Worlds foundation:
One God, three Persons in the Trinitie,
Oh depth of Knowledge! Gods owne Incarnation,
Obedience, Passion, Resurrection, Exaltation.

Oh! I am drown'd, here Elephants may swim,
My Lambe-like Muse in shallow Fords must wade,
And seeke for Knowledge to desist from Sinne,
And make Faith, Mercy, Piety my trade.
By Faith, I know, Christs merits mine are made;
The rest are fruits of my Sanctification,
Abundant Knowledge doth with sorrow lade,
To Know and doe God's will is delectation,
And onely by Christs merits bringeth to Salvation.

This is the Knowledge which our Saviour meant,
When as he it eternall life did call;
To know God, and the Christ which he had sent;
This is the Knowledge so much sought of all
Before and since the Law, and ever shall,
Though till Christs time it was so shadowed;
As cover'd it in types and signes seem'd small,
But since Times fulnesse it accomplished,
Behold, they all in Christ are easie to be read.

By this did Abel offer of his Sheepe,
The fat, and God accepted his oblation:
By this so well Gods Law did Henoch keepe,
Hee him exalted from earths habitation;
For this did Abram leave both House and Nation,
Assured, that from out his Loins should spring
That Knowledge, which to know was his salvation
Herein did David, though he were a King,
Take more delight then Crowne, or any worldly thing.

See next his Royall Son, King Solomon,
Then whom arise a Wiser never shall,
Who knew plants natures, ev'n from Lebanon
Her Cedars tall to Hysope by the wall:
Who as in Wealth in Knowledge passed all;
Yet after hee had traced Vanitie,
And found how sonnes of men thereby did fall,
Him to this Knowledge did againe apply:
And swanlike sang Christs Churches Epithalamy.

Wake I, or sleepe, or am I in a trance?
Or doe another Solomon behold?
A David who doth far and wide advance,
His gracious scepter? But no bounds can hold
His Knowledge, secret things for to unfold;
Law, History, Arts, and Philosophy,
All noble sciences that can be told,
Yet seemes to love alone Divinitie,
Which truly can direct in Peace to live and die.

Who as hee is the Learnedest of Kings,
So 'tis his Joy and Glory for to be,
The King of Learned men; which in all things,
Makes God to prosper him as all may see.
This makes him raise to place of high degree,
Men of great knowledge, well to rule the Land,
And put downe Ignorance and subtletie,
Which highest in their owne conceits do stand;
Long sway thou Brittons Scepter with thy sacred hand.

And when thy Cloake, Elias-like, must fall
Upon Elisha thine undoubted heire,
Inherite hee thy Peace and Knowledge all,
And in thy Spirit rule as in thy chaire:
But I must leave this field so ample faire,
Teach mee, O Lord, to know and do thy will,
And let thy grace againe in me repaire
Thine Image lost, and all corruptions kill;
Thus we thy will on Earth, as they in Heav'n fullfill.

This knowledge must stand by us at our last,
Whenas wee ready are our soules to tender
To him, that for false knowledge curious taste,
Though guiltlesse did his life to Justice render:
For this the Holy Ghost doth more commend her,
That bare her Saviours knowledge in her brest;
Then that she bare him in her wombe, yet tender,
For One all Generations call her blest,
By th' other one of his true members she doth rest.

But though this onely necessary is,
And first for our salvation to be sought,
We only at our last of it have misse,
As too meane subject for ambitious thought:
Thus the unlearned rise, and heav'n have cought,
When greatest Clerks with Sciences profound,
Heartlesse, and comforteless to Hell are brought,
For God doth their great wisedom oft confound,
Because their inward parts are not sincere and sound.

Alas! Of knowledge here we have no care,
But all our youth in follies idlely spend;
Our strength in lusts and strifes away we weare;
In age we worldly profit all intend:
Alas what gain we by this at our end?
When our fraile Body doth returne to dust,
Our Soule to him that gave it must ascend,
Whereof least jot of time account they must,
Which hath been spent in discord, profit, folly, lust.

Oh! knew we but the vertue of this treasure?
Like to the Merchant wise, we would sell all
To buy it, where we should finde profit, pleasure,
Such Joy as never on our hearts did fall:
Oh heav'nly Comfort! Joy spirituall:
Delight unspeakable in hearts that grow,
Of those that shee is conversant withall;
What Joy can there be greater then to know
Gods endlesse Love in Christ, which shee to us doth show.

Sure I could wish my whole life here to spend,
In this divine most holy contemplation,
Whereof I know not how to make an end,
Shee yeelds such plenty of sweet meditation:
Most heav'nly mysteries of our Creation,
Wherein appeare Gods might and Majestie;
But above all his love in mans salvation,
This is that wondrous hidden mystery,
Into the which ev'n Angels did desire to pry.

But we confesse though thou dost here reveale,
Abundant knowledge, yet we little know;
Wherefore 'gainst us the Heathen may appeale
Who though thou didst, to them but glimpses show
Of Truth, and Justice, did more righteous grow,
Then wee that do thy sacred Truth confesse;
And make of Puritie a glorious show;
But to adorn the Gospel we professe
With works of Charitie, ah! wee doe nothing less.

Oh it is meate and drink, we know not of;
To know and doe our heav'nly Fathers will:
Our blessed Saviour alwayes fed thereof,
And hereof Saints and Angells eat their fill.
These are the fruitfull plants which flourish still,
Milke, Hony, living Water, spiced Wine;
Which do refresh Christs Spouse when she is ill:
These richest Jewells which her make so fine,
Locks, Ribands, Roses, which so gloriously do shine.

For this, she is the Bridegrooms darling Dove,
And unto her that bare her, only deare:
For this the daughters when they see her love,
And all the Queenes and Wives make merry cheere:
This makes her looke then Sunne and Moone more cleere,
Her navell, belly, head, necke, brests adorne;
With these shee to her husband doth appeare,
More beautifull, than is the fairest morne;
Or fair like twinning Ews, on Gilead washt and shorne.

Thou that such heav'nly Knowledge didst instill,
Into plaine Fishers that they could confound
By argument, ev'n Clerkes of greatest skill,
And dive into thy Mysteries profound:
Who by their cloven-fiery tongues forth sound,
The Knowledge of thy Truth to ev'ry Nation;
Canst make this Knowledge in mine heart abound,
By one sparke of divine illumination,
And ravish my weake soule with heav'nly admiration.

And though imperfect here our Knowledge be,
By reason of our humane imperfection,
And for by Faith alone, we things do see,
And nothing know indeed in true perfection;
Yet when thy Spirit cleares our minds infection,
Wee shall then know, ev'n as we now are knowne;
And things now seen by mirrour-like inspection;
To us shall be most evidently showne,
In Knowledge we shall reape, what we in Faith have sowne.

What then's imperfect, shall be done away,
Knowledge shall perfect our felicitie;
Which is our free beholding God, for aye,
In his great Goodnesse, Love, and Majestie,
So farre as finite may infinitie,
Farther to reach my Muse dares not be bold,
When Angels of so high sublimitie
Gods Light and Majestie cannot behold,
Finite with infinite can no proportion hold.

[pp. 1-11]