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ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Brides Ornaments: Meditat. I. Of Wisdome and Prudence.

The Brides Ornaments, viz. Five Meditiations, Morall and Divine. [Books III and IV.]

Robert Aylett


Robert Aylett begins his fourth book of meditations by distinguishing and illustrating wisdom and prudence.



The first degree to Wisedome is the misse
Of Folly: For as Darknesse the privation
Is of Lights Being, But no Being is,
So Folly is of Wise illumination:
And as in Chaos rude, at first Creation
There was all Darknesse by the want of light:
So in all men before their renovation
Are Follies mists and errours blackest night,
Till there the Spirit move, which all things doth inlight.

The Poets which did wondrously transcend
In making Mystery's by Fictions plaine,
All other Graces as divine commend,
But Wisedome they to be a Goddesse faine;
Minerva, who proceedeth from the braine
Of Jupiter; whom they the Mistris hight
Of all the Graces and the Muses traine,
To whom shee oft descends for her delight,
Weary'd with toile of Government and Martiall fight.

Thus her of Warre, Peace, Polity, and Arts,
They Goddesse make, as if they should her call,
The Wisdome God the Father, thus imparts
Unto the Sonne, to make rule, order all;
With God the Father Coessentiall,
As all his Attributes, Power, Truth, and Love,
For on the Persons Consubstantiall
No accident can fall or thence remove,
This Soules faint eye conceives of Wisdome from above.

Which is unto my mindes obscured eye,
As to my Bodies Sunne in Firmament,
The farther off, the easier to descry,
For neernesse breedeth but astonishment:
Oh glorious Wisdome, Sun most orient;
Into my soule, with Folly clouded shine,
Some clearer beames of wisdome excellent,
The whilst I sing these radiant rayes of thine,
Which make a mortall wight seeme gloriously divine.

What and how great is wisdomes heav'nly skill,
No heart of man is able to conceive,
Much lesse expresse by any tongue or quill,
For none but Wisdome, wisedome can perceive:
The cause unknowne of nothing shee doth leave,
A Numen of such wondrous excellence,
Shee doth no good but from her selfe receive;
Being her owne end, ayme, and recompence,
No good in Heav'n or Earth, but flow's from Sapience.

And therefore cal'd the proper Good of Jove,
Which though to Men and Angells hee dispence
In wise proportion, yet from him doth move
All wisdome, and to him hath reference;
For as in Power so in Sapience,
He doth all other heav'nly Powers transcend,
For Wisdome Ground is of Omnipotence,
And as we Mortalls on her hests attend,
So nearer to divine perfection we ascend.

Such is true Wisdom's glory, that ev'n they
Seeme much to doubt, who doe her most admire;
Whither we properly possesse her may,
And by continuall industry acquire;
Or that the Heav'ns her secretly inspire:
In briefe, no price or gold can her obtaine,
Shee seemes to be some flame of heav'nly fire
In Adam breath'd before by Folly slaine,
Which therefore we must seeke to have from heav'n againe.

Schooles her to be the knowledge doe define
Of things divine and humane, which in breast
Of Mortalls, if it pure and lively shine
Makes him, like God, unmov'd and stable rest:
For as no chance of Fortune can molest
The Power divine, So wisemen doe enjoy
Within themselves, by Wisdome, Peace, and Rest;
Nothing that is without can them annoy,
All seeming Miseries give place to inward Joy.

Yet falls this Wisdome short of that Divine,
Which Adam did possess before his fall:
And as Sun-beames through clouds, so doth she shine
Through our corruptions, scarse discern'd at all,
Wee common and more exquisite her call;
That sees things that are past, and things in sight,
This things which in succeeding times may fall:
Wee her, as shee guides mens affairs aright,
Call Prudence; Wisdome, as shee doth in God delight.

Wisdome and Prudence in an humane brest,
Are one same Grace, though divers by relation:
Wisdome refers to God, Prudence doth rest
Most in a wise and upright moderation
Of States and Men by Law's administration:
By Wisdome here we see the life of Grace,
By Prudence in a civill conversation;
Prudence amongst the heathen had a place;
True heav'nly wisdome only Gods elect doth grace.

This heav'nly wisdome, whereby we converse
With God, and take delight in holy things,
Doth our affections all and wills perverse
Set right, and neere divine perfection brings;
Shee first, like good Musitian, tunes the strings,
And then sends forth a most harmonious sound:
First lifts our Soules to heav'n upon her wings,
Next orders all by Prudence on the ground,
Like Leech who ere he others cure, himselfe makes sound.

She first within in order sets the heart,
Next is for outward things most provident,
No Grace more Good to Mortalls doth impart,
Nor none more evils here on earth prevent:
She shew's her inward Graces God hath lent
By outward manners, habit, grave attire;
Few words, pure hands, in all such complement,
Such gesture publike, and in her retire,
As all her for a heav'nly patterne do admire.

But most of all a wiseman strives to tame
Both in himself and others Sin and Lust:
For hee that Good from Ill discerns, doth blame
False varnisht show's, defil'd with inward rust:
He Pride, Pompe, Boasting, Scorne away doth thrust,
And from a pure Serenity of mind
A paterne draws of Life most quiet, just;
Far from opinions false, and errour blind,
And guides at stern, as in a calme, so in the wind.

In Warre most valiant, in Judgement just;
Ill, unto Good, things hurtfull, turns to sound;
Will's still the same, because the best, no Gust
Of fate oppresseth him, if Wealth abound,
Or Poverty, he still the same is found;
And doth with pleasing constancy endure
All Fortunes changes which do others wound;
True, innocent, sincere, just, simple, pure,
And as his Life, his Death is joyfull, sweet, secure.

The Poets faine that in the golden Age.
Grave, wise, experienc'd men bare all the sway,
And the unexpert, young, not yet growne sage,
To learn Law's rules first practis'd to obey,
For Prudence all by levell orders ay,
And by a long Experience doth discerne,
How she provide for future changes may,
By precept, and example much we learne;
But that imprints most deepe, which doth our selves concerne.

Examples, Precepts, and Experience,
Are ever ready at a Wisemans hand,
To teach him Judgement, Counsell, Providence
Of which we alway's here in need doe stand:
By Counsell we the Grounds do understand
Of things we ought to do or leave undone:
Judgement our Wills and Senses doth command,
What things we ought embrace, and what to shun,
And Providence provides for things that are to come.

I praise not here that cunning Politie,
Which maketh of anothers Folly, gaine;
This comes of Malice, Guile, and Subtletie,
Which generous brave Prudence doth disdaine:
Such alway's evil counsell entertaine,
The Apes of Prudence, Reasons depravation,
Whose minds (as hands grow hard by taking paine)
Are by base plots, and subtill imagination
Inured unto others wrongs and supplantation.

As Quicknesse wit, As Soundnesse memory,
Grave lookes the face, and Plainnesse speech commend;
So Judgements praise is in Equalitie,
Without least doing wrong to Foe or Friend;
And as salt savours, so doth Judgement bend
Ev'n all our words, thoughts, workes, to good or ill;
Without this Judgement, Prudence doth intend
Nothing; for she is Mistresse of her Will,
Which she with all her power labours to fulfill.

Counsell and Judgement are the very eyes
And Lamps here, to direct a prudent mind;
Which they who want, or foolishly misprise,
Walke on in Folly and in Errour blind:
We many ignorant vain Fools do find,
So wise in their conceit and estimation;
They thinke all wisedome in their breasts confin'd,
These being bound by double oblgation
To Folly, there's no hope of any reformation.

Prudence and Folly, in the Soul eof man,
Like Health and Sicknesse in his Body are;
As Health the Body keepes, so Prudence can
The Soule deliver from the devills snare:
And as Diseases here the thread doth share
Of Bodies Life; So Folly soon doth rend
The Soule with pleasures vaine, and worldly care:
For as strong men within a Fort defend;
So Prudent Thoughts our soules from Satans fury shend.

And as, among the noble senses five,
The Sight doth all the rest in worth excell,
Because all doe their Light from her derive,
And shee all that offends them doth repell:
So Prudence all the vertues doth precell;
Because, by Light God sends her from above,
She counsells all the Graces to do well;
For without her no Grace aright can move
Prudence of all the rest the Governour doth prove.

Ulysses Prudence, Ajax Fortitude;
Whilst they each other doe accompany
Win City's, conquer men, and Monsters rude:
But if they square for Gaine or Dignity,
And Ajax leaves Ulysses company,
His valour turnes to Folly or to Rage;
So men of greatest magnanimity,
When they the Guidance leave of Prudence sage,
Crow beastly, mad, or foolish in their later age.

I may her liken to the Prince of Day,
From whom all lesser Lamps doe borrow Light;
Who when he doth his glorious Beames display,
The rest all seeme to be extinguish't quite:
So when as heav'nly Wisdome, wondrous bright,
Her self amongst the Graces doth disclose,
They all doe seeme to vanish in her sight,
As all the Glory that they have arose
From those bright Beames, which wisdome doth on them dispose.

As God the world, the Emperour his host,
The Governour his Ship, the Sunne the day,
And as the Body's ruled by the Ghost,
So doth faire Prudence all the vertues sway:
And as these, like good Guides, direct the way
Unto their charge, to reach their proper end:
So doth true wisdome all that her obey
To endlesse happinesse and pleasure send;
Most happy man who doth her holy hests attend.

May his heart die like Nabals churle and foole,
Or like Achitophel end with a string;
Laugh in the stocks, cleave to the scorners stoole,
That listens not to heav'nly counselling
Of Wisdome and her sweet admonishing:
Shee hath provided victuals, pour'd out wine,
Sent out her Maids us to the feast to bring,
To bid those that seeke Knowledge come and dine:
And those that Prudence want to taste her grapes divine.

For she's the Vine, whose grapes yeeld pleasing smell,
Whose Fruit and Flowers, Wealth, Life, Honour are;
The Garden where Christ dearest Spouse doth dwell,
Planted with all the Herbs and Spices rare,
Which to adorne his Church he doth prepare:
Would thou one word which should her worth containe
He hath true Wisdome, who the Lord doth feare,
And who know's holy things doth entertaine
Right understanding, without this the rest are vaine.

She as the Prince or Generall doth guide
All other Graces in Loves sacred band,
Doth order, marshall, and for them provide,
As th' Eye, which all the members doth command:
The Governours of Men, of Cities, and
Of Families, and each mans private state,
She orders wisely by her prudent hand,
And they that duely on Discretion wait,
Command the Stars, and rule ev'n over Time and Fate.

As shadows more directly opposite
To Sunnes bright Rayes, seeme short by being neere,
When those, which are much farther from the light,
More goodly faire and long by far appeare:
So who small Knowledge have attained here,
Thereof doe alway's make a greater show
Then those, whose understanding shining cleare,
Do all the Paths of heav'nly wisdome know.
For with true Wisdome alway's Humblenesse doth grow.

And as Gods Wisdome doth no lesser seeme
In smallest creatures, as a Gnat or Fly,
Then Greater; so we ought no lesse esteeme
Wisemen in low degree then Dignitie:
The Snaile a mirrour is of Politie,
Who with her hornes keepes alway's sentinell,
And never cometh out before shee try,
If things without be all in Peace and well;
Else she, retyring home, lives quiet in her shell.

Oh sonnes of men that you could but behold!
The wondrous Beauty of this heav'nly Peare;
But nought on earth her Beauty can unfold,
Her Glory in the Heav'ns doth shine most cleare;
In all Gods workes her splendour doth appeare,
She first from Heav'n vouchsafed to descend
To live in Judah, with her chosen deare:
But now her Beames more ample do extend,
To all the Nations of the earth she light doth lend.

She taught our Father that was made alone,
To raise himselfe to Glory from his fall;
But Envy turn'd from her his foolish sonne,
And made by Fratricide and Fury fall:
Loe when the Floud the world destroyed all,
She it preserves by one wise worke of Wood:
The dead Sea yet is the memoriall
Of foolish City's five, which there erst stood,
Where she sav'd Lot from fire, as Noah from the floud.

To tell what wonders have beene by her wrought,
Were too too long for this short meditation;
They in Gods Booke are easily found, if sought,
For there Indeed is Wisdom's commendation;
Where she us doth, with wary observation,
Unto the Cony and the Pismire send,
To learne to get our food and habitation,
Whose meaner Wisdome if we must attend,
Much more wise Heathens sayings most divinely pen'd,

One being asked, who was most wise, reply'd
He that sinn'd least; when one of them desir'd
To learne who was for youth the trustiest Guide;
He answer'd, Prudence: And in's sonne requir'd
Only three things, which he in youth admir'd:
In his tongue silence, Prudence in his mind;
Shamefastnesse in his Face; when one requir'd
How he the greatest in the least might find;
He answer'd, prudent thoughts in humane breast confin'd.

This was an Ethnick; But how doth she shine,
When she is joyn'd with pure simplicity?
When as that holy wisdome serpentine,
Combines with dove-like true sincerity:
Oh thus the Saints by holy subtilty,
Walke safe amongst worlds crooked generation;
Thus walk'd our Saviour in Humilitie,
And though the wicked plot his condemnation,
Yet never could they touch him, but by subornation.

Oh how should we that have this mirrour bright!
This Sun of wisdome, labour here to shine
Like Stars, which from the Sun receive their light,
And to sincerity true columbine,
Joyne this wise holy Prudence serpentine:
Us to conduct through this worlds wildenesse,
And a most safe and perfect way out-line
Through Jordans waves to Land of Happinesse,
Where Mansions ready built, we shall for ay possesse.

And Vineyards planted, whence the Cananite,
For wicked Treason 'gainst his Majesty,
God hath expel'd to Hell and darkest night,
Proud Lucifer and all his company:
Oh why shouldst thou advance base dust so high!
Whose earthly mansion keepes his spirit low,
And will not let his understanding flye
To see what goodly clusters there doe grow,
In heav'nly Canaan, where Milk and Hony flow.

We hardly here of things below discerne,
And with great paines what is before us find;
Ah how shall we then able be to learne
Thy Wisdome, which no limits have confin'd:
Thy Spirit onely can into our mind
These hidden mysteries, in Christ reveale,
In which the Princes of the world were blind;
For from man naturall thou dost conceale
This Wisdome spirituall, which thou to thine do'st deale.

For as none know's the Spirit of a man,
But that same Spirit that within doth dwell,
So nothing apprehend this Wisdome can
But that wise Spirit that all Truth doth tell:
Oh sacred Spirit of Truth! my heart compell
This holy Sapience to entertaine,
Thou only giv'st to drink of Wisdom's Well;
Mans wisdom's wickednesse, his thoughts are vaine,
His knowledge is but errour, and his pleasure paine.

Thou didst create ev'n all things by thy Word,
And by thy heav'nly Wisedome didst ordaine
Man of thy handy workes to be the Lord,
That he in Truth and Equitie might reigne,
And with an upright heart the right maintaine:
Oh therefore downe thine heav'nly wisdome send,
Me in all Truth and Uprightnesse to traine,
She shall my Words and Works to thee commend,
And bring my small beginnings to a perfect end.

And here with Praise and Prayer I will end,
Oh who aright can know or understand,
Except thou Wisdome from thy Throne do'st send,
To give unto him what thou dost command:
Then grant me Wisdome alway's to withstand
Hells subtill Plots, and Worlds base blandiments,
Let sacred Prudence ever be at hand,
Still to direct my words, acts, and intents,
To yeeld Obedience to thy Commandements.

[pp. 55-65]