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ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Brides Ornaments: Meditat. III. Of Meeknesse.

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

Robert Aylett


Robert Aylett continues his march through the Christian virtues: "Let Homer fierce Achilles praises sing, | Give me a mercifull, meeke, milde, and gentle King."



As in faire Garden, where variety
Of choisest Flowers, the senses to delight,
Are plac't by cunning hand, most curiously,
Their divers colours most affect the sight,
That broad and fairest shew and stand upright,
But oft we finde low creeping on the ground,
An herb, whose odour sweet doth more invite
Our smells, then all the Tulips there are found;
So is it with this Grace, which I doe next propound.

For though the goodliest Garden of the Bride,
Like Eden is so faire embelished
With richest Fruits and Flowers, from side to side,
Their names and hues cannot be numbered,
Much lesse their Force and Natures be aread:
And though all are more glorious to be seene,
Then Meeknesse, which is next deciphered:
Yet none more pleasing to our smell I weene,
Nor more, than her, respected of Loves royall Queene.

Obedience, Meeknesse, and Humility,
Are Flowers, more for profit then for show,
Pleasing the smell and taste more then the eye,
And lowly like sweet Thyme and Hysope grow;
These by the outward face we must not know,
Their inward vertue 'tis that we esteeme
Their Force is heav'nly, though their dwellings low,
And may the greatest Monarch here be-seeme,
For sure the King of Kings like these himselfe did deeme.

And us commandeth all of him to learne
Meeknesse and lowlinesse, which rest doth bring,
Eternall Rest, which doth our Soules concerne
Here more then any vain and worldly thing:
Most mighty God and yet the meekest King?
Fit thou my Soule for this sweet Meditation;
And teach me meeknesse whilst I meeknesse sing,
Which base and meane in mans vaine estimation,
Is with the Lord of Lords of highest valuation.

Some her define to be a Moderation
Of Anger: And would have her to abstaine
From all revengefull furious, envious passion,
Thereby possession of her soule to gaine:
For who doth gentle meeknesse entertaine,
With her findes happy Peace, and quiet Rest;
And who from furious rage will not refraine,
But harbours wrath, and malice in his Brest,
Possesseth not himselfe, but is by them possest.

Meeke, gentle, milde, soft, affable, and kind,
In words, though divers are in sense the same;
And come from gentle habit of the mind,
Which like it selfe our words and acts doth frame,
Making wild, savage, furious creatures tame,
For all are mad and wilde since Adams fall,
And burne in furious and revengefull flame,
But meekness mitigates appeasing all,
And blessed here in peace the earth inherit shall.

Meeknesse which pleaseth God, and profits man,
For God the meeke exalteth to Salvation;
And those which here abstaine from Anger can
In multitude of Peace have delectation:
With meeke far better is humiliation,
Then greatest spoiles with proud ones to divide,
Heav'nly Hierusalem's no habitation
For those, which Right by Duells doe decide,
But those which can with meeknesse injuries abide.

She ire and rancour in her heart can brooke,
But doth all with an equall mind sustaine;
Provok'd by none, nor doth she one provoke,
Though oft offended hurteth none againe:
She doth from all improbity abstaine,
Resists not evill, but the same with good
Still overcomes, And doth more glory gaine
By gentle yeelding, then if she withstood
The wicked in his raging, furious angry mood.

Oh Grace most glorious! when God Her sends
To dwell in breast of some great Potentate;
His Heart She from all Crueltie defends,
And though he be a Lord of Life and Fate,
His hands with bloud doth not contaminate;
She such a Prince to Heav'n at length will bring,
Too soone for us; though she may thinke it late;
Let Homer fierce Achilles praises sing,
Give me a mercifull, meeke, milde, and gentle King.

For Meeknesse brings more honour to a King,
Then Purple, Scepter, Diademe, or Crowne,
And richer triumphs doth to Emperors bring,
Then winning any Castle, Fort, or Towne:
He gets eternall Glory and renowne,
Who can by meeknesse bridle passions right,
Let Tyrants rage, and let the Furies frowne;
They can no more a good meeke man affright,
Then Arrow's hurt the water that thereon doe light.

Inhumane cruelty's taught in the schoole
Of Satan; who would like himselfe have all;
But he whose seats in heav'n, and his footstoole
Upon the earth; Before whbse presence fall
Downe all the Angells, and him Maker call,
Bids us like to himselfe be meek and low,
For he that turn'd to sweet that cup of gall,
Can make the meeke and lowly highest grow,
And with one blast the proud and cruell overthrow.

I labour not to keepe downe or depresse,
That humane natures high sublimitie,
Without which creatures beare no awfulnesse
Nor due respect unto the Majesty
God hath annexed to mans Soveraignty:
I seeke to suit his mind and conscience,
Unto his outward Grace and Dignity,
And raise him by an inward confidence
Of well-knowne worth to an angelike excellence.

Yet not by this sublimity to swell
Beyond the bounds of Mortalls, He that's wise
Will, as his worth and due deserts excell,
Be still more low ond humble in's own eyes:
And as his State and Honour here do rise,
He is more modest, gentle, meeke, and kind,
Preferring not himselfe in any wise
Before his equals: thus he grace doth find,
By gentle manswetude with God and all mankind.

For whilst by an obsequious conversation,
And by ingenious manners, pleasing, sweet;
Far from base flattery, as vaine ostentation
He doth inferiours, equalls, betters greet.
By loosing of his owne, Lo he doth get
In others thoughts the highest estimation;
His Head's in heav'n, though on the earth his feet;
And by anothers vertues veneration,
He getteth of his owne all love and admiration.

Oh happy man to whom heav'ns King hath sent,
This Grace to be the glory of the rest;
What can that minde molest or discontent,
That harbours gracious meeknesse in his brest:
They that can contumely faire digest,
If any them deride or reprehend,
Streight of themselves take more severe inquest,
If ought be justly blam'd, they soon amend,
If false, it never them shall anger or offend.

Meek, gentle, patient, bearing right or wrong;
From inward free, as outward perturbation,
Revenge is not a thing that doth belong
To her; she finds far greater contentation
In wrongs dissembling, and their tolleration:
The wants, which she within her selfe doth find,
Her more depresse by modest moderation,
Then all her vertues elevate her mind,
As salt she savours all the vertues in their kind.

This is the same, or very like the Grace,
Which we doe call Christian Humilitie
Without which other vertues have no place,
All are in her as in an Unitie:
She is the surest way to Dignitie,
The center where all vertues lines do meet,
Most honour'd when she most doth vilifie
Her selfe, And when she stoops to wash Saints feet,
The highest King of Kings, with kisses her doth greet.

Yet none of worldlings is esteem'd more vile,
They it account a thing too meane and base,
Here to descend unto so low a stile;
They think that meeknesse valour doth disgrace:
But oh absurd, presumptuous, mortall race;
So high and proud in thine owne estimation,
What thing's created in more wretched case?
Weake vain precipite, and on each occasion,
Ready to fall from highest hopes to desperation.

What is thy Body but frail quickned clay?
Thy Soule's so clouded with obscurity;
It is most ready, prone, precipite ay,
To fall to basenesse, errour, vanity:
Happy who sees his own infirmity;
Thus By discending only we ascend
Unto the highest humane dignity:
First step to honour is to vilipend
Our selves: Let others thee and not thy self commend.

None seekes to pull his foot out of the mire,
Until he feeles and know's that it is in,
Nor none to wash the durt off doth desire,
Until he sees it cleave unto his skin:
So till this Grace us shew's our selves within,
We never seeke those heav'nly remedies,
To purge our soules from errour and foule sinne;
This was of all the Oracles most wise,
First, know thy self: that is, thine owne infirmities.

Thus comes the purest wheat from foulest ground,
So it be first well till'd and harrowed,
And thus the ignorant, grow men profound,
When they their folly have discovered.
Of all the vertues can be reckoned;
The roots are bitter, fruits most sweet doe prove,
Self-Pride, and Arrogance once setteled
In humane Brest, most hard are to remove,
This work belongs to meekness, humbleness, and love.

Most pleasant fruits, which from this root do spring,
When weeding out base pleasures false and vaine,
She true delight into their roomes doth bring
And rich Content, for ever to remaine,
Happy who can this Ladies favour gaine;
Shee able is and ready to defend,
Against Soules troubles, and the body's paine;
The meeke, that patiently on God attend,
Are sure to have a joyfull, quiet, happy end.

Nothing can his most noble minde appall,
Which is with such Tranquillity indude;
Crosses, Afflictions may him here befall,
But base or abject thoughts cannot intrude
Into a mind of such an habitude:
Certaine his breast all vertues doth containe,
Who hath this gentle vertue manswetude
Who wants her boasts of vertue but in vaine,
They are but shew's of vertue, which with him remaine.

It is the height of folly to bewray
Desire, where we no power have to offend:
So beat the Sea, if it will not obay,
Or winds which crosse the way thou dost intend:
So whom thou canst not reach his picture rend,
Such wounds make arrow's when they cleave the aire;
Yet many thus with rage their spirits spend,
Were it not better farre to beare them faire,
But Folly cannot beare, though thou in morter bray her.

If an Asse kicks thee, wilt thou kicke againe?
Or barks a Dog, wilt thou straight baule and cry;
Because one's foolish, canst thou not refraine?
But needs doe that is ill for company:
Let fooles scorne meane Birth, want, deformity;
This (if a fault) not thine, thy Makers is,
To him that's meeke no infelicity
Can fall by Fortunes bitter frownes or blisse,
He counts them not his own, true vertue's only his.

I liken Meeknese to that piece of wood,
Wherewith the Prophet did the Fountaines heale,
And made the bitter waters sweet and good:
For so doth Meeknese with Afflictions deale,
She all their bitternesse with Joy doth seale,
Ev'n that accursed death upon a Tree,
She turneth from a curse, unto our Weale;
Blest are the Meeke, that for' well-doing be
Hang'd thereupon: from thence they Paradise may see.

A meeke mans mind's like solitary place,
Where all is quiet, fit for Contemplation;
And to behold his Makers Will and Grace,
Spending his time in sweetest meditation;
But cruell minds are full of perturbation,
Like to a market or tumultuous Faire,
Where all is fill'd with noise and molestation;
Durt in the streets, strong clamours in the aire;
Such places are unfit, for Graces sweet repaire.

A meek mind's like unto Pernassus Hill,
Through whose pure air shines Phoebus golden ray;
Whose silver Channells purest Fountaine fill,
And all the meades bedeck with Lilly's gay:
The Gardens with faire Flowers adorned ay,
And when the Brookes do murmur any sound;
With much delight sweet Zephyrus doth play,
And all the Birds upon the Trees around,
Consort with Muses nine to make a Heav'nly sound.

But a meeke minde more pleasing is then all
These Flowers, Fruits, or Musickes sweet delight;
No fit of Fury can that Heart appall;
For as a Dart may on the water light,
And hurts it not by any force or might:
So Force, nor Fury can meeke mind offend,
For it gives way as doth the water light,
Oh happy quiet mind! that doth attend,
With meeknesse on Gods bounteous goodnesse to the end.

As when the glorious Sun-beames do appeare,
All misty cloudinesse is turn'd to day,
So where this Grace the heart of man doth cheare,
All passions turbulent are driv'n away:
Then meeknesse most her Glory doth display,
When she hath justest cause to take offence,
No valour like this Dames behold we may,
Nor any like her modest Patience;
A meeke and lowly mind excells all ornaments.

As when the Lord of all to us did come
In humane flesh, he peace and concord bred
Twixt Men and Angells, and made all become
As one, in peace, and quiet in their head;
So where this meeknesse doth her grace dispred,
There Nations, Neighbours, Kindred, all we find
Lately at Discord, now fast fettered
In Love, and Friendships Bands, which firmly bind
No surer band of love, than meek and gentle mind.

In golden Age, when as the Poets faine
Men, Beasts, Fish, Fowl to be at amity,
This Lady Meeknesse as a Queene did raigne,
And under Love had all Authoritie:
But since the Iron Age, which enmity
Hath rais'd in ev'ry River, Towne, and Field,
Shee hath resign'd her place of Soveraigntie
To Justice, and delights now more to yeeld,
Then Scepters in age so turbulent to weeld.

And for she know's the noble gentle mind
Most sensible of wrong and injury;
And few or none can here so constant find,
As to dissemble foule indignity
She all requests that love her company,
Occasions to avoid and not invite;
Which may provoke least jarre or simulty,
And not like teachy Curres to barke and bite,
Or Frogs, which Poets faine with Bulrushes to fight.

If thus they cannot, as who aye can here?
Avoid some injury's of them that reigne,
They must dissemble and with pleasing cheere,
What they can no wayes shift, faire entertaine:
One ask'd, how such old age he did attaine
In Court; reply'd by bearing Injury's,
Sometimes remitting, and sometimes againe,
For them gave thankes, thus surely he that's wise,
By suffering beares, and not provokes indignities.

And since no earthly Power's so great and firme,
But Injury sometimes will dare to smite,
Let Wisdom's precepts so thee ay confirme,
Thou never swerve from rules of Reason right:
So arm'd the wrongs which on thine armour light,
Shall backe on him that sent the same rebound;
But whom unarm'd she can provoke to fight,
Though happily they thinke her to confound,
They sure are to receive a deepe and festring wound.

He stands not right whom Injury can bow:
Who ill beare old, doe on them new invite;
But he that beares the old with Patience: how
Shall any new be able him to smite?
He that is wise and valiant scorns her might,
And by brave bearing doth her spite confound,
He best o'recomes that sets by her most light,
Who by impatience, addes, is like him found,
That doth, by rending make incurable his wound.

In many wrongs 'tis better to be mute,
Then by repeating them, oft very small,
To cause long trouble or a tedious suit,
Whilst all the shame doth on th' avenger fall;
Such better were not mentioned at all:
Invoke the helpe of constant Patience,
Whose presence doth all Injuries appall,
And with an equall mind beares all offence,
Or doth despise them in her guiltlesse conscience.

Thus many, offring, do no Injury's,
Because they are not so conceiv'd or taken;
Oh happy who all wrong can so despise,
With sense thereof ne're to be overtaken;
Whose unmov'd constant mind is never shaken;
So farre from muttering or least murmuring,
He laughs and smiles to see them so mistaken,
Nor's only easie in their pardoning,
But passeth by them without least acknowledging.

He is above the reach of Injuries,
Who can represse revenges curst desire,
And to the full repays his enemies,
Who thus can quench wraths hot injurious fire.
Yet holy meeknesse leads us a step higher:
Happy who can ascend unto such height
It is the summity, which all admire,
Of highest vertue, when we take delight
All Injuries with Benefits here to requite.

The Jest is lost, if it no laughter move,
So's Contumely if it be neglected;
He never will a valiant Souldier prove
To bear hot Blow's, that is with words affected:
He sooner is with noisome smels infected,
Who them with open nose doth entertaine;
Than he that stops it, or beares some selected
Preservative for to defend his braine:
So 'tis to stop or ope our ears to proud Disdaine.

Poets paint Scylla with a womans face,
But like a Dog in nether parts and taile,
Whom Hercules, th' Idea of all Grace
And Vertue, did amongst the monsters quaile,
You give her Life, if you will hear her raile:
But shut her mouth with patient suffering,
Or stop thine eares, and soone her breath will faile:
Here Meeknesse ends, and here I cease to sing,
She doth more quiet Rest then all the Vertues bring.

[pp. 74-84]