1647
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Immortality of the Soul. [Book II Canto 1.]

Philosophical Poems comprising Psychozoia and Minor Poems.

Rev. Henry More




BOOK II. CANTO I.
Mans soul with beasts and plants I here
Compare; Tell my chief end
His immortality to clear;
Show whence grosse errours wend.

But hitherto I have with fluttering wings
But lightly hover'd in the generall,
And taught the lasting durance of all springs
Of hidden life. That life hight seminall,
Doth issue forth from its deep root centrall,
One onely form entire, and no'te advert
What steals from it. Beasts life Phantasticall
Lets out more forms, and eke themselves convert
To view the various frie from their dark wombs exert.

But mans vast soul, the image of her Maker,
Like God that made her, with her mighty sway
And inward Fiat (if he nould forsake her)
Can turn sad darknesse into lightsome day,
And the whole creature 'fore her self display:
Bid them come forth and stand before her sight,
They straight flush out and her drad voice obey:
Each shape, each life doth leapen out full light,
And at her beck return into their usuall Night.

Oh God himself here listeth to appear,
Though not perforce yet of his own frank will
Sheds his sweet life, dispreads his beauty clear,
And like the Sun this lesser world doth fill,
And like the Sun doth the foul Python kill
With his bright darts, but cheareth each good spright.
This is the soul that I with presser quill
Must now pursue and fall upon down-right,
Not to destroy but prove her of immortall might.

Nor let blind Momus dare my Muse backbite,
As wanton or superfluously wise
For what is past. She is but justly quit
With Lucrece, who all souls doth mortalize:
Wherefore she did them all immortalize.
Besides in beasts and men th' affinity
Doth seem so great, that without prejudice
To many proofs for th' immortality
Of humane Souls, the same to beasts we no'te deny.

But I herein no longer list contend.
The two first kinds of souls I'll quite omit,
And 'cording as at first I did intend
Bestirre me stifly, force my feeble wit
To rescue humane souls from deaths deep pit;
Which I shall do with reasons as subtile
As I can find; slight proofs cannot well fit
In so great cause, nor phansies florid wile;
I'll win no mans assent by a false specious guile.

I onely wish that arguments exile
May not seem nought unto the duller eye;
Nor that the fatter phansie my lean style
Do blame: it's fittest for philosophy.
And give me leave from any energie
That springs from humane soul my cause to prove,
And in that order as they list to flie
Of their own selves, so let them freely rove:
That naturally doth come doth oft the stronger move.

Self-motion and centrall stability
I have already urg'd in generall;
Als' did right presly to our soul apply
Those properties, who list it to recall
Unto their minds; but now we'll let it fall
As needlesse. Onely that vitality,
That doth extend this great Universall,
And move th' inert Materially
Of great and little worlds, that keep in memory.

And how the mixture of their rayes may breed
Th' opinion of uncertain quality,
When they from certain roots of life do spreed;
But their pure beams must needs ychanged be
When that those rayes or not be setten free,
Thinly dispers'd, or else be closely meint
With other beams of plain diversity,
That causeth oh a strong impediment:
So doth this bodies life to the souls high intent.

The lower man is nought but a fair plant,
Whose grosser matter is from the base ground
The Plastick might thus finely did him paint,
And fill'd him with the life that doth abound
In all the places of the world around.
This spirit of life is in each shapen'd thing,
Suck'd in and changed and strangely confound,
As we conceive: This is the nourishing
Of all; but spermall form, the certain shapening.

This is that strange-form'd statue magicall,
That hovering souls unto it can allure
When it's right fitted; down those spirits fall
Like Eagle to her prey, and so endure
While that low life is in good temperature.
That a dead body without vitall spright
And friendly temper should a guest procure
Of so great worth, without the dear delight
Of joyous sympathy, no man can reckon right.

But here unluckly Souls do waxen sick
Of an ill surfeit from the poison'd bait
Of this sweet tree, yet here perforce they stick
In weak condition, in a languid state.
Many through ignorance do fondly hate
To be releas'd from this imprisonment,
And grieve the walls be so nigh ruinate.
They be bewitch'd so with the blandishment
Of that fresh strumpet, when in love they first were ment

Others disdain this so near unity,
So farre they be from thinking they be born
Of such low parentage, so base degree,
And fleshes foul attraction they do scorn.
They be th' outgoings of the Eastern morn.
Alli'd unto th' eternall Deity,
And pray to their first spring, that thus forlorn
And left in mud, that he would set them free,
And them again possesse of pristine purity.

But seemeth not my Muse too hastily
To soar aloft, that better by degrees
Unto the vulgar mans capacity
Mought show the souls so high excellencies,
And softly from all corporeities
It heaven up unto its proper seat,
When we have drove away grosse falsities,
That do assault the weaker mens conceit,
And free the simple mind from phansies foul deceit.

The drooping soul so strongly's coloured
With the long commerce of corporeals,
That she from her own self awide is led,
Knows not her self, but by false name she calls
Her own high being, and what ere befalls
Her grosser bodie, she that misery
Doth deem her own: for she her self miscalls
Or some thin body, or spread quality,
Or point of quality, or fixt or settee free.

But whether thin spread body she doth deem
Her self dispersed through this grosser frame;
Or doth her self a quality esteem,
Or quient complexion, streaming through the same;
Or else some lucid point her self doth name
Of such a quality in chiefest part
Strongly fix'd down; or whether she doth clame
More freedome from that point, in head nor heart
Fast seated; yet, saith she, the bodies brat thou art.

Thence thou arose, thence thou canst not depart:
There die thou must, when thy dear nurse decayes:
But these false phansies I with reason smart
Shall eas'ly chace away, and the mind raise
To higher pitch. O listen to my layes,
And when you have seen fast scald eternity
Of humane souls, then your great Maker praise
For his never fading benignity,
And feed your selves with thought of immortality.


BOOK II. CANTO 2.

Sense no good judge of truth: What spright,
What body we decry:
Prove from the souls inferiour might
Her incorp'reitie.


While I do purpose with my self to sing
The souls incorporeity, I fear
That it a worse perplexitie may bring
Unto the weaker mind and duller ear;
For she may deem herself 'stroyd quite and clear
While all corporeals from her we expell:
For she has yet not mark'd that higher sphear
Where her own essence doth in safety dwell,
But views her lower shade, like boy at brink of well;

Dotes upon sense, ne higher doth arise
Busied about vain forms corporeall;
Contemns as nought unseen exilities,
Objects of virtue Intellectuall,
Though these of substances be principall.
But I to better hope would fainly lead
The sunken mind, and cunningly recall
Again to life that long hath liggen dead:
Awake ye drooping souls! shake off that drousihead!

Why do you thus confide in sleepy sense,
Ill judge of her own objects? who'll believe
The eye contracting Phoebus Orb immense
Into the compasse of a common sieve?
If solid reason did not us relieve,
The host of heaven alwayes would idle stand
In our conceit, nor could the Sun revive
The nether world, nor do his Lords command:
Things near seem further off; farst off, the nearst at hand.

The touch acknowledgeth no gustables;
The tast no fragrant smell or stinking sent;
The smell doth not once dream of audibles;
The hearing never knew the verdant peint
Of springs gay mantle, nor heavens light ylent
That must discover all that goodly pride:
So that the senses would with zeal fervent
Condemne each other, and their voice deride
If mutually they heard such things they never try'd.

But reason, that above the sense doth sit,
Doth comprehend all their impressions,
And tells the touch its no fanatick fit
That makes the sight of illustrations
So stifly talk upon occasions.
But judgeth all their voyces to be true
Concerning their straight operations,
And doth by nimble consequences shew
To her own self what those wise Five yet never knew,

They never knew ought but corporealls:
But see how reason doth their verdict rude
Confute, by loosening materialls
Into their principles, as latitude
Profundity of bodies to conclude.
The term of latitude is breadthlesse line;
A point the line doth manfully retrude
From infinite processe; site doth confine
This point; take site away its straight a spark divine.

And thus unloos'd it equally respects
The bodies parts, not fixt to any one.
Let't be diffused through all. Thus it detects
The soul's strange nature, operation,
Her independency, loose union
With this frail body. So's this unity
Great, but without that grosse extension,
Exceeding great in her high energie,
Extended far and wide from her non-quantity.

If yet you understand not, let the soul,
Which you suppose extended with this masse,
Be all contract and close together roll
Into the centre of the hearts compasse:
As the suns beams that by a concave glasse
Be strangely strengthned with their strait constraint
Into one point, that thence they stoutly passe,
Fire all before them withouten restraint,
The high arch'd roof of heaven with smouldry smoke they taint.

But now that grosnesse, which we call the heart,
Quite take away, and leave that spark alone
Without that sensible corporeall part
Of humane body: so when that is gone,
One nimble point of life, that's all at one
In its own self, doth wonderfully move,
Indispers'd, quick, close with self-union,
Hot, sparkling, active, mounting high above,
In bignesse nought, in virtue like to thundring Jove.

Thus maugre all th' obmurmurings of sense
We have found an essence incorporeall,
A shifting centre with circumference,
But she not onely sits in midst of all,
But is also in a manner centrall
In her outflowing lines, For the extension
Of th' outshot rayes circumferentiall
Be not gone from her by distrought distension,
Her point is at each point of all that spread dimension.

This is a substance truly spiritall,
That reason by her glistring lamp hath shown:
No such the sense in things corporeall
Can ere find out. May this perswasion,
O sunken souls! slaves of sensation!
Rear up your heads and chase away all fear
How (when by strong argumentation
I shall you strip of what so doth appear
Corporeall) that you to nought should vanish clear.

The naked essence of the body's this
Matter extent in three dimensions
(Hardnesse or softnesse be but qualities)
Withouten self-reduplications
Or outspread circling propagations
Of its own presence. These be corporall,
And what with these in such extension
Singly's stretch'd out, is form materiall.
Whether our soul be such now to the test we'll call:

If souls be bodies, or inanimate
They be, or else endowed with life. If they
Be livelesse, give they life? if animate,
Then tell me what doth life to them convey?
Some other body? Here can be no stay.
Straight we must ask whether that livelesse be
Or living. Then, what 'lives it. Thus we'll play
Till we have forc'd you to infinity,
And make your cheeks wax red at your Philosophy.

Again, pray tell me, is this body grosse
Or fluid, and thin you deem the soul to be?
If grosse, then either strongly it is cross'd
From entring some parts of this rigid tree
And so of life they'll want their 'lotted fee:
Or if it penetrate this bulk throughout,
It breaks and tears and puts to penalty
This very corse. If't thin and fluid be thought,
How pulls it up those limbs and again jerks them out?

Besides, if stretchen corporeity
Longs to the soul, then Augmentation
Must likewise thereto appertain. But see
Th' absurdities that this opinion
Will drag on with it: for effluxion
Of parts will spoil the steady memory,
And wash away all intellection,
Deface the beauty of that imagery
That once was fairly graven in her phantasie.

But oft when the weak bodie's worn and wasted
And far shrunk in, the nimble phantasie
(So far she's from being withered and blasted)
More largely worketh, and more glitterandly
Displayes her spreader forms, and cheerfully
Pursues her sports. Again, the greater corse
Would most be fill'd with magnanimity:
But oft we see the lesse hath greater force,
To fight, or talk; the greater oft we see the worse.

All which if weighed well, must ill agree
With bodies natures, which merely consist
In a dull, silent, stupid quantity,
Stretching forth mirksome matter, in what list
Or precincts no man knows. No Naturalist
Can it define, unlesse they adde a form
That easly curbs the thing that no'te resist,
And after her own will can it inform:
It still and stupid stands and thinks nor good nor harm.

The man is mad, that will at all agree
That this is soul. Or if forme bodily
Non-replicate, extent, not setten free,
But straight stretch'd out in corporeity
(Betwixt these two there's that affinity)
As little wit that man will seem to have,
Which I shall plainly prove by th' energie
Of sense, though that same force seem not so brave,
Yet for the present I'll not climbe to higher stave.

If Souls be substances corporeall,
Be they as big just as the body is?
Or shoot they out to th' height Aethereall?
(Of such extent are the sights energies)
If they shoot out, be they equally transmisse
Around this body? or but upward start?
If round the body, Nature did amisse
To lose her pains in half of the souls part,
That part can finden nought that through the earth doth dart.

Or will you say she is an hemisphere?
But a ridiculous experiment
Will soon confute it: list you but to rear
Your agill heels towards the firmament,
And stand upon your head; that part is bent
Down through the earth, that earst did threat the skie:
So that your soul now upward is extent
No higher then your heels, yet with your eye
The heavens great vastnesse as before you now discry.

You'll say, this souls thin spread exility
Turns not at all. How doth it then depend
Upon this body? It has no unity
Therewith, but onely doth of cur'sy lend
It life, as doth the worlds great lamp down send
Both dight and warmth unto each living wight;
And if they chance to fail and make an end,
Its nought to him, he shineth yet as bright
As ere he did. This showes the soul immortall quite.

But if the soul be justly coextent
With this straight body, nought can bigger be
Then is our body, that she doth present;
'Cording to laws of Corporeity
So must she represent each realty.
Thus tallest Gyants would be oft defied
By groveling Pigmees: for they could not see
The difference, nor mete his manly stride,
Nor ween what matchlesse strength did in his armes reside.

For they must judge him just as their own selves
Of the same stature, of the self-same might:
All men would seem to them their fellow Elves
Nor little curs would tremble at the sight
Of greater dogs; nor hawks would put to flight
The lesser birds. Th' impression of a seal
Can be no larger then the wax; or right
As big, or lesse it is. Therefore repeal
This grosse conceit, and hold as reason doth reveal.

Again, if souls corporeall you ween;
Do the light images of things appear
Upon the surface, slick, bright, smooth and sheen
As in a looking glasse? Or whether dare
They passe the outside and venture so farre
As into the depth of the souls substance?
If this; then they together blended are
That nought we see with right discriminance:
If that, the object gone, away those forms do glance.

Thus should we be devoid of memory,
And be all darknesse, till the good presence
Of outward objects doth the soul unty
From heavy sleep. But this experience
Plainly confutes. For even in their absence
We do retain their true similitude:
So lovers wont to maken dalliance
With the fair shade their minds do still include,
And wistly view the grace wherewith she is endude.

But now new reasons I will set on foot,
Drawn from the common sense, that's not extense
But dike a centre that around doth shoot
Its rayes; those rayes should be the outward sense
As some resemble't. But by no presence
Would I the outward senses should be thought
To act so in a spread circumference
That the seat of their forms should be distrought,
Or that by reach of quantities dead arms they wrought.

For see how little share hath quantitie
In act of seeing, when we comprehend
The heavens vast compasse in our straitned eye;
Nor may the Ox with the Eagle contend,
Because a larger circle doth extend
His slower lights. So that if outward sense
In his low acts doth not at all depend
On quantity, how shall the common-sense,
That is farre more spirituall, depend from thence?

But still more presly this point to pursue;
By th' smelling, odours; voices by the ear;
By th' eye we apprehend the coloured hew
Of bodies visible. But what shall steer
The erring senses? where shall they compear
In controversie? what the difference
Of all their objects can with judgement clear
Distinguish and discern? One common-sense:
For one alone must have this great preeminence.

And all this one must know, though still but one;
Else't could not judge of all. But make it two;
Then tell me, doth the soul by this alone
Apprehend this object that the sense doth show,
And that by that; or doth it by both know
Both objects? as this colour and that sound.
If both knew both, then nature did bestow
In vain one faculty, it doth redound:
But if this that, that this, whet shell them both compound?

And by comparison judge of them both?
Therefore that judge is one. But whether one
Without division, let's now try that troth,
If it be any wise extent, you're gone
By the same reason that afore was shown.
Suppose't a line the least of quantity.
Or sound is here, there colour, or each one
Of the lines parts receive them both. If we
Grant that, again we find a superfluity.

If this part this, and that part that receive,
We are at the same losse we were afore,
For one to judge them both, or we bereave
Our souls of judgement. For who can judge more
Than what he knows? It is above his power.
Therefore it's plain the common sense is one,
One individed faculty. But store
Of parts would breed a strange confusion,
When every part mought claim proper sensation.

If not, nor all could exercise the Act
Of any sense. For could a power of sense
Arise from stupid parts that plainly lack'd
That might themselves. Thus with great confidence
We may conclude that th' humane souls essence
Is indivisible, yet every where
In this her body. Cause th' intelligence
She hath of whatsoever happens here:
The aking foot the eye doth view, the hand doth cheer.

What tells the hand or head the toes great grief,
When it alone is pinch'd with galling shooes?
Do other parts not hurt call for relief
For their dear mates? Ill messenger of woes
That grieveth not himself. Can they disclose
That misery without impression
Upon themselves? Therefore one spirit goes
Through all this bulk, not by extension
But by a totall Self-reduplication.

Which neither body, nor dispersed form,
Nor point of form dispersed e'r could do.
And bodies life or sprite for to transform
Into our soul, though that might this undo,
Yet to so rash conceit to yield unto
Cannot be safe: for if it propagate
It's self and 'ts passions, yet they free may go
Unmark'd, if sense would not them contemplate.
So doth the Mundane sprite not heeded circulate.

Besides, if from that spirit naturall
The nurse of plants, you should dare to assert
That lively inward Animadversall
To springer out, it would surely invert
The order of the Orbs from whence do stert
All severall beings and of them depend.
Therefore the Orb Phantastick must exert
All life phantasticall; sensitive send
The life of sense; so of the rest unto each end.

There's nought from its own self can senden forth
Ought better then it self. So nought gives sense
That hath not sense it self, nor greater worth
Then sense, nor sense, nor better springs from thence.
Nor that which higher is can have essence
Lesse active, lesse reduplicate, lesse free,
Lesse spiritall, then that's amov'd from hence,
And is an Orb of a more low degree.
Wherefore that centrall life hath more activitie,

And present is in each part totally
Of this her body. Nor we ought diffide,
Although some creatures still alive we see
To stirre and move when we have them divide
And cut in twain. Thus worms in sturdie pride
Do wrigge and wrest their parts divorc'd by knife;
But we must know that Natures womb doth hide
Innumerable treasures of all life
And how to breaker out upon each hint they strive.

So when the present actuall centrall life
Of sense and motion is gone with one part
To manage it, strait for the due relief
Of th' other particle there up doth start
Another centrall life, and tries her art:
But she cannot raigne long, nor yet recure
That deadly wound. The plantall lifes depart,
And flitten or shrunk spright, that did procure
Her company, being lost, make her she'll not endure.

And so at last is gone, from whence she came,
For soon did fade that sweet allurement,
The plantall life, which for a while did flame
With sympathetick fire, but that being spent
Straight she is flown. Or may you this content?
That some impression of that very soul
That's gone, if gone, with plantall spirit meint
The broken corse thus busily may roll.
Long 'tis till water boild doth stranger heat controul.

Thus have we prov'd 'cording to our insight
That humane souls be not corporeall
(With reasons drawn from the sensitive might)
Nor bodies, nor spread forms materiall,
Whether you substances list them to call
Or qualities, or point of these. I'll bring
Hereafter proofs from power rationall
In humane souls, to prove the self same-thing.
Mount up aloft, my Muse, and now more shrilly sing.

[Grosart (1878) 57-62]

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