Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, UPON THE LATE LAMENTABLE ACCIDENT OF FIRE ..., by JOHN ALLISON (1645-1683)

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

First Line: Awake proud man, and take a view
Last Line: It begun strangely, and it ended so.
Subject(s): London Fire (1666); Great Fire Of 1666

After Mr. Cowley his Pindarick Strain.


Awake proud Man, and take a view,
What miseries thy sins persew,
Thou who art unconcern'd in such a desperate state,
And only learn'st by what is lost,
And that so late:
Thy knowledge proves not worth thy cost.
Remember the dominion which by Heav'n
In the estate of innocence was giv'n,
Think how the whole Creation still
Mov'd by thy Father Adam's will,
The Natures of the Elements were known
To be as harmless as his own,
Until in thee
They did combine against a Deity,
And their Allegiance, with thy innocence,
Became imperfect thence,
And ever since,
Thou who once the whole did'st sway,
Both theirs, and thy own nature dost obey,
A Lord but lately, yet a slave to day.


When the Almighty did repent,
Of what so lately he call'd good,
Over the infant World he sent
An universal flood:
But when good Noah's off-spring many grew,
(And Noah's seed were sinners too)
When they were ripe for punishment, and all
Their vice did for a signal judgment call,
The thirsty earth did gape again
Impatient of another flood of rain,
And opening swallow'd some alive, because't had lookt in vain.
While Men in sin grew wiser yet,
And various in their wickedness,
God himself did think it fit
Their punishment should be no less,
The Air it self which makes our breath,
Because an instrument of death,
If still offences of a deeper die
Offend his purer eye,
He gives another Judgment birth,
Fire comes from Heav'n, or Fire from Earth
Thus the four Elements take turns,
He Drowns, he Swallows us alive, he Plagues, or else he Burns.


About those hours which silence keep
To tempt the froward World to ease,
Just at the time when cloath'd with subtile air,
Guilty spirits use t' appear,
When the hard Students to their pillows creep,
(All but the Aged Men that wake,
Who in the morn their slumbers take)
When Fires themselves are put to sleep,
Onely the thrifty lights that burn, and Melancholick persons please
Just then a message came,
Brought by a murmuring wind,
Not to every obvious flame,
Thousands of those it left behind,
And chose a treacherous heap of sparks,
Which buryed in their ashes lay,
Which when discover'd by some secret marks,
The Air fann'd the pale dust away,
What less than Heav'n could e're this message send
The Embers glowing wak't, and did attend.


In an unusual tone
The Embassie deliver'd was,
The teeming Air it self did groan,
Nor for its burden could it farther pass,
Their Dialects but to themselves unknown,
Onely by sad effects we see,
They did agree,
To execute the great Decree,
And all with the same secrecy conspire,
That as heav'n whisper'd to the Air, the Air should to the Fire:
The drowsie Coals no sooner understand
The purport of their large command,
And that th' officious wind did there attend,
Its needful aid to lend,
But suddenly they seek out
The work they were to go about;
And sparks which had before unactive lain
Each sep'rate had his portion tane,
Though scatter'd for a while, design'd to meet again.


Thus far contriv'd, the Wary Fire
Thinking how many 'twould undoe,
Fearing their just complaint,
And the perpetual restraint
Men would hereafter put it to;
It winck't, as one would think 'twould fain
Have slept again,
Had not the cruel wind rose higher,
Which forc'd the drooping Coals revive,
To save themselves alive:
Thus without fresh supply of food,
Not able to subsist,
Much lesse resist
A breath by which they were so rudely kist,
They seiz'd a neighbouring stack of wood;
Which strait into one horrid flame did turn,
Not as it stood design'd to burn:
Thus while each other they oppose,
Poor mortals trace the mighty foes,
By the vast desolations, each makes where e're he goes.


Whether dispos'd by too much phlegm,
Or Melancholick, that o're loads the heart,
That turns sound sleep to an unruly dream,
And makes the Body with Convulsions start;
Or whether yet so much belov'd,
As by his waiting Genius mov'd,
Suggesting Fire to be his Phancies theam,
That that might work, and he might wake, and all might seem
A Sympathetick Dream,
I know not but the Man that own'd the wood did wake,
(A seasonable time when life's at stake)
And so amaz'd did hardly know
Whether he still did Dream or no;
His suddain, and surprising fear
That would not give him time to arm
Himself with thoughts against his harm,
Quickly turn'd into despair,
Grief for what's lost afflicts his mind,
Glad he could his Neighbours call,
Then love creeps into what was left behind,
And hopes of saving something, though not all;
His passions thus maintaining mutual strife,
Left him just wit enough to save his life.


Now uncontroul'd the greedy Fire
Shews its unlimited desire,
And though not high enough for sight,
Makes all the neighbouring tops of houses bright,
Like the warm Guest
That takes his journey from the blooming East,
Suppos'd himself t' appear,
When yet beneath our Hemisphere,
By those who his reflected rayes mistake,
And think the Sun, and day together break:
The Watches now in every street
Eccho the dreadful noyse of Fire,
Which calls with the same energy from bed,
As the last Trumpet shall the dead,
And bids them all draw nigher,
The shiv'ring multitudes in bodies meet
And some it raiseth by its light, and others by its heat.


Those sluggards that did longest stay
Haste to seek the danger out,
Scarce believing what they heard,
(As truths at distance often turn to doubt)
And still they went, and still they feard,
Then blam'd their own delay,
And wonder'd in their way
To meet so many up at work, before 'twas break of day:
Now first the people understood
The ill consequence of neighbour-hood
Against a Fires impetuous force,
For wise, though weak, defendants better know
To tire a lawless over-bearing foe,
By tedious marches than by open force.
But what hope's left this enemy to subdue?
Whose forces at each house renew,
While one another they undoe,
Whose houses ev'n too many were, and they themselves too few.


Now all the foolish Engines play,
And all the water they convey,
Will not half its thirst allay,
So far they are from lessening its heat,
They serve but to digest its meat;
And still the surly flame doth fiercer hiss
By an Antiperistasis;
And with such ease defi'd
The smaller Conduits in full pride,
Towards his mortal foe he did in triumph ride;
Now London thy astonisht Thame
(Then which no River lowder sung by Fame)
For who knows which most honour doth confer
She on thee, or thou on her
Having dispatcht part of her watry train
As tribute to the Usurping Ocean,
Was glad to spare some water more
To call them back again,
Shrinking her head from the affrighted Shore,
Fearing before her Flood return'd
Her darling City would be burn'd.


When they drew nigh the folding Flames
Salute and take their prospect o're the Thames,
When lo upon the further side
They a spacious Town espi'd,
Hither they bend, whose rage admits no stay
From any thing, to which there seem'd a way,
To find out that, with eager pace
They did the flying peoples footsteps trace
Who shun'd their scorching face,
And seiz'd the wondrous street which stood,
Trampling upon the conquer'd Flood;
Thus busie man intends
Security 'gainst what may come amiss,
Though inconveniencie depends,
On what most profitable is;
So who endeavoured to provide
Against the damage of a swelling tide,
Were almost by a second Foe undone,
By that which serv'd to fetter one,
When glad they would have set the River free
T' have swallow'd up the greater Enemy,
Had not the Fire at those same Ruines staid
VVhich though so many years ago, he knew himself had made.


Though stopt in crossing o're the foaming Tide,
It gain'd along the River side,
And roar'd, while yet the water did but glide;
Here it found the richest prey
For safety was remov'd away,
VVares, whose great worth and weight prolong'd their stay,
The persecuting Flame the while grew swifter far than they.
By this time the vast hollow deep
VVas full, yet did its limits keep[.]
Vast piles of Merchandize against the Flood
Even with its surface stood,
Of such as the best foreign Coast
Or rich America can boast,
Their Owners watch them, and did pray
As kind a stream as brought them there, would carry them away.
When the expected Flood was come
Some untoucht it rescu'd, some
Half destroy'd were quencht, and found within her watry womb;
Those which it could no way save,
Had their ashes in a wave,
With reverence transported home.


Its fury still increas'd, and all
Houses and Churches undistinguisht fall,
Resolv'd to know no limits now, less than a City wall,
Still the fuel was remov'd,
And still the Fire its force improv'd,
Whose eager and devouring heat
Into the heart of th' City eat,
(Whose appetite no industry could quell)
And when their costly Wares were gone,
The place they us'd to traffique on,
Gresham's famous building fell.
The Fire was now so monstrous grown,
It knew no proper fuel of its own,
And scarce distinguisht between Wood and Stone:
The advantage Stone had over Wood,
Was only that it stood;
And what the Founders Majesty had wore,
Now only counterfeited well, what was it self before.
As bodies in the dry Egyptian sand,
Upright in their Repositories stand,
Preserv'd by warmth and kept from Air,
Fresh as when living, and as fair;
But once expos'd to outward touch,
Soon betray their Age too much,
By crumbling into dust, and our burnt Stone is such.


Now with a holy passion fir'd
I have vow'd some time to meditate,
And think, Great Paul's upon thy Fate,
Whom all the world, not only we admir'd;
Whose lofty and unequall'd Spire,
Suffer'd once before by Fire,
But that was from an angry Lightnings flame,
Yet howsoe're it came,
It were absurd to think it were not so,
For what could reach thee from below?
Thou, who for ought I see
Might'st for ever have been free,
From any Culinary Fire,
Had it not with Pains rose higher,
Only to stare, and to admire;
Till it such a pitch had gain'd,
That it Elementary grew,
Such as Aristotle only faign'd,
Oh had it been as harmless too;
Now Air so much with Fire did share,
That it requir'd an equal care,
As 't did from Fire before, to keep thee now from Air.


The circling Flames had taken in
All that did about thee stand,
Before they durst with thee begin,
Whose Structure did a reverend fear command;
As by a subtile Enemy
Places of strength are first survey'd,
Who the weakest place descry
Before their Batteries are play'd,
So it may of thee be said,
For that to which the Fire did first draw near,
Doth yet untoucht appear,
(Thy sacred Altar which could ne're endure)
Any Fire that was impure:
Now not thy strong foundation
On Faith, defended by Tradition
Of Books, whose worth and number was so great
They will hereafter silence the Vaticans like Fate,
Not thy pious Prince his care,
To have made thee once more fair,
Could support thy aged head,
(No though thou wert a sacred place)
How foolish then were they who thought,
The brutish Element was better taught,
Then they who did themselves thy glory most deface.
Thus when thy smaller children now were dead,
Thou thy self didst soon decline into thy humble bed.


When great Pauls was seen to fall,
People bid adieu to all,
And what hopes they had, resign'd,
For they had little reason sure
To think any thing secure
When they cast their eyes behind.
Still it runs, and still it thrives,
Down to the City Gates it drives,
One of which was still possest
By those who are opprest,
With Principal and Interest.
Th' other contain'd a desperate crew
Of Thieves and Murderers too,
Their Goalers gave them timely liberty,
Where they imprison'd use to be,
The Fire it self went free,
To these a welcom Guest,
And only by such miscreants blest,
Thus on the conquest when the Triumph ends
A General Goal-delivery attends:
Soon after this, whether with eating tir'd,
VVhen all the City now was fir'd,
In its own ashes it expir'd,
How I can't tell, I only know,
It begun strangely, and it ended so.

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