Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A POETICAL VERSION OF A LETTER, FROM THE EARL OF ESSEX TO SOUTHAMPTON, by JOHN BYROM



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A POETICAL VERSION OF A LETTER, FROM THE EARL OF ESSEX TO SOUTHAMPTON, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: My lord, untaught by nature or by art
Last Line: Essex.
Subject(s): Letters; Poetry Readings


MY Lord, untaught by nature or by art,
To give the genuine dictates of my heart
The gloss of compliment, I never less
Than now should aim at that polite excess;
Now, that my wand'ring thoughts are fix'd upon,
Not Martha's many things, but Mary's one.

'Tis not from any ceremonious view,
But to discharge a real, needful due
From friend to friend in absence, that I write
To mine, secluded from his wonted sight;
By force oblig'd to give, and to receive
A long, perhaps, a last departing leave;
For small, by ev'ry test of human ken,
The hopes of meeting, in this world, again.

Under such circumstances, I recal
My friend, whose honour, person, fortune,—all
So dear to me, make bosom-wish to swell,
That he may always prosper and do well;
Where'er he goes, whate'er he takes in hand,
Under the favour, service, and command
Of His protecting Providence, from whom
All happiness, if truly such, must come.

My friend's abilities, and present state.
Of natural endowments how I rate;
To God what glory, to himself what use,
The best exertion of them might produce,
I shall not here express;—enough to note
That, at such times as I was most remote
From all dissembling, witnesses enow
Can vouch my speaking what I thought was true.

The truths, which love now prompts me to remind
Your lordship of, are of the following kind:
First; that whatever talents you possess,
They are God's gifts whom you are bound to bless.
Next; that you have them, not as things your own,
Tho' for your use, yet not for yours alone;
But as a human stewarty or trust,
Of which account is to be giv'n and just:
So that, in fine, if talents are applied
To serve the spirit of the world, in pride
And vain delights,—as he, who rules the scenes
Of guilty joy, the prince of darkness, means,—
It is ingratitude, injustice too,
Yea, 'tis perfidious treachery in you:
For if a servant of your own should dare
To use the goods committed to his care,
To the advantage of your greatest foe,
What would you think of his behaving so?
Yet how with God would you yourself do less,
Having from Him whatever you possess,
And serving with it, in the Donor's stead,
That foe to Him by whom the world is led?

A serious thought if you can ever lend
To admonition, from your truest friend;
If the regard, due to your country, sways,
Which you may serve so many glorious ways;
If an All-ruling, Righteous Pow'r above
Can rise your dread of justice or your love;
If you yourself will to yourself be true,
And everlasting happiness pursue
Before the joys of any worldly scheme,
The short delusions of a pleasing dream;
Of which, whatever it may represent,
The soul, soon wak'd, must bitterly repent;—
If these reflections, any of them, find
Due estimation in your prudent mind;
Take an account of what is done and past,
And, what the future may demand, forecast;
The leagues, whatever they import, repeal,
To which good conscience has not set the seal:
And fix your resolution firm, to serve
Him, from whose will no loyal thought can swerve;
That gracious God, from whom, in very deed
All your abilities and gifts proceed,
Whether of bodily or mental trace,
Without, within, of nature or of grace.

Then He, who cannot possibly deny
Himself, or give his faithfulness the lie,
Will honour his true servant, and impart
That real peace of mind, that joy of heart;
Of which until you are become possess'd,
Your heart, your mind shall never be at rest;
And when you are, by having well approv'd
The one true way, it never shall be mov'd.

This,—I foresee, your lordship may object,—
Is melancholy's vaporous effect;
That I am got into a pris'ner's style:
Far enough from it, all the jocund while
That I was free like you and other men;
And, fetters gone, should be the same again.

To which I answer—"Say it tho' you should,
"Yet cannot I distrust a God so good,
"Or mercy failing me, so greatly shewn,
"Or grace forsaking, but by fault my own.
"So deeply bound to Him, my heart so burns
"To make his mercy suitable returns,
"That not to try, of all th' apostate class
"Worse should I be than any ever was:
"I have with such repeated, solemn stress,
"Avow'd the penitence which I profess;
"From time to time so call'd on not a few,
"To witness, and to watch if it was true,
"That of all hypocrites, if found to lie,
"That e'er were born, the hollowest were I.

"But should I perish in my sins, and draw
"Upon myself my own damnation's law,
"Will it not be your wisdom to embrace
"God's offer'd mercy of a saving grace?
"To profit by example, if you see
"The fearful case of miserable me?"

A longer time was I a slave to sin
And a corrupted world, than you have been;
Had many a too, too-slowly-answer'd call,
That made still harder my return from thrall.
To come to Christ was requisite, I knew,
But softer pace, I flatter'd me, would do;
The journey's end, contented, I remain'd
To see and own, tho' still 'twas unattain'd.
Therefore the same good providence that call'd,
With a kind violence has pull'd and haul'd;
As public eye may, outwardly at least,
Have seen, and dragg'd me to the marriage feast.

Kind, in this world, affliction's heaviest load,
That in another bliss might be bestow'd;
Kind the repeated stripes, that should correct
Of too great knowledge a too small effect.
God grant your lordship may, with less alloy,
Feel an unfeign'd conversion's inward joy,
As I do now; and find the happy way,
Without the torments of so long delay!

To the divines (and there were none beside
That nam'd conversion to me) I replied—
"Could my ambition enter and possess
"Your narrow hearts, your meekness would be less;
"Were my delights, to which it gives the rise,
"Tasted by you, you would be less precise."
But you, my lord, have the momentous hint,
From one that knows the very utmost stint
Of all that can amuse you whilst you live,
Of all contentments which the world can give.

Think then, dear earl, that I have stak'd and buoy'd
The ways of pleasure, fatally enjoy'd,
And set them up, as marks at sea, for you
To keep true virtue's channel in your view:
Think, tho' your eyes should long be shut and fast,
They must, they must be open'd at the last:
Truth will compel you to confess, like me,
That to the wicked peace can never be.
With my own soul, (that heav'n may deign to aid
My heart's address,) this covenant is made;
My eyes shall never yield to sleep at night,
Nor thoughts attend the bus'ness of the light,
Till I have pray'd my God, that you may take
This plain, but faithful warning for his sake,
With a believing profit;—then in you
Your friends, your country will be happy too;
And all your aims succeed.—Events so blest
Would fill with comfort, not to be express'd,
Your Lordship's cousin and true friend,—so tied
That worldly cause can never once divide—

ESSEX.





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