Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, VERSES: ON THE TRANSMIGRATION OF SOULS, by JOHN BYROM



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

VERSES: ON THE TRANSMIGRATION OF SOULS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Pythagoras, an ancient sage, opin'd
Last Line: What beauteous forms will they produce above!
Subject(s): Soul


PYTHAGORAS, an ancient sage, opin'd
That form and shape were indexes of mind;
That minds of men, when they departed hence,
Would all be form'd according to this sense,
Some animal, or human shape again,
Would shew what had been souls of former men.

Let us adopt this transmigration plan,
And mark how animal exhibits man;
Tyrants, for instance,—to begin with those
Who cause the greatest noise, the greatest woes,—
Of their dominion lions are the key,
That reign in deserts now, and hunt their prey;
sometimes dethron'd, and brought upon a stage,
Or coop'd, like Bajazet, within a cage;
For sixpence, safe from all tyrannic harms,
One may see kings, perhaps at the King's Arms;
See savage monarchs, who had shewn before
The tusky temper of the wildest boar,
Vested in proper shape, when they are dead,
Revived, caught, and shewn at the Boar's Head.

In some tam'd elephant our eyes may scan
The once rich, overgrown, half-reas'ning man:
My Lord had sense to wind into his maw
All within reach, that lay within the law;
What would have fed a thousand mouths was sunk
To fill his own, by monstrous length of trunk.
He grew to wondrous grandeur, liv'd a show,
And stones high raised tell where he's laid low;
By transmigration it appears, at least,
That such great man is but a bulky beast.

From animals that once were men, to pass
To men of nearly now ambiguous class,—
Players, and harlequins, and pantomimes,
Who sell their shapes to mimic men and times,
With all the servile, second-handed tribe
Of imitators, endless to describe,—
In their own figures when they come to range,
With small transition into monkies change;
For now men-monkies have not in their view
What should be done by men, but what they do.

Of tempers, by inferior forms express'd,
And seen for nothing, something may be guess'd.
When the sly fox ensnares the silly geese,
Who does not see that mind is of a piece
With former Lawyers, who devour'd by far
The sillier clients, drawn into the bar?

"Why not Physicians?" hear the lawyer say,
"Are they not too as wily in their way?"
Why, yes, dear Barrister,—but then they own
The shapes in which their cunning arts are shewn;
Serpents confess, around the rod entwin'd,
Wily, or wise, the Esculapian kind.

"Why not Divines?" the doctor may object,
"They have devourers too in ev'ry sect."
True;—but if one devour, a dismal, grim,
And proper transmigration waits for him;
In human shape when he has spent his years,
Stripp'd of sheep's clothing the true wolf appears.

'Tis plain in quadrupeds; now let us try
What instance first occurs in such as fly:
The parrot shews by its unmeaning prate,
Full many a talker's metamorphos'd fate,
Whose tongue outstrips the clapper of a mill,
And keeps on saying the same nothing still;
As full the city, and as full the court,
As India's woods with creatures of this sort.
If right the gayly feather'd bird foretells
The future shape of chatty beaux and belles,
They, transmigrated, will, like human dolls,
Talk on, and shine caress'd as "pretty polls."

Belles, you may see, pursue a butterfly,
With painted wings, which flutter in the sky,
And, sparkling, to the solar rays unfold
Red mix'd with purple, green with shining gold:
Wonder not at the fond pursuit, for, know
That this same butterfly was once a beau,
And, dress'd according to the newest whim,
Ran after them as they run after him.

Footed or flying all decipher men;—
Enough to add another instance, then,
A supple courtier, little creeping thing,
That takes new colours as there comes new king,
Lives upon airy promises and dies;
His transmigration can be no surprise,
The low Chameleon's shape he comes to share,
Still changes colours, and still feeds on air.

By his ingenious fiction in the end,
What could the wise Pythagoras intend?
Too wise a man not to intend a clue
To that great change, which lit'rally is true.
The solar system of our boasted age
Was known of old to this enlighten'd sage;
So might his thoughts on man's immortal soul,
Howe'er express'd, be right upon the whole:
He meant, one need not scruple to affirm,
This real truth by transmigration term.

Our tempers here must point to the degree
In which hereafter we design to be.
From vice in minds undoubtedly will grow
More ugly shapes than any here below;
But sacred virtue, piety, and love,—
What beauteous forms will they produce above!





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