The first few of these poems were published here in September 2016, and poems continued to be added intermittently until February 2018. The order is mostly chronological.
Despite their juvenile faults, I can at least say that they were written sincerely, and reflect the honest resolutions of a young mind.
A PRAYER FOR VIRTUE
Virtue, O guiding star, be my intent!
From every wicked deed, my soul prevent!
Each cruel impulse in my heart restrain,
And Heaven’s voice that lies within maintain.
With holy Love, infuse my soul like fire,
That I may always to thy deeds aspire.
THEY ALONE LIVE WELL WHO SUBDUE ILL PASSIONS
Duty and happiness in this consist:
When evil passions rise within, resist.
At every such withstanding, we grow stronger:
Win power to hold against their force for longer.
Oppose base fear; against it steel the breast,
And courage make to answer thy behest.
When cruelty’s stirrings move, refuse their reign:
Determine not to cause another pain.
The depths of sorrow, strive to master ever:
Indulgence grief may claim; dominion, never.
Of barring anger’s entrance, learn the art;
And when it breaks through, calm the maddening heart.
With anxious thoughts, why always fret and pine?
All cares that hurt and do no help, resign.
With needless haste, do not judge, speak, or act;
For deeds once done, we never can retract.
From the mean spirit of selfishness, desist!
And loved ones and deserving souls, assist.
Impetuous lust, (foul cheat, that only harms,)
Shut out, with all its self-destructive charms.
Before of painful sickness thou complain,
Use temperance, and thy longing hands detain.
Let rankling envy not thy heart infest:
It injures thee—thy peace, thy interest.
In sum, would’st thou enjoy true liberty?
It’s found in this alone, self-mastery.
THE PASSIONS TO BE CHECKED AT ONCE
When first they take their rise, the passions check:
Far better to forestall, than mend a wreck.
SOME PASSIONS TO BE CONQUERED BY FLIGHT
With certain passions, we can scarcely reason;
When those assail, for flight it is the season.
THE MORAL LAW
Would’st thou know right from wrong? To man is given
This perfect means of knowing good by Heaven:
Be still, unreasoning Passion make depart,
And with sincereness look within thy heart.
IMPORTANCE OF SPENDING OUR TIME USEFULLY
On Time, most prized possession, fix thine eye.
Heed not the Siren song, the luring lie,
That softly whispers to misuse thy days;
A voice that, lapse by lapse, to grief betrays.
“Seek out,” it sighs, “a constant state of ease,
And love what effortlessly seems to please!”
So Aesop’s grasshopper loved leisure more
Than toil; for winter, laying up no store.
He who forever puts off good for later,
Destroys the precious gift of his Creator.
He gave us treasured life the good to seek;
And will we thanklessly that duty break?
Ah, no; live well! and now, and not tomorrow:
A single hour of time, we cannot borrow;
And waste of time begets our greatest sorrow.
However former hours have been misspent,
Whatever our mistakes, let’s now repent,
And vow from this day forth to seek the good.
A vow which kept, with peace the heart shall flood!
NO TRUE LEISURE WITHOUT LABOUR
The sages tell us, to possess true leisure,
We are not to pursue, but fly from pleasure.
Labour alone, they say, can bring repose;
Omit that balm, and anguish surely grows.
HABIT THE KEY TO SELF-MASTERY
Self-mastery in continual effort lies:
To form good habits ever look the wise.
DO NOT CARE FOR APPEARANCES
Not how the world perceives thee fret and fear,
But let thy soul alone receive thy care!
ON OUR EVER-PRESENT CAPACITY FOR MORAL CHANGE
“Within ten days thou wilt seem a god to those to whom thou art now a beast and an ape, if thou wilt return to thy principles and the worship of reason.” – Marcus Aurelius
Seek not to seem, but truthfully be kind;
Be genuinely well-disposed in mind:
So if thy heart were naked to the view,
Not hid with thee, but seen by men’s eyes too,
Who know thee now, would know thee just the same,
Thine inside as thine out. What worthier aim?
For one day opened must our true selves be,
That day when all men, all men’s hearts shall see:
When God the book of secrets shall reveal,
And not one may his inward self conceal.
Thought terrible! thou say’st, that drives me mad,
That all should know me; when I am so bad!
But, friend, reform, and past let be the past;
Reform,—and then away anxiety cast!
Change now, and from this minute rest secure
In virtue’s peace that is forever sure!
A true sage this great truth on man bestowed:
“In ten days, we may turn from beast to god.”
What then, though all our past were known to all?
Why, fret’st thine ancient vice should men appal?
When most are bad as thou, or greatly worse,
Will they, audacious, former slips rehearse,
Should’st thou do what few dream of,—drop pretence,
And train the mind to true benevolence?
Of sneering hypocrites do not have fear;
But to Almighty God thyself endear!
THE REMEDY FOR THE FEAR OF DEATH LIES IN DOING GOOD
To live in dread of ages vast to come
That wrap us in the silence of the tomb,
Is not to live at all, but now to die.
To treasure fear brings ceaseless agony.
Instead of death, make good thy chief concern,
And trust that God will care for thee in turn!
For he that made all lovely things below,
Shall to his dear ones, things yet lovelier show.
IMPORTANCE OF EXERCISE
When exercise is shunned for tempting ease,
We scorn the best preventive of disease.
Nay, further, sloth exacts this greater toll,
It chokes the nobler workings of the soul.
An idle man to lucid thoughts grows dead,
And life in dull confusing mists is led.
False Hope, thou stolest a fruitful youth
And filled it full with grieving;
Gave false sights of a happy life
To me, poor wretch, believing.
For when I seem to see the light,
And better times unfolding,
Along there comes a further blight
My former griefs upholding.
And yet,—bear up, my soul, resist,
Fall not into despair!
For in man’s grief, not Fate, but Vice,
Has far the greater share.
Let reason force the reins away
From passion sad forlorn,—
Does not much suffering come from me?
Then hopeless gloom I scorn.
And have I no advantages
My darkest days sustaining?
Say no, and I will give the lie;
There’s comfort yet remaining.
Besides, if grief were thrice as strong,
The days all lead-eyed anguish,
My duty would command me fight,
And never have me languish.
AVOID HARSH WORDS
Who prone to insult is
A bad heart discovers;
Do not take thy joys then
In cruelty to others.
SHORTNESS OF LIFE
A little time,
Man’s race is run;
Scarce sees his prime,
Ere sets his sun.
RARENESS OF SINCERITY
We meet less oft with men than masks;
To find true hearts, all patience tasks.
How rare to meet sincerity,
A soul that’s open, honest, free!
INORDINATE DESIRE DEFEATS ITS OWN END
Had’st thou this world’s whole wealth, all power within thy grasp,
Could’st thou on pleasures gorge to longing’s full content;
Had’st thou Apicius’ feasts, the wives of Solomon,
One wretched body alone is thine to satiate.
It is a paradox, that to the sensualist,
Delight—his end—becomes a most insipid curse.
The joys of him who loves the baser wants of man
Are both short-lived, and pall with every passing day.
The more that nature’s bounds are thoughtlessly transgressed,
The more our jaded appetite is forced to crave.
Enslaving things,—drink, drugs, the belly’s pleasures, lust,
Must yield at last the tasteless bliss of Tantalus.
Both Emperor Antonine, and Israel’s king declared,
That happiness, all power and riches cannot gain.
SONNET TO JOHN KEATS
O pure-souled Keats! although thy life was short,
How did’st thou bless the world with poesy’s charms!
Though earthly sickness wrought thy body harms,
Its pains have in the end effected naught.
Thy works shall never die in men’s report;
And lo, I see thee borne in angels’ arms,
Safe from the peril of this world’s alarms,
As they thy spirit steer to Heaven’s port.
By thy dear parents, brothers, art thou met;
And brother-poets, too, who surely know
Thy matchless skill, and laurels on thee set,
That they may all their admiration show.
All bliss that fell short here, may’st thou there get;
And both in art and joy, forever grow!
TO A MORAL HYPOCRITE
Before upon the young
Fierce mockery thou cast,
With ridicule of their missteps,
Their good name seek to blast;
Before for ancient sins,
Thou now-grown men arraign,
Fling in their teeth embarrassments,
Long past, with harsh disdain,—
Recall, thou insolent!
That thou like faults declared’st,
And their unwisdom, passions hot,
And inexperience, shared’st.
Perhaps thy fortune is,
Thy slips escaped the light;
But on that score, how mean to aim
Unhappier lives to blight!
DISAPPOINTMENT IN TIME-SERVERS
For ought I ever saw,
Men craven cowards are;
To what prevailing power approves,
Directing all their care.
Its willing tools they are,
That profit they might reap;
Fall foul of what consensus damns,
They’ll down like vultures sweep.
The light of God within,
And wisdom’s truth they shun;
To curry favour, censure fly,
Their feet are swift to run.
Time-serving ease they love,
Hard duty they forsake;
Like Proteus, or chameleons,
All shapes and forms will take.
They think not for themselves,
But only how to please
Or mere majorities.
VIRTUE MAN’S PRIME DISTINCTION
How wrong we are to judge of worth
By mere external things,
By form and stature, wealth and power,
And slight what virtue brings.
I do not say that health and strength
Ought not to be our aim;
But nature’s stamp, fate’s accidents,
Are no just cause of shame.
With Aesop, Père Malebranche, and Pope,
Whose souls, not shapes, were blessed,
What high heart would not pine to rank;
Like greatness to attest?
As poor as poor may be were Keats
And virtuous Socrates;
A slave was Epictetus once;
Who could not reverence these?
When (to conclude) at last we die,
Our mind and deeds we save;
But power and wealth and beauty, all
Are equal in the grave.
TRUE WORTH LIES IN THE MIND
Though Byron’s club-foot, Johnson’s ticks,
Wise Socrates’ flat nose,
Or Goldsmith’s sloping chin I had,
To Pope’s small stature rose;
Adonis’ self, had I their worth,
If his should balanced be
Against my own, would seem to weigh
But feather-light to me.
DELIGHT IN LOOKING AT PORTRAITS
Pictures of men and women great
Attract my wondering gaze;
The noble inward soul I meet,
There stamped upon the face.
So burdened down I am with cruel disease,
Deceits, ill-treatments, heartbreaks, miseries;
So many cherished hopes have fallen through,
I know not what to say, or think, or do.
My heart is heavy, and the stony weight
That lies within my breast, will not abate.
So deep grief lies, my body grief absorbs;
Denies pain’s easement by the tearful orbs.
But man’s task is to get up when he falls,
And hate the voice that all things desperate calls.
If power remains for doing good, I scorn
To think my situation is forlorn.
For much distress, we find a remedy
In patient, well-directed industry.
Wise Polemo just started to grow sage,
And wasted youth to conquer, from mine age.
SLEEP AND DEATH
As when we wake on sleeping through the day,
And hear “how long day seemed” another say,
Though time to us was nothing; so, when death
Shall take us, and we breathe our final breath,
Will then the interval seem just as fleeting
Between our closing hour—the next world’s greeting?
With vice, that brings such misery,
I never more will trade;
A death in life is life to me
When I my soul degrade.
GOODNESS IN ANIMALS
A sight no longer strange I see
Even time and time again:
For animals more kind to be,
And far less cruel, than men.
FALSE CHOICE IN LOVE
To hold a person our devotion worth
Who does not merit it, is hell on earth.
ODE TO SELF-DISCIPLINE
Holy self-discipline! from thee proceeds
The sum and total of our happiness.
For of thy strength devoid,
Our fate would be to fall
To swift destruction. Strife would rule at will;
And all those joys would perish from the earth
That most substantial are,
And free from guilt or shame.
If men would only learn to reverence thee,
This world, which so much hellish suffering knows,
A paradise might be,
And almost free from ills,
For suffering is most due to our own selves:
Who will not masters be of passion’s rage,
Nor shrinking indolence,
Or selfish cowardice.
All griefs I ever suffered for thy want,
All torments of the body, woes in spirit;
All the poor suffering souls
Whom I have failed to help,
From yielding up my mind to idleness,
And hateful vice’s lies—all, all combine
To make me curse the day
That I abandoned thee.
Instead of duty, pleasure’s ease I chose;
For which an anguish storms within my breast
That lasts from dawn till dusk,
And nothing can efface.
All this, I say, thou had’st forestalled; yet now,
Even now, though thus forlorn, thy healing rays
Might free me from my cares,
And broken misery,
And abject state. From henceforth would I come
Thy dearest blessings to attain and hold.
Let me now taste the sweets
Of virtue’s calmful peace,
In shunning that which harms, though easier done.
Banish the specious whisperings of sin;
And ever, ever more,
Secure my soul’s content!
I’ve sinned again, and feel my spirit void
Of God’s dear peace and truth it once enjoyed.
Now empty darkness and despair I know,
That every anguished moment grow and grow.
SOLON ON THE TEN AGES OF MAN, TRANSLATED
In these verses, Solon, the great lawgiver of Athens, divides the life of man into ten seven-year-long periods, called by him hebdomads, from the Greek word meaning seven.
Before grown up to man’s estate,
And seven full years he treads,
And leaves his childish sports, the boy
His first teeth cuts and sheds.
When by the gift and grant of God
He seven years older grows,
The opening signs of manhood’s spring
In nascent youth he shows.
As a third seven pass away,
In length his limbs increase,
And Nature now begins his chin
To cover o’er with fleece.
The seven-year period next to come
(We call these, hebdomads)
And fourth, is when men most of all
In strength of form She clads.
The fifth is when the hour arrives
To seek a wife to find,
And for a man to propagate
To after-times his kind.
From thirty-five to forty-two,
His mind is now well-trained;
And in the sixth, past reckless ways
Are greatly more restrained.
The seventh hebdomad and eighth
With wisdom’s power invest:
From forty-two to fifty-six,
In mind and tongue he’s best.
We must concede, that in the ninth
A man is able still;
But virtue’s very greatest ends
Less well can he fulfil.
If he should live through all the tenth,
His seventieth year he greets;
And from that hour, the fate of death
No more untimely meets.
PALLADAS ON MAN’S UNFORTUNATE STATE, TRANSLATED
When I was born I wept with smart,
And weeping still, to death depart;
For I have found this world to be
A vale of woe and misery.
O race of men, that mourn and cry,
How feeble seem you to mine eye;
Whom life with so few hours presents,
And then dissolves in elements!
False flattery from greatness makes us swerve:
Give me that praise alone which I deserve.
GOODNESS THE SOURCE OF HAPPINESS
All peace of mind and lasting joy
Derive their source from this:
Be good: in those two words is found
Our greatest earthly bliss.
Indeed, not merely here below
The good man rests secure;
But even in the world to come,
He knows content is sure.
How thorny, hard, and intricate
Are wretched vice’s ways:
How fleeting what small joys it yields;
How great the pains it pays!
That we should shun a fixed delight
Unmixed with moral grief,
And choose the wretched course of sin,
Our reason is, that virtue asks
We toil for its content,
Know hardships now, for later joys;
But vice’s argument,
Is that we shall at once enjoy
Its fascinating charms,
While masking from our tempted heart
No more, no more, pernicious Vice,
Thou foul and wicked cheat,
Will I receive thy lies, and so
My happiness unseat.
With conscience, meditative thought,
And reason for my guides,
And good wise men, I’ll strive to gain
A comfort that abides.
SOLON ON VIRTUE VERSUS WEALTH, TRANSLATED
Bad men, I grant, are often rich,
And many good ones poor;
Yet virtue will I scorn to trade
For any earthly store.
For virtue lasts; but on mere wealth,
We never can rely:
External goods do not endure;
From hand to hand they fly.
XENOPHANES ON THE DIVINE BEING, TRANSLATED
It is extraordinary that the author of the following words on the monotheistic and intellectual nature of God, the poet-philosopher Xenophanes of Colophon, flourished at so early a date as the 6th century B. C.
Mortals suppose that gods, like them, are born;
Have voices, shapes; with clothes, those shapes adorn!
The Ethiopes, that the gods are black declare;
The Scythians, that they have blue eyes, red hair!
If lion, ox, or horse, men’s hands possessed,
And drew with hands, and works of art expressed,
Paintings and sculptures representing gods
Would soon appear, with beastly likelihoods.
The common tales belie the gods,—ascribe
To them all things that mortal men proscribe,
All shameful acts that here we deprecate:
Adultery, and stealing, and deceit.
Supreme among the gods and all mankind
Is one God, unlike men in form or mind.
He never moves; in one same place he lies,
Nor is it fit he should do otherwise.
With his whole being, he hears, thinks, and surveys;
And all things with mere thought, he easily sways.
QUICKNESS TO TRUST
New friends may any character assume;
Who trusts too quickly, often meets his doom.
SOME FURTHER THOUGHTS
I said before, beware of trusting soon,
But confidants of many years betray.
Experience has this second maxim shown:
Trust only one who walks in virtue’s way.
THEOGNIS ON TRUST, TRANSLATED
Do not place full trust even in many a friend;
How few on whom we truly can depend!
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
Better to pass my days in solitude,
And friendship’s joys forever to exclude,
Than bless a man with amity’s embrace,
In whom my confidence found no just place.
A person’s life and actions first must prove,
That he is worthy of my trust and love.
The bad, I find, chameleon colours wear,
And by deceit and falsehood, win our care:
They play a part, our goals and interests feign,
Dissemble warmth,—and use us for their gain.
Not only wealth or favours! our support
Of tender feeling, is of most import;
Which parasites soliciting at length,
They drink our soul’s own blood, and sap our strength.
I now would judge of people, not from show,
But conduct known. What good, what bad they do
To friends, to family, to all mankind
(For, what more kindness should I hope to find?);
Also, what share of each is given me,
I must not overlook, but clearly see.
No man is perfect, faults the best announce,
But who more hurts than helps me, I renounce.
Bad friends, if we will not be vigilant
To shun, cause years to be in grieving spent:
In turn for benefits we freely give,
Neglect, ill-treatment, treachery, we receive.
By them, this injury we also reap,
We grow like those whose company we keep.
Base minds corrode our soul; the inward fire
We feel for noble things, comes to expire,
By close communion with them. It was said
By one who virtue to the end displayed,
Wise Seneca, that even Socrates
Might lose his moral strength thus, by degrees.
Of even men nor-good-nor-bad I tire,
Who make me sad, and long for something higher.
Give me a friend who yearns for righteousness,
And goodness, truth, and beauty, to possess.
With time and patience, life may one day bear
My heart’s desire, if I will judge with care.
But comradeship, I will not toil to find:
To seek for our contentment in the mind,
Appears to me our first concern. Our thoughts
We occupy; and need not pass by faults,
To seek, for lonely pains of idle hours,
Bad company’s fast-fading, specious cures.
A close retirement I will therefore choose,
With labour, good books, Nature, and the Muse.