The first few of these short pieces were published here in September of the year 2016, and poems will continue intermittently to be added and revised. The order is strictly chronological.
A PRAYER FOR VIRTUE
Virtue, O guiding star, be my intent:
Each cruel impulse in my heart prevent;
The rotten passions of my breast restrain,
The voice of God that lies within maintain.
With holy Love, infuse my soul like fire,
That I may always to thy deeds aspire.
THEY ALONE CAN LIVE WELL WHO SUBDUE ILL PASSIONS
Duty and happiness in this consist:
Each time bad passions rise within, resist.
At every such withstanding, we grow stronger;
Win power to hold against their force for longer.
Oppose base fears; against them 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 pangs of sorrow, strive to master ever:
Indulgence grief may claim, dominion, never.
Of barring anger’s entrance, learn the art;
When it takes hold, to calm the maddening heart.
With anxious thoughts, why tremble, fret, and pine,
Which does no good; hurts thee? Such cares, resign.
With needless haste, do not judge, speak, or act;
For deeds, once done, we never can retract.
Friends, family, deserving souls, assist;
From the base spirit of selfishness, desist.
Pernicious lust, (foul cheat, that only harms,)
Shut out, with all its cozening, fleeting charms.
Before of painful sickness thou complain,
Be temperate, and the longing hands detain.
Let rankling envy not thy life 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;
And so forestall both mind and body’s wreck.
SOME PASSIONS TO BE CONQUERED BY FLIGHT
With certain passions, we can scarcely reason;
When these assail, for flight it is the season.
THE DETERMINATION OF THE MORAL LAW
Would’st thou know right from wrong? To man is given
This means of telling it by righteous Heaven:
Be still, imperious 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 ensnaring lie,
That tempts thee to misuse and waste thy days;
A path which, soon or late, to grief betrays.
He who forever cries out, “later, later!”
Destroys the precious gift of his Creator.
He gave us life on earth the good to seek;
And will we shamefully that duty break?
Like Aesop’s grasshopper, love leisure more
Than toil; for winter’s blasts, lay up no store?
Our short duration yield to ephemeral trash,
And, hour by hour, our future promise dash;
Forsaking all great things we might have done,
In order after transient joys to run?
To mean and base pursuits, ourselves betake;
Yet who deserve our love and care, forsake?
Ah, no! Live well; and now, and not tomorrow:
For but one hour of life, we cannot borrow,
While idleness begets man’s greatest sorrow.
However we our former hours have spent,
Whate’er our past mistakes, let’s now repent,
And vow from this day forth to do all good;
Keep we that course, and peace the heart must flood.
NO TRUE LEISURE WITHOUT LABOUR
The sages tell us, to possess true leisure,
We must not straight pursue, but fly from pleasure.
Labour the bringer is of man’s 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 MERE APPEARANCES
Not how the world perceives thee fret and fear,
But thy soul’s health let be thy constant care.
SOME REFLECTIONS 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 really be kind;
Be genuinely well-disposed in mind:
That, were thy heart full naked to the view,
(And not, as now, to God, but all men too,)
Who know thee now, would know thee just the same,
Thine inside as thine out; be that thine 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,
For all to know me; that I am so bad!
But, friend, change now, and past let be the past;
Reform at once, away anxiety cast!
Change, and from that hour onward rest secure
In virtue’s peace that is forever sure!
On man a true sage once this truth bestowed:
“In ten days, we may turn from beast to god.”
What then, though all our pasts be known by all?
Why, fret’st thine ancient vice should men appal?
When most are bad as thou, or greatly worse,
Would they, audacious, former slips rehearse,
Should’st thou do what few dream of, drop pretence,
And train the mind to true benevolence?
The way to a life-time of good deeds find,
And so by loving-kindness, bless mankind?
Ah no! of hypocrites have never fear;
But to Almighty God thyself endear.
THE REMEDY FOR THE FEAR OF DEATH LIES IN DOING GOOD
With dread to fill of the ages vast to come
That wrap us in the silence of the tomb;
With terrors of the grave to live our life,
And in our mind endure a ceaseless strife,
Is not at all to live, but still to die.
Death’s fear oppose; steadfast to fix thine eye
On doing constant good be thy concern,
And trust that God will care for thee in turn:
For he that made all lovely things below,
Shall to his faithful, things yet lovelier show.
IMPORTANCE OF EXERCISE
When we shun exercise for idle ease,
We throw our health away for cruel disease;
For sloth, although at first with glee it fills,
Afflicts the body with ten thousand ills.
Nay, further, it exacts this greater toll,
It chokes the nobler workings of the soul.
By sloth, to worthy thoughts, the mind grows dead,
And life in dull confusing mists is led.
O, man’s the creature of a day,
This world a den of sorrow;
Our life’s a train of ceaseless woes,
And dies before the morrow.
Whene’er we seem to see the light
And better times unfolding,
Along there comes a further blight
Our former griefs upholding.
False Hope, thou stolest a fruitful youth
And filled it full with grieving,
Gave false sights of a happier life
To me, poor wretch, believing.
Yet—all must I not lay on fate,
My vices played their share;
Bear up, my soul, bear up, resist,
Fall not into despair.
Let sober reason force the reins
From passion sad forlorn,
Much suffering must be blamed on thee;
Then lamentation scorn!
Besides, if grief were thrice as strong,
Thy days all lead-eyed anguish,
Stern Duty would command thee live,
And never have thee languish.
And hast thou no advantages
Thy darkest days sustaining?
Say no, and I’ll give thee the lie;
There’s comforts yet remaining.
Another year affords thee time
Aright to use thy mind:
Go to; the way to doing good,
And virtue’s peace now find.
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
Less oft we meet with men than masks,
True hearts to find our patience tasks;
How rare to meet sincerity,
A soul that’s open, honest, free!
What can I do but sorely grieve
When this world’s falseness I perceive?
How many that should closest be,
Have not betrayed with treachery?
INORDINATE DESIRE DEFEATS ITS OWN END
Had’st thou this world’s whole wealth, all things within thy grasp,
On pleasures could’st thou gorge to thy lust’s full content;
Had’st thou Apicius’ feasts, the wives of Solomon,
One poor body alone is thine to satiate.
It is a paradox, that to the sensualist,
Delights all soon become mere dull and tasteless things;
The joys of those who seek the baser wants of man
Are both short-lived, and pall with every passing day.
Even Emperor Antonine, and Israel’s king declared,
That happiness all power and riches could not gain.
The more we nature’s bounds in folly do transgress,
The more then merely craves our jaded appetite;
Which thirst of base desires, when grown unquenchable,
Makes every hour be spent in purest misery.
Such woe must come to all who give themselves to drink,
To drugs, the belly’s pleasures, lust, and all enslaving things.
From lawful love alone, and temperance, comes true bliss.
That seeming falsehood then the Stoics would maintain,
That ‘tis the wise alone, true riches who possess,
Is pure and simple truth, and sound philosophy,
To which good men stick fast, but foolish scoffers scorn.
Whoe’er will pass it by, and wisdom set at naught,
Whoe’er devotes his life to chasing pleasures false;
Who follows passion’s will, and not the moral law,
I call him slave and wretch, his own worst enemy.
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;
For errors old of youth,
Thou now-grown men arraign,
Fling in their teeth embarrassments,
Long past, with cruel 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 aught I e’er could see,
Men craven cowards are,
To what prevailing power approves
Directing all their care.
They are its willing tools,
That profit they might reap;
Fall foul of it in word or deed,
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.
The toady, sycophant,
Thoughtless conformist, weathercock,
Prefer themselves to right.
VIRTUE MAN’S PRIME DISTINCTION
How wrong men 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, Tydeus, Malebranche, 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?
Nor say I there’s no use in wealth,
Or power, or beauty too;
Yet we by doing good alone
Give them their proper due.
If these are, to the contrary,
Made panders to our pleasure,
They even defeat our very end,
And we repent at leisure.
Say in abundance they were thine,
By that thy happiness
Would be by far the less, if thou
Did’st Nature’s laws transgress.
So far as we possess these things,
What hard temptations grow,
That, should we yield ourselves to them,
Bring nothing else but woe!
When (to conclude) at last we die,
Our mind, our 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;
All noble traits of soul I meet,
There stamped upon the face.
So burthened down I am with cruel disease,
Deceits, ill-treatments, heartbreaks, miseries,
So many cherished hopes have fallen through,
I know not what to think, or say, or do.
My grief’s too deep for tears; this stony weight
I carry in my breast, will not abate:
When I would weep, meseems it them absorbs;
Denies pain’s easement by the tearful orbs.
Would God so many years of care and strife
Had been applied instead to living life!
But as my living ill, misplacing trust,
Account for much, all woes away I’ll thrust;
Man’s duty to get up is when he falls,
And hate despair that him to languish calls.
There’s few afflictions but may mastered be
By prudence, healthy habits, industry;
If power remains for doing good, I’ll scorn
To think my situation is forlorn.
Budé and George Trosse started to grow sage,
And wasted youth to conquer, from mine age.
QUICKNESS TO TRUST
Strangers may any character assume;
Who swift to trust is, surely meets his doom.
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
Should 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 most passing strange I see
Even time and time again:
For animals more kind to be,
And far less cruel, than men.
FALSE CHOICE IN LOVE
One grief to mortals here accrues
Than which few deadlier prove:
For us a life-long mate to choose
Unworthy of our love.
ODE TO SELF-DISCIPLINE
Holy self-discipline! from thee proceeds
The sum and total of our happiness;
For of thy strength devoid,
What should we do but 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 could only learn to reverence thee,
This world, which so much hellish suffering knows,
A paradise might be,
And almost free from ills,
For those most owing are to their own selves;
Who would not masters be of passion’s rage,
Nor selfish indolence,
Or shrinking cowardice.
All griefs I ever suffered for thy lack,
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 tempting vice’s lures, 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 state abject. From henceforth would I come
Thy dearest blessings to attain and hold,
And walk in upright paths,
And ever happily live:
By thee, from eating ill, I should desist;
Take exercise, for mind and body’s health;
Instead of worthless ways,
Pursue life’s nobler ends,
By which the mind with literature, art,
Music, and nature’s beauty, we enrich;
Find out some useful means
Of doing others good;
When duty calls, should always act aright;
And hateful vice’s fierce assaults resist.
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 bitter 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 this 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 man from greatness makes to 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
Man’s greatest earthly bliss.
Indeed, not only 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,
And great the pains it pays!
That men should shun a fixed delight
Unmixed with shameful grief,
And choose its dismal course instead,
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 poisonous, violent charms,
While masking from our tempted heart
Infinite future harms.
No more, no more, thou ugly thing,
Thou foul and cruel 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 toil to gain
That joy which e’er abides.
SOLON ON VIRTUE VERSUS WEALTH, TRANSLATED
Many bad men, I grant, are rich,
And many good ones poor;
Yet virtue I would scorn to trade
For any earthly store:
For virtue lasts; but on mere wealth,
We never can rely:
Material goods do not endure;
From hand to hand they fly.
XENOPHANES ON THE DIVINE BEING, TRANSLATED
It may be curious to observe that the author of the following verses 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 oxen, horses, lions, men’s hands possessed,
Or even now drew, and art in works expressed,
Paintings and sculptures representing gods
We soon should see, in 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 both 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.
I said before, a wretch confides too soon,
But confidants of many years betray;
Experience has this second maxim shown,
Trust only one who walks in virtue’s way.
SOME FURTHER THOUGHTS
Better to pass my days in solitude,
And amity’s joys forever to exclude,
Than confidence in any man to place,
And with a tender friendship him embrace,
Whose life and actions did not surely prove
That he was 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 money, favours: our support
Emotional, is of still more 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, and all mankind
(For, what more kindness should I hope to find?);
So too, what share of each is given to me,
I would 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 kindly 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 inner fire
We feel for noble things, comes to expire,
By close communion with them: it was said
By one who goodness to the end displayed,
Wise Seneca, that even Socrates
Might lose his moral strength thus by degrees.
Of even men neither-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.
All that I say of friendship, must pertain
Still more to love and marriage’s domain;
To hold a person our devotion worth
Who is unworthy love, is hell on earth.
Rather than toil companionship to find,
On duty to concentre all our mind,
Appears to me a wiser course: our thoughts
We occupy; and do not pass by faults,
To seek, for lonely pains of idle hours,
Pernicious company’s brief, specious cures.
A life well-spent, with time, may one day bear
What we desire, if we will judge with care.
A close retirement, I now therefore choose,
With labour, good books, Nature, and the Muse.
THEOGNIS ON TRUST, TRANSLATED
Do not place full trust even in many a friend;
Few are the men on whom we can depend.