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For how may we to other things attain,
When none of us his own soul understands ? For which the devil mocks our curious brain,
When, “Know thyself,” his oracle commands.
For why should we the busy soul believe
When boldly she concludes of that and this, When of herself she can no judgment give,
Nor how, nor whence, nor where, nor what she is
All things without, which round about we see,
We seek to know and how therewith to do; But that whereby we reason, live, and be,
Within ourselves, we strangers are thereto.
We seek to know the moving of each sphere,
And the strange cause of th' ebbs and floods of Nile; But of that clock within our breasts we bear,
The sable motions we forget the while.
We that acquaint ourselves with every zone,
And pass both tropics, and behold each pole, When we come home, are to ourselves unknown,
And unacquainted still with our own soul.
We study speech, but others we persuade;
We leech-craft leam, but others cure with it; We interpret laws which other men have made,
But read not those which in our hearts are writ.
Is it because the mind is like the eye,
Through which it gathers knowledge by degrees, Whose rays reflect not, but spread outwardly,
Not seeing itself, when other things it sees?
No, doubtless ; for the mind can backward cast
Upon herself her understanding's light; But she is so corrupt and so defaced,
As her own image doth herself affright.
As is the fable of the lady fair,
Which for her sin was turned into a cow, When thirsty to a stream she did repair,
And saw herself transformed, she knew not how:
At first she startles, then she stands amazed;
At last with terror she from thence doth fly, And loathes the watery glass wherein she gazed,
And shuns it still, though she for thirst doth die:
E'en so man's soul, which did God's image bear,
And was, at first, fair, good, and spotless pure, Since with her sins her beauties blotted were,
Doth of all sights her own sight least endure :
For e'en at first reflection she espies
Such strange chimeras, and such monsters there, Such toys, such antics, and such vanities,
As she retires, and shrinks for shame and fear ;
And as the man loves least at home to be
That hath a sluttish house, haunted with sprites, So she, impatient her own faults to see,
Turns from herself and in strange things delights.
For this few know themselves : for merchants broke
View their estate with discontent and pain ; And seas are troubled when they do revoke
Their flowing waves into themselves again.
And while the face of outward things we find
Pleasing and fair, agreeable and sweet, These things transport and carry out the mind,
That with herself the mind can never meet.
Yet if affliction once her wars begin,
And threat the feebler sense with sword and fire, The mind contracts herself, and shrinketh in,
And to herself she gladly doth retire :
As spiders touched, seek their web's inmost part ;
As bees in storms back to their hives return; As blood in danger gathers to the heart;
As men seek towns when foes the country burn.
If aught can teach us aught, affliction's looks
(Making us pry into ourselves so near,) Teach us to know ourselves beyond all books,
Or all the learned schools that ever were.
This mistress lately plucked me by the ear,
And many a golden lesson hath me taught ; Hath made my senses quick and reason clear,
Reformed my will and rectified my thought.
So do the winds and thunder cleanse the air;
So working lees settle and purge the wine; So lopped and pruned trees do flourish fair;
So doth the fire the drossy gold refine.
Neither Minerva, nor the learned muse,
Nor rules of art, nor precepts of the wise, Could in my brain those beams of skill infuse,
As but the glance of this dame's angry eyes.
She within lists my ranging mind hath brought,
That now beyond myself I will not go; Myself am centre of my circling thought,
Only myself I study, learn, and know.
I know my body's of so frail a kind,
As force without, powers within, can kill; I know the heavenly nature of my mind,
But 'tis corrupted both in wit and will.
I know myself hath power to know all things,
Yet is she blind and ignorant in all; I know I'm one of nature's little kings,
Yet to the least and vilest things am thrall.
I know my life's a pain and but a span;
I know my sense is mocked in every thing; And to conclude, I know myself a man,
Which is a proud and yet a wretched thing.
The lights of heaven (which are the world's fair eyes,)
Look down into the world, the world to see; And as they turn or wander in the skies,
Survey all things that on this centre be.
And yet the lights which in my tower do shine,
Mine eyes which view all objects nigh and far, Look not unto this little world of mine,
Nor see my face wherein they fixed are.
Since nature fails in us no needful thing,
Why want I means my inward self to see? Which sight the knowledge of myself might bring,
Which to true wisdom is the first degree.
That power which gave my eyes the world to view,
To view myself infused an inward light, Whereby my soul, as by a mirror true,
Of her own form may take a perfect sight.
But as the sharpest eye discerneth nought
Except the sun-beams in the air do shine; So the best soul with her reflecting thought
Sees not herself without some light divine.
Oh! Light which makest the light, which makes the day!
Which settest the eye without, and mind within, Lighten my soul with one clear heavenly ray,
Which now to view itself doth first begin.
Por her true form how can my spark discern,
Which, dim by nature, art did never clear, When the great wits, of whom all skill we learn,
Are ignorant both what she is, and where?
One thinks the soul is air; another, fire;
Another, blood diffused about the heart; Another saith the elements conspire,
And to her essence each doth give a part.
Musicians think our souls are harmonies ;
Physicians hold that they complexions be ; Epicures 1 make them swarms of atomies
Which do by chance into our bodies flee.
Some think our general soul fills every brain,
As the bright sun sheds light in every star ;
mixed bodies are.
In judgment of her substance thus they vary,
And thus they do in judgment of her seat; For some her chain up to the brain do carrry,
Some thrust it down into the stomach's heat;
Some place it in the root of life, the heart ;
Some in the river, fountain of his veins; Some say she's all in all, in every part ;
Some say she's not contained, but all contains.
Thus these great clerks their little wisdom show,
While with their doctrines they at hazard play; Tossing their light opinions to and fro,
To mock the lewd, as learned in this as they.
Por no crazed brain could ever yet propound,
Touching the soul, so vain and fond a thought; But some among these masters have been found,
Which in their schools the self-same thing have taught.