To Another Friend Under Affliction by John Pomfret

Since the first man by disobedience fell
An easy conquest to the powers of hell,
There’s none in every stage of life can be
From the insults of bold affliction free.
If a short respite gives us some relief,
And interrupts the series of our grief,
So quick the pangs of misery return,
We joy by minutes, but by years we mourn.

Reason refined, and to perfection brought
By wise philosophy and serious thought,
Supports the soul beneath the ponderous weight
Of angry stars, and unpropitious fate;
Then is the time she should exert her power,
And make us practise what she taught before.
For why are such voluminous authors read,
The learned labours of the famous dead,
But to prepare the mind for its defence,
By sage results and well-digested sense;
That, when the storm of misery appears,
With all its real or fantastic fears,
We either may the rolling danger fly,
Or stem the tide before it swells too high.

But though the theory of wisdom’s known
With ease, what should, and what should not be done;
Yet all the labour in the practice lies,
To be, in more than words and notion, wise;
The sacred truth of sound philosophy
We study early, but we late apply.
When stubborn anguish seizes on the soul,
Right reason would its haughty rage control;
But, if it mayn’t be suffer’d to endure,
The pain is just, when we reject the cure :
For many men, close observation finds,
Of copious learning and exalted minds,
Who tremble at the sight of daring woes,
And stoop ignobly to the vilest foes;
As if they understood not how to be
Or wise, or brave, but in felicity;
And by some action, servile or unjust,
Lay all their formal glories in the dust.
For wisdom first the wretched mortal flies,
And leaves him naked to his enemies:
So that, when most his prudence should be shown
The most imprudent, giddy things are done.
For when the mind ’s surrounded with distress,
Fear or inconstancy the judgment press,
And render it incapable to make
Wise resolutions, or good counsels take.
Yet there’s a steadiness of soul and thought,
By reason bred and by religion taught,
Which, like a rock amidst the stormy waves,
Unmoved remains, and all affliction braves.

In sharp misfortunes some will search too deep
What Heaven prohibits, and would secret keep:
But those events ’tis better not to know,
Which known serve only to increase our woe.
Knowledge forbid (’tis dangerous to pursue)
With guilt begins, and ends with ruin too.
For, had our earliest parents been content
Not to know more than to be innocent,
Their ignorance of evil had preserved
Their joys entire; for then they had not swerved
But they imagined (their desires were such)
They knew too little, till they knew too much.

From: Pomfret, John and Fenton, Elijah, The British Poets. Including Translations. In One Hundred Volumes. XXIX. The Poems of Pomfret, and Fenton, 1822, Press of C. Whittingham: Chiswick, pp. 58-59.
(https://books.google.com.au/books?id=J7QyAQAAMAAJ)

Date: 1699

By: John Pomfret (1667-1702)

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