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Anne Bradstreet (ca. 1612-1672)

Contemplations


1
              1Sometime now past in the Autumnal Tide,
              2When Ph{oe}bus wanted but one hour to bed,
              3The trees all richly clad, yet void of pride,
              4Were gilded o're by his rich golden head.
              5Their leaves and fruits seem'd painted but was true
              6Of green, of red, of yellow, mixed hew,
              7Rapt were my senses at this delectable view.

2
              8I wist not what to wish, yet sure thought I,
              9If so much excellence abide below,
            10How excellent is he that dwells on high?
            11Whose power and beauty by his works we know.
            12Sure he is goodness, wisdom, glory, light,
            13That hath this under world so richly dight.
            14More Heaven than Earth was here, no winter and no night.

3
            15Then on a stately Oak I cast mine Eye,
            16Whose ruffling top the Clouds seem'd to aspire.
            17How long since thou wast in thine Infancy?
            18Thy strength and stature, more thy years admire,
            19Hath hundred winters past since thou wast born?
            20Or thousand since thou brakest thy shell of horn?
            21If so, all these as nought, Eternity doth scorn.

4
            22Then higher on the glistering Sun I gaz'd,
            23Whose beams was shaded by the leafy Tree.
            24The more I look'd, the more I grew amaz'd
            25And softly said, what glory's like to thee?
            26Soul of this world, this Universe's Eye,
            27No wonder some made thee a Deity.
            28Had I not better known (alas) the same had I.

5
            29Thou as a Bridegroom from thy Chamber rushes
            30And as a strong man joys to run a race.
            31The morn doth usher thee with smiles and blushes.
            32The Earth reflects her glances in thy face.
            33Birds, insects, Animals with Vegative,
            34Thy heat from death and dullness doth revive
            35And in the darksome womb of fruitful nature dive.

6
            36Thy swift Annual and diurnal Course,
            37Thy daily straight and yearly oblique path,
            38Thy pleasing fervour, and thy scorching force,
            39All mortals here the feeling knowledge hath.
            40Thy presence makes it day, thy absence night,
            41Quaternal seasons caused by thy might.
            42Hail Creature, full of sweetness, beauty, and delight!

7
            43Art thou so full of glory that no Eye
            44Hath strength thy shining Rays once to behold?
            45And is thy splendid Throne erect so high
            46As, to approach it, can no earthly mould?
            47How full of glory then must thy Creator be!
            48Who gave this bright light luster unto thee.
            49Admir'd, ador'd for ever be that Majesty!

8
            50Silent alone where none or saw or heard,
            51In pathless paths I lead my wand'ring feet.
            52My humble Eyes to lofty Skies I rear'd
            53To sing some Song my mazed Muse thought meet.
            54My great Creator I would magnify
            55That nature had thus decked liberally,
            56But Ah and Ah again, my imbecility!

9
            57I heard the merry grasshopper then sing,
            58The black clad Cricket bear a second part.
            59They kept one tune and played on the same string,
            60Seeming to glory in their little Art.
            61Shall creatures abject thus their voices raise
            62And in their kind resound their maker's praise
            63Whilst I, as mute, can warble forth no higher lays?

10
            64When present times look back to Ages past
            65And men in being fancy those are dead,
            66It makes things gone perpetually to last
            67And calls back months and years that long since fled.
            68It makes a man more aged in conceit
            69Than was Methuselah or's grand-sire great,
            70While of their persons and their acts his mind doth treat.

11
            71Sometimes in Eden fair he seems to be,
            72See glorious Adam there made Lord of all,
            73Fancies the Apple dangle on the Tree
            74That turn'd his Sovereign to a naked thrall,
            75Who like a miscreant's driven from that place
            76To get his bread with pain and sweat of face.
            77A penalty impos'd on his backsliding Race.

12
            78Here sits our Grand-dame in retired place
            79And in her lap her bloody Cain new born.
            80The weeping Imp oft looks her in the face,
            81Bewails his unknown hap and fate forlorn.
            82His Mother sighs to think of Paradise
            83And how she lost her bliss to be more wise,
            84Believing him that was and is Father of lies.

13
            85Here Cain and Abel come to sacrifice,
            86Fruits of the Earth and Fatlings each do bring.
            87On Abel's gift the fire descends from Skies,
            88But no such sign on false Cain's offering.
            89With sullen hateful looks he goes his ways,
            90Hath thousand thoughts to end his brother's days,
            91Upon whose blood his future good he hopes to raise.

14
            92There Abel keeps his sheep, no ill he thinks,
            93His brother comes, then acts his fratricide.
            94The Virgin Earth of blood her first draught drinks,
            95But since that time she often hath been cloy'd.
            96The wretch with ghastly face and dreadful mind
            97Thinks each he sees will serve him in his kind,
            98Though none on Earth but kindred near then could he find.

15
            99Who fancies not his looks now at the Bar,
          100His face like death, his heart with horror fraught.
          101Nor Male-factor ever felt like war,
          102When deep despair with wish of life hath fought,
          103Branded with guilt, and crusht with treble woes,
          104A Vagabond to Land of Nod he goes,
          105A City builds that walls might him secure from foes.

16
          106Who thinks not oft upon the Father's ages?
          107Their long descent, how nephews' sons they saw,
          108The starry observations of those Sages,
          109And how their precepts to their sons were law,
          110How Adam sigh'd to see his Progeny
          111Cloth'd all in his black, sinful Livery,
          112Who neither guilt not yet the punishment could fly.

17
          113Our life compare we with their length of days.
          114Who to the tenth of theirs doth now arrive?
          115And though thus short, we shorten many ways,
          116Living so little while we are alive.
          117In eating, drinking, sleeping, vain delight
          118So unawares comes on perpetual night
          119And puts all pleasures vain unto eternal flight.

18
          120When I behold the heavens as in their prime
          121And then the earth (though old) still clad in green,
          122The stones and trees, insensible of time,
          123Nor age nor wrinkle on their front are seen.
          124If winter come and greenness then do fade,
          125A Spring returns, and they more youthful made,
          126But Man grows old, lies down, remains where once he's laid.

19
          127By birth more noble than those creatures all,
          128Yet seems by nature and by custom curs'd,
          129No sooner born but grief and care makes fall
          130That state obliterate he had at first:
          131Nor youth, nor strength, nor wisdom spring again,
          132Nor habitations long their names retain
          133But in oblivion to the final day remain.

20
          134Shall I then praise the heavens, the trees, the earth,
          135Because their beauty and their strength last longer?
          136Shall I wish there, or never to had birth,
          137Because they're bigger and their bodies stronger?
          138Nay, they shall darken, perish, fade and die,
          139And when unmade, so ever shall they lie.
          140But man was made for endless immortality.

21
          141Under the cooling shadow of a stately Elm
          142Close sate I by a goodly River's side,
          143Where gliding streams the Rocks did overwhelm.
          144A lonely place, with pleasures dignifi'd.
          145I once that lov'd the shady woods so well,
          146Now thought the rivers did the trees excel,
          147And if the sun would ever shine, there would I dwell.

22
          148While on the stealing stream I fixt mine eye,
          149Which to the long'd-for Ocean held its course,
          150I markt nor crooks, nor rubs that there did lie
          151Could hinder ought but still augment its force.
          152O happy Flood, quoth I, that holds thy race
          153Till thou arrive at thy beloved place,
          154Nor is it rocks or shoals that can obstruct thy pace.

23
          155Nor is't enough that thou alone may'st slide,
          156But hundred brooks in thy clear waves do meet,
          157So hand in hand along with thee they glide
          158To Thetis' house, where all imbrace and greet.
          159Thou Emblem true of what I count the best,
          160O could I lead my Rivolets to rest,
          161So may we press to that vast mansion, ever blest.

24
          162Ye Fish which in this liquid Region 'bide
          163That for each season have your habitation,
          164Now salt, now fresh where you think best to glide
          165To unknown coasts to give a visitation,
          166In Lakes and ponds, you leave your numerous fry.
          167So Nature taught, and yet you know not why,
          168You watry folk that know not your felicity.

25
          169Look how the wantons frisk to task the air,
          170Then to the colder bottom straight they dive;
          171Eftsoon to Neptune's glassy Hall repair
          172To see what trade they, great ones, there do drive,
          173Who forrage o're the spacious sea-green field
          174And take the trembling prey before it yield,
          175Whose armour is their scales, their spreading fins their shield.

26
          176While musing thus with contemplation fed,
          177And thousand fancies buzzing in my brain,
          178The sweet-tongu'd Philomel percht o're my head
          179And chanted forth a most melodious strain
          180Which rapt me so with wonder and delight
          181I judg's my hearing better than my sight
          182And wisht me wings with her a while to take my flight.

27
          183O merry Bird (said I) that fears no snares,
          184That neither toils nor hoards up in thy barn,
          185Feels no sad thoughts nor cruciating cares
          186To gain more good or shun what might thee harm--
          187Thy clothes ne'er wear, thy meat is everywhere,
          188Thy bed a bough, thy drink the water clear--
          189Reminds not what is past, nor what's to come dost fear.

28
          190The dawning morn with songs thou dost prevent,
          191Sets hundred notes unto thy feathered crew,
          192So each one tunes his pretty instrument
          193And warbling out the old, begin anew,
          194And thus they pass their youth in summer season,
          195Then follow thee into a better Region,
          196Where winter's never felt by that sweet airy legion.

29
          197Man at the best a creature frail and vain,
          198In knowledge ignorant, in strength but weak,
          199Subject to sorrows, losses, sickness, pain,
          200Each storm his state, his mind, his body break--
          201From some of these he never finds cessation
          202But day or night, within, without, vexation,
          203Troubles from foes, from friends, from dearest, near'st Relation.

30
          204And yet this sinful creature, frail and vain,
          205This lump of wretchedness, of sin and sorrow,
          206This weather-beaten vessel wrackt with pain,
          207Joys not in hope of an eternal morrow.
          208Nor all his losses, crosses, and vexation,
          209In weight, in frequency and long duration
          210Can make him deeply groan for that divine Translation.

31
          211The Mariner that on smooth waves doth glide
          212Sings merrily and steers his Barque with ease
          213As if he had command of wind and tide
          214And now becomes great Master of the seas,
          215But suddenly a storm spoils all the sport
          216And makes him long for a more quiet port,
          217Which 'gainst all adverse winds may serve for fort.

32
          218So he that faileth in this world of pleasure,
          219Feeding on sweets that never bit of th' sour,
          220That's full of friends, of honour, and of treasure,
          221Fond fool, he takes this earth ev'n for heav'ns bower,
          222But sad affliction comes and makes him see
          223Here's neither honour, wealth, or safety.
          224Only above is found all with security.

33
          225O Time the fatal wrack of mortal things
          226That draws oblivion's curtains over kings,
          227Their sumptuous monuments, men know them not;
          228Their names with a Record are forgot,
          229Their parts, their ports, their pomp's all laid in th' dust.
          230Nor wit, nor gold, nor buildings scape time's rust,
          231But he whose name is grav'd in the white stone
          232Shall last and shine when all of these are gone.

Notes

2] Ph{oe}bus: Greek god of the sun.

69] Methuselah: man from the times before Noah who lived 969 years (Genesis 5.27).

101] Male-factor: the word-division may be meaningful.

104] Land of Nod: sleep (OED)

158] Thetis: mother of Achilles, a sea nymph.

178] Philomel: the nightingale.

185] cruciating: crucifying.

231] white stone: Cf. "Such a stone signifieth here a token of Gods favour & grace" (Geneva Bible gloss on Rev. 2.17; quoted from White 335)


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Anne Bradstreet, Several Poems, 2nd edn. (Boston: John Foster, 1678). Cf. The Complete Works of Anne Bradstreet, ed. Joseph R. McElrath, Jr., and Allan P. Robb (Boston: Twayne, 1981): 167-74.
First publication date: 1678
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1997.
Recent editing: 4:2002/1/20

Form: Rime Royal (variation)
Rhyme: ababccc
Form note: Rime Royal stanzas consist of seven iambic pentameter lines rhymed ababbcc.


Other poems by Anne Bradstreet