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Short poem

Isabella Whitney (ca. 1540-after 1580)

An Order Prescribed, by Is. W., to two of her Younger Sisters Serving in London

              1Good sisters mine, when I
              2        shall further from you dwell,
              3Peruse these lines, observe the rules
              4        which in the same I tell.
              5So shall you wealth possess,
              6        and quietness of mind:
              7And all your friends to see the same,
              8        a treble joy shall find.


              9In mornings when you rise,
            10        forget not to commend
            11Your selves to God, beseeching him
            12        from dangers to defend
            13Your souls and bodies both,
            14        your parents and your friends,
            15Your teachers and your governers.
            16        So pray you that your ends
            17May be in such a sort
            18        as God may pleasèd be:
            19To live to die, to die to live,
            20        with him eternally.


            21Then justly do such deeds
            22        as are to you assigned:
            23All wanton toys, good sisters now,
            24        exile out of your mind.
            25I hope you give no cause
            26        whereby I should suspect,
            27But this I know, too many live
            28        that would you soon infect.
            29If God do not prevent,
            30        or with his grace expell,
            31I cannot speak, or write too much,
            32        because I love you well.


            33Your business soon dispatch
            34        and listen to no lies,
            35Nor credit every fained tale,
            36        that many will devise.
            37For words they are but wind,
            38        yet words may hurt you so,
            39As you shall never brook the same,
            40        if that you have a foe.
            41God shield you from all such
            42        as would by word or bill
            43Procure your shame, or never cease
            44        till they have wrought you ill.


            45See that you secrets seal,
            46        tread trifles under ground:
            47If to rehearsal oft you come,
            48        it will your quiet wound.
            49Of laughter be not much,
            50        nor over solemn seem,
            51For then be sure they'll compt you light
            52        or proud will you exteem.
            53Be modest in a mean,
            54        be gentle unto all:
            55Though cause they give of contrary
            56        yet be to wrath no thrall.
            57Refer you all to him,
            58        that sits above the skies:
            59Vengeance is his, he will revenge,
            60        you need it not devise.


            61And sith that virtue guides,
            62        where both of you do dwell:
            63Give thanks to God, and painful be
            64        to please your rulers well.
            65For fleeting is a foe,
            66        experience hath me taught:
            67The rolling stone doth get no moss
            68        your selves have heard full oft.
            69Your business being done,
            70        and this my scroll perused,
            71The day will end, and that the night
            72        by you be not abused.
            73I something needs must write:
            74        take pains to read the same.
            75Henceforth my life as well as pen
            76        shall your examples frame.


            77Your Masters gone to bed,
            78        your Mistresses at rest,
            79Their daughters all with haste about
            80        to get themselves undrest.
            81See that their plate be safe,
            82        and that no spoon do lack,
            83See doors and windows bolted fast
            84        for fear of any wrack.
            85Then help if need there be,
            86        to do some household thing:
            87If not, to bed, referring you
            88        unto the heavenly King.
            89Forgetting not to pray
            90        as I before you taught,
            91And giving thanks for all that he
            92        hath ever for you wrought.
            93Good Sisters, when you pray,
            94        let me remembered be:
            95So will I you, and thus I cease,
            96        till I your selves do see.

(quoth) IS. W.


1] Whitney's two unmarried sisters are employed as young servants.

2] further: farther off, more distant.

35] fained: invented, pretended.

42] bill: letter.

47] rehearsal: repeating (tales), gossip, perhaps confession.

51] compt: account. light: frivolous.

52] exteem: esteem.

53] in a mean: in a moderate way, steering clear of excesses.

55] cause they give of contrary: they incite an angry response (in you).

65] fleeting: change, wavering, gadding about.

84] wrack: damage.

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:
Publication date note: Isabella Whitney, A Sweet Nosgay, or Pleasant Posye: Contayning a Hundred and Ten Phylosophicall Flowers (London: Richard Jones, 1593): c3v-d1v.
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2003
Recent editing: 1:2003/9/1

Rhyme: abcbdefe ...

Other poems by Isabella Whitney