John Dryden

(1631 - 1700 / England)

Eleonora : A Panegyrical - Poem by John Dryden

Dedicated to the Memory of the Late Countess of Abingdon.

As when some great and gracious monarch dies,
Soft whispers first and mournful rise
Among the sad attendants; then the sound
Soon gathers voice and spreads the news around,
Through town and country, till the dreadful blast
Is blown to distant colonies at last;
Who then perhaps were offering vows in vain
For his long life and for his happy reign:
So slowly, by degrees, unwilling Fame
Did matchless Eleonora's fate proclaim,
Till public as the loss the news became.
The nation felt it in the extremest parts,
With eyes o'erflowing and with bleeding hearts;
But most of the poor, whom daily she supplied,
Beginning to be such but when she died.
For, while she lived, they slept in peace by night,
Secure of bread as of returning light,
And with such firm dependence on the day,
That need grew pampered and forgot to pray:
So sure the dole, so ready at their call,
They stood prepared to see the manna fall.
Such multitudes she fed, she clothed, she nurst,
That she her self might fear her wanting first.
Of her five talents other five she made;
Heaven, that had largely given, was largely paid;
And in few lives, in wondrous few, we find
A fortune better fitted to the mind.
Nor did her alms from ostentation fall,
Or proud desire of praise; the soul gave all:
Unbribed it gave; or, if a bribe appear,
No less than Heaven, to heap huge treasures there.
Want passed for merit at her open door:
Heaven saw her safely might increase his poor,
And trust their sustenance with her so well
As not to be at charge of miracle.
None could be needy whom she saw or knew;
All in the compass of her sphere she drew:
He who could touch her garment was as sure,
As the first Christians of the Apostles' cure.
The distant heard by fame her pious deeds,
And laid her up for their extremest needs,
A future cordial for a fainting mind;
For what was ne'er refused all hoped to find,
Each in his turn: the rich might freely come,
As to a friend; but to the poor 'twas a home.
As to some holy house the afflicted came,
The hunger-starved, the naked, and the lame;
Want and diseases fled before her name.
For zeal like hers her servants were too slow;
She was the first, where need required, to go,
Her self the foundress, and attendant too.
Sure she had guests sometimes to entertain,
Guests in disguise, of her great Master's train:
Her Lord him self might come, for aught we know,
Since in a servant's form he lived below;
Beneath her roof he might be pleased to stay:
Or some benighted angel in his way
Might ease his wings, and seeing Heaven appear
In its best work of mercy, think it there,
Where all the deeds of charity and love
Were in as constant method as above,
All carried on; all of a piece with theirs;
As free her alms, as diligent her cares;
As loud her praises, and as warm her prayers.
Yet was she not profuse; but feared to waste,
And wisely managed, that the stock might last;
That all might be supplied, and she not grieve,
When crowds appeared, she had not to relieve:
Which to prevent, she still increased her store;
Laid up, and spared, that she might give the more.
So Pharaoh, or some greater king than he,
Provided for the seventh necessity;
Taught from above his magazines to frame,
That famine was prevented ere it came.
Thus Heaven, though all-sufficient, shows a thrift
In his economy, and bounds his gift;
Creating for our day one single light;
And his reflection too supplies the night.
Perhaps a thousand other words, that lie
Remote from us and latent in the sky,
Are lightened by his beams, and kindly nurst;
Of which our earthly dunghill is the worst.
Now, as all virtues keep the middle line,
Yet somewhat more to one extreme incline,
Such was her soul, abhorring avarice,
Bounteous, but almost bounteous to a vice:
Had she given more, it had profusion been,
And turned the excess of goodness into sin.
These virtues raised her fabric to the sky;
For that which is next Heaven is charity.
But as high turrets for their airy steep
Require foundations in proportion deep,
And lofty cedars as far upward shoot
As to the nether heavens they drive the root,
So low did her secure foundation lie;
She was not humble, but humility.
Scarcely she knew that she was great or fair
Or wise beyond what other women are,
Or, which is better, knew, but never durst compare.
For to be conscious of what all admire,
And not be vain, advances virtue higher.
But still she found, or rather thought she found,
Her own worth wanting, others' to abound;
Ascribed above their due to every one,
Unjust and scanty to her self alone.
Such her devotion was as might give rules
Of speculation to disputing schools,
And teach us equally the scales to hold
Betwixt the two extremes of hot and cold;
That pious heat may moderately prevail,
And we be warmed, but not be scorched with zeal.
Business might shorten, not disturb her prayer;
Heaven had the best, if not the greater share.
An active life long orisons forbids;
Yet still she prayed, for still she prayed by deeds.
Her every day was Sabbath; only free
From hours of prayer, for hours of charity.
Such as the Jews from servile toil releast,
Where works of mercy were a part of rest;
Such as blest angels exercise above,
Varied with sacred hymns and acts of love;
Such Sabbaths as that one she now enjoys,
Even that perpetual one, which she employs
(For such vicissitudes in Heaven there are)
In praise alternate and alternate prayer.
All this she practised here; that when she sprung
Amidst the quires, at the first sight she sung;
Sung, and was sung her self, in angels' lays;
For, praising her, they did her Maker praise.
All offices of Heaven so well she knew,
Before she came, that nothing there as new;
And she was so familiarly received
As one returning, not as one arrived.
Muse, down again precipitate thy flight.
For how can mortal eyes sustain immortal light?
But as the sun in water we can bear,
Yet not the sun, but his reflection there,
So let us view her here in what she was,
And take her image in this watery glass:
Yet look not every lineament to see;
Some will be cast in shades, and some will be
So lamely drawn, you scarcely know 'tis she.
For where such various virtues we recite,
'Tis like the milky way, all over bright,
But sown so thick with stars, 'tis undistinguished light.
Her virtue, not her virtues, let us call;
For one heroic comprehends them all:
One, as a constellation is but one,
Though 'tis a train of stars that, rolling on,
Rise in their turn and in the Zodiac run,
Ever in motion; now 'tis faith ascends,
Now hope, now charity, that upward tends,
And downwards with diffusive good descends.
As in perfumes composed with art and cost,
'Tis hard to say what scent is uppermost;
Nor this part musk or civet can we call,
Or amber, but a rich result of all;
So she was all a sweet, whose every part,
In due proportion mixed, proclaimed the Maker's art.
No single virtue we could most commend,
Whether the wife, the mother, or the friend;
For she was all, in that supreme degree,
That as no one prevailed, so all was she.
The several parts lay hidden in the piece;
The occasion but exerted that or this.
A wife as tender, and as true withal,
As the first woman was before her fall:
Made for the man, of whom she was a part;
Made to attract his eyes and keep his heart.
A second Eve, but by no crime accurst;
As beauteous, not as brittle as the first.
Had she been first, still Paradise had been,
And death had found no entrance by her sin.
She not only had preserved from ill
Her sex and ours, but lived their pattern still.
Love and obedience to her lord she bore;
She much obeyed him, but she loved him more:
Not awed to duty by superior sway,
But taught by his indulgence to obey.
Thus we love God, as author of our good;
So subjects love just kings, or so they should.
Nor was it with ingratitude returned;
In equal fires the blissful couple burned;
One joy possessed them both, and in one grief they mourned.
His passion still improved; he loved so fast,
As if he feared each day would be her last.
Too true a prophet to foresee the fate
That should so soon divide their happy state:
When he to Heaven entirely must restore
That love, that heart, where he went halves before.
Yet as the soul is all in every part,
So God and he might each have all her heart.
So had her children too; for charity
Was not more fruitful or more kind than she;
Each under other by degrees they grew;
A goodly perspective of distant view.
Anchises looked not with so pleased a face,
In numbering o'er his future Roman race,
And marshalling the heroes of his name,
As in their order next to light they came.
Nor Cybele with half so kind an eye
Surveyed her sons and daughters of the sky;
Proud, shall I say, of her immortal fruit?
As far as pride with heavenly minds may suit.
Her pious love excelled to all she bore;
New objects only multiplied it more.
And as the chosen found the pearly grain
As much as every vessel could contain;
As in the blissful vision each shall share
As much of glory as his soul can bear;
so did she love, and so dispense her care.
Her eldest thus, by consequence, was best,
As longer cultivated than the rest.
The babe had all that infant care beguiles,
And early knew his mother in her smiles:
But when dilated organs let in day
To the young soul, and gave it room to play,
At first aptness the maternal love
Those rudiments of reason did improve:
The tender age was pliant to command;
Like wax it yielded to the forming hand:
True to the artificer, the laboured mind
With ease was pious, generous, just and kind;
Soft for impression, from the first prepared,
Till virtue with long exercise grew hard:
With every act confirmed, and made at last
So durable as not to be effaced,
It turned to habit; and, from vices free,
Goodness resolved into necessity.
Thus fixed she virtue's image, that's her own,
Till the whole mother in the children shone;
For that was their perfection; she was such,
They never could express her mind too much.
So unexhausted her perfections were,
That for more children she had more to spare;
For souls unborn, whom her untimely death
Deprived of bodies and of mortal breath;
And, could they take the impressions of her mind,
Enough still left to sanctify her kind.
Then wonder not to see this soul extend
The bounds, and seek some other self, a friend:
As swelling seas to gentle rivers glide,
To seek repose, and empty out the tide,
So this full soul, in narrow limits pent,
Unable to contain her, sought a vent
To issue out, and in some friendly breast
Discharge her treasures, and securely rest:
To unbosom all the secrets of her heart,
Take good advice, but better to impart.
For 'tis the bliss of friendship's holy state
To mix their minds, and to communicate;
Though bodies cannot, souls can penetrate:
Fixed to her choice, inviolably true,
And wisely choosing, for she chose but few.
Some she must have; but in no one could find
A tally fitted for so large a mind.
The souls of friends like kings in progress are;
Still in their own, though from the palace far;
Thus her friend's heart her country dwelling was,
A sweet retirement to a coarser place;
Where pomp and ceremonies entered not,
Where greatness was shut out, and business well forgot.
This is the imperfect draught; but short as far
As the true height and bigness of a star
Exceeds the measures of the astronomer.
She shines above, we know; but in what place,
How near the throne and Heaven's imperial face,
By our weak optics is but vainly guest;
Distance and altitude conceal the rest.
Though all these rare endowments of the mind
Were in a narrow space of life confide,
The figure was with full perfection crowned,
Though not so large an orb, as truly round.
As when in glory, through the public place,
The spoils of conquered nations were to pass,
And but one day for triumph was allowed,
The Consul was constrained his pomp to crowd;
And so the swift procession hurried on,
That all, though not distinctly, might be shown;
So, in the straitened bounds of life confined,
She gave but glimpses of her glorious mind;
And multitudes of virtues passed along,
Each pressing foremost in the mighty throng,
Ambitious to be seen, and the make room
For greater multitudes that were to come.
Yet unemployed no minute slipped away;
Moments were precious in so short a stay.
The haste of Heaven to have her was so great
That some were single acts, though each complete
But every act stood ready to repeat.
Her fellow saints with busy care will look
For her blest name in Fate's eternal book;
And, pleased to be outdone, with joy will see
Numberless virtues, endless charity:
But more will wonder at so short an age
To find a blank beyond the thirtieth page;
And with a pious fear begin to doubt
The piece imperfect, and the rest torn out.
But 'twas her Saviour's time; and, could there be
A copy near the original, 'twas she.
As precious gums are not for lasting fire,
They but perfume the temple, and expire;
So was she soon exhaled, and vanished hence,
A short sweet odour, of a vast expense.
She vanished, we can scarcely say she died;
For but a now did heaven and earth divide:
She passed serenely with a single breath;
This moment perfect health, the next was death:
One sigh did her eternal bliss assure;
So little penance needs, when souls are almost pure.
As gentle dreams our waking thoughts pursue,
Or, one dream passed, we slide into a new;
So close they follow, such wild order keep
We think our selves awake, and are asleep;
So softly death succeeded life in her,
She did but dream of Heaven, and she was there.
No pains she suffered, nor expired with noise;
Her soul was whispered out with God's still voice;
As an old friend is beckoned to a feast,
And treated like a long familiar guest.
He took her as he found, but found her so,
As one in hourly readiness to go;
Even on that day, in all her trim prepared,
As early notice she from Heaven had heard,
And some descending courtier from above
Had given her timely warning to remove,
Or counselled her to dress the nuptial room,
For on that night the bridegroom was to come.
He kept his hour, and found her where she lay
Clothed all in whit,e the livery of the day;
Scarce had she sinned in thought or word or act;
Unless omissions were to pass for fact;
That hardly Death a consequence could draw,
To make her liable to Nature's law.
And that she died, we only have to show
The mortal part of her she left below;
The rest (so smooth, so suddenly she went)
Looked like translation through the firmament,
Or like the fiery car on the third errand sent.
O happy soul! if thou canst view from high,
Where thou art all intelligence, all eye,
If looking up to God, or down to us,
Thou findst that any way be pervious,
Survey the ruins of thy house, and see
Thy widowed, and thy orphan family;
Look on thy tender pledges left behind;
And, if thou canst a vacant minute find
From heavenly joys, that interval afford
To thy sad children and thy mourning lord.
See how they grieve, mistaken in their love,
And shed a beam of comfort from above;
Give them, as much as mortal eyes can bear,
A transient view of thy full glories there;
That they with moderate sorrow may sustain
And mollify their losses in thy gain.
Or else divide the grief; for such thou wert,
That should not all relations bear a part,
It were enough to break a single heart.
Let this suffice: nor thou, great saint, refuse
This humble tribute of no vulgar muse:
Who, not by cares or wants or age deprest,
Stems a wild deluge with a dauntless breast;
And dares to sing thy praises in a clime
Where vice triumphs and virtue is a crime;
Where even to draw the picture of thy mind
Is satire on the most of human kind:
Take it, while yet 'tis praise; before my rage,
Unsafely just, break loose on this bad age;
So bad, that thou thy self hadst no defence
From vice, but barely by departing hence.
Be what, and where thou art: to wish thy place
Were in the best presumption more than grace.
Thy relics (such thy works of mercy are)
Have in this poem been my holy care.
As earth thy body keeps, thy soul the sky,
So shall this verse preserve thy memory,
For thou shalt make it live, because it sings of thee.

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Poem Submitted: Monday, April 12, 2010

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