On Exodus iii. 14. I am that I am. An ODE.

Written in 1688, as an Exercise at St. John's College, Cambridge.

1 Man! Foolish Man!
2 Scarce know'st Thou how thy self began:
3 Scarce hast Thou Thought enough to prove Thou art:
4 Yet steel'd with study'd Boldness, Thou dar'st try
5 To send thy doubting Reason's dazled Eye
6 Through the mysterious Gulph of vast Immensity.
7 Much Thou canst there discern, much thence impart.
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8 Vain Wretch! suppress thy knowing Pride:
9 Mortifie thy learned Lust:
10 Vain are thy Thoughts; while Thou thy self are Dust.
11 Let Wit her Sails, her Oars let Wisdom lend:
12 The Helm let Politick Experience guide:
13 Yet cease to hope thy short-liv'd Bark shall ride
14 Down spreading Fate's unnavigable Tide.
15 What, tho' still it farther tend?
16 Still 'tis farther from it's End;
17 And, in the Bosom of that boundless Sea,
18 Still finds it's Error lengthen with it's Way.
19 With daring Pride and insolent Delight
20 Your Doubts resolv'd you boast, your Labours crown'd;
21 And, EYPHKA! your GOD, forsooth, is found
22 Incomprehensible and Infinite.
23 But is He therefore found? Vain Searcher! no:
24 Let your imperfect Definition show,
25 That nothing You, the weak Definer, know.
26 Say, why should the collected Main
27 It self within it self contain?
28 Why to its Caverns should it sometimes creep,
29 And with delighted Silence sleep
30 On the lov'd Bosom of it's Parent Deep?
31 Why shou'd it's num'rous Waters stay
32 In comely Discipline, and fair Array,
33 'Till Winds and Tides exert their high Commands?
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34 Then prompt and ready to obey,
35 Why do the rising Surges spread
36 Their op'ning Ranks o'er Earth's submissive Head,
37 Marching thro' different Paths to different Lands?
38 Why does the constant Sun
39 With measur'd Steps his radiant Journeys run?
40 Why does He order the Diurnal Hours
41 To leave Earth's other Part, and rise in Our's?
42 Why does He wake the correspondent Moon,
43 And fill her willing Lamp with liquid Light,
44 Commanding Her with delegated Pow'rs
45 To beautifie the World, and bless the Night?
46 Why does each animated Star
47 Love the just Limits of it's proper Sphere?
48 Why does each consenting Sign
49 With prudent Harmony combine
50 In Turns to move, and subsequent appear
51 To gird the Globe, and regulate the Year?
52 Man does with dangerous Curiosity
53 These unfathom'd Wonders try:
54 With fancy'd Rules and arbitrary Laws
55 Matter and Motion He restrains;
56 And study'd Lines, and fictious Circles draws:
57 Then with imagin'd Soveraignty
58 Lord of his new Hypothesis He reigns.
59 He reigns? How long? 'till some Usurper rise:
60 And He too, mighty thoughtful, mighty wise,
61 Studies new Lines, and other Circles feigns.
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62 From this last Toil again what Knowledge flows?
63 Just as much, perhaps, as shows,
64 That all his Predecessor's Rules
65 Were empty Cant, all Jargon of the Schools;
66 That he on t'other's Ruin rears his Throne;
67 And shows his Friend's Mistake, and thence confirms his own.
68 On Earth, in Air, amidst the Seas and Skies,
69 Mountainous Heaps of Wonders rise;
70 Whose tow'ring Strength will ne'er submit
71 To Reason's Batt'ries, or the Mines of Wit:
72 Yet still enquiring, still mistaking Man,
73 Each Hour repuls'd, each Hour dare onward press;
74 And levelling at GOD his wand'ring Guess
75 (That feeble Engine of his reasoning War,
76 Which guides his Doubts, and combats his Despair)
77 Laws to his Maker the learn'd Wretch can give;
78 Can bound that Nature, and prescribe that Will,
79 Whose pregnant Word did either Ocean fill;
80 Can tell us whence all Beings are, and how they move and live.
81 Thro' either Ocean (foolish Man!)
82 That pregnant Word sent forth again,
83 Might to a World extend each Atom there;
84 For every Drop call forth a Sea, a Heav'n for every Star.
85 Let cunning Earth her fruitful Wonders hide;
86 And only lift thy stagg'ring Reason up
87 To trembling Calvary's astonish'd Top:
88 Then mock thy Knowledge, and confound thy Pride,
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89 Explaining how Perfection suffer'd Pain;
90 Almighty languish'd; and Eternal dy'd:
91 How by her Patient Victor Death was slain;
92 And Earth prophan'd, yet bless'd with Deicide.
93 Then down with all thy boasted Volumes, down:
94 Only reserve the Sacred One:
95 Low, reverently low,
96 Make thy stubborn Knowledge bow;
97 Weep out thy Reason's, and thy Body's Eyes;
98 Deject thy self, that Thou may'st rise;
99 To look to Heav'n, be blind to all below.
100 Then Faith, for Reason's glimmering Light, shall give
101 Her Immortal Perspective;
102 And Grace's Presence Nature's Loss retrieve:
103 Then thy enliven'd Soul shall see,
104 That all the Volumes of Philosophy,
105 With all their Comments, never cou'd invent
106 So politick an Instrument,
107 To reach the Heav'n of Heav'ns, the high Abode,
108 Where Moses places his Mysterious GOD,
109 As was that Ladder which old Jacob rear'd,
110 When Light Divine had human Darkness clear'd;
111 And his enlarg'd Ideas found the Road,
112 Which Faith had dictated, and Angels trod.


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Title (in Source Edition): On Exodus iii. 14. I am that I am. An ODE. Written in 1688, as an Exercise at St. John's College, Cambridge.
Author: Matthew Prior
Genres: ode

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Prior, Matthew, 1664-1721. Poems on Several Occasions [English poems only]. London: Printed for JACOB TONSON at Shakespear's-Head over against Katharine-Street in the Strand, and JOHN BARBER upon Lambeth-Hill. MDCCXVIII., 1718, pp. []-5. [42],506,[6]p.: ill.; 2°. (ESTC T075639) (Page images digitized from a copy in the Bodleian Library [H 6.8 Art.].)

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Typography, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation have been cautiously modernized. The source of the text is given and all significant editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. This ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 4.0.0.

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