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1 Unhappy Man! who thro' successive Years,
2 From early Youth to Life's last Childhood errs;
3 No sooner born, but proves a Foe to Truth;
4 For Infant Reason is o'erpower'd in Youth:
5 The Cheats of Sense will half our Learning share;
6 And Pre-Conceptions all our Knowledge are.
7 Reason, 'tis true, should over Sense preside,
8 Correct our Notions, and our Judgment guide;
9 But false Opinions, rooted in the Mind,
10 Hoodwink the Soul, and keep our Reason blind.
11 Reason's a Taper, which but saintly burns,
12 A languid Flame, that glows, and dies by Turns;
13 We see't a little while, and but a little way,
14 We travel by its Light, as Men by Day.
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15 But quickly dying, it forsakes us soon,
16 Like Morning Stars, that never stay till Noon.
17 The Soul can scarce above the Body rise,
18 And all we see is with Corporeal Eyes;
19 Life now does scarce one Glimpse of Light display,
20 We mourn in Darkness and despair of Day;
21 That nat'ral Light, once drest with Orient Beams,
22 Is now diminish'd, and a Twilight seems,
23 A miscellaneous Composition made,
24 Of Night, and Day, of Sun-shine, and of Shade.
25 Thro' an uncertain Medium now we look,
26 And find That, Falshood, which for Truth we took.
27 So Rays projected from the Eastern Skies,
28 Shew the false Day before the Sun can rise.
29 That little Knowledge now which Man obtains,
30 From outward Objects and from Sense he gains;
31 He like a wretched Slave, must plod and sweat,
32 By Day must toil, by Night that Toil repeat;
33 And yet at last what little Fruit he gains?
34 A Beggar's Harvest glean'd with mighty Pains.
35 The Passions still predominant will rule,
36 Ungovern'd, rude, not bred in Reason's School;
37 Our Understanding they with Darkness fill,
38 Cause strong Corruptions, and pervert the Will;
39 On these the Soul, as on some flowing Tide,
40 Must sit, and on the raging Billows ride,
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41 Hurry'd away, for how can be withstood
42 Th' impetuous Torrent of the boiling Blood?
43 Be gone false Hopes, for all our Learning's vain,
44 Can we be free, where these the Rule maintain:
45 These are the Tools of Knowledge which we use;
46 The Spirits heated, will strange things produce;
47 Tell me who e'er the Passions could controul,
48 Or from the Body disengage the Soul;
49 Till this is done, our best Pursuits are vain
50 To conquer Truth and unmix'd Knowledge gain:
51 Thro' all the bulky Volumes of the Dead,
52 And thro' those Books that modern times have bred.
53 With pain we travel, as thro' moorish Ground,
54 Where scarce one useful Plant is ever found;
55 O'er-run with Errors which so thick appear,
56 Our Search proves vain, no Spark of truth is there.
57 What's all the noisy Jargon of the Schools,
58 But idle Nonsense of laborious Fools,
59 Who fetter Reason with perplexing Rules.
60 What in Aquinas, bulky Works are found
61 Does not enlighten Reason, but confound.
62 Who travels Scotus swelling Tomes shall find
63 A Cloud of Darkness rising on the Mind.
64 In controverted Points can Reason sway,
65 When Passion or Conceit still hurries us away?
66 Thus his new Notions Sherlock would instill,
67 And clear the greatest Mysteries at will.
68 But by unlucky Wit perplex'd them more,
69 And made them darker than they were before.
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70 South soon oppos'd him out of Christian Zeal,
71 Shewing how well he could dispute and rail:
72 How shall we e'er discover which is right,
73 When both so eagerly maintain the Fight?
74 Each does the other's Arguments deride,
75 Each has the Church and Scripture on his Side.
76 The sharp ill-natur'd Combat's but a Jest,
77 Both may be wrong, one perhaps errs the least:
78 How shall we know which Articles are true,
79 The Old ones of the Church, or Burnet's New.
80 In Paths uncertain, and unsafe he treads,
81 Who blindly follows other's fertile Heads.
82 What sure, what certain Mark have we to know,
83 The right or wrong, 'twixt Burgess, Wake, and Howe?
84 Should untun'd Nature crave the Medic Art,
85 What Health can that contentious Tribe impart?
86 Ev'ry Physician writes a diff'rent Bill,
87 And gives no other Reason but his Will.
88 No longer boast your Art, ye impious Race,
89 Let Wars 'twixt Alcalies and Acids cease;
90 And proud G—ll with Colbatch be at peace.
91 Gibbons and Radcliffe do but rarely guess,
92 To Day they've good, to Morrow no Success.
93 Ev'n Garth and
* Sir Richard Blackmore.
Maurus sometimes shall prevail,
94 When Gibson, learned Hannes, and Tyson fail:
95 And more than once, we've seen that blund'ring S—ne
96 Missing the Gout, by chance has hit the Stone;
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97 The Patient does the lucky Error find,
98 A Cure he works, tho' not the Cure design'd.
99 Custom, the World's great Idol we adore,
100 And knowing this, we seek to know no more;
101 What Education did at first receive,
102 Our ripen'd Age confirms us to believe;
103 The careful Nurse, and Priest is all we need
104 To learn Opinions and our Country's Creed;
105 The Parents Precepts early are instill'd,
106 And spoil the Man, while they instruct the Child.
107 To what hard Fate is Human kind betray'd,
108 When thus implicit Faith's a Vertue made?
109 When Education more than Truth prevails,
110 And nought is Current but what Custom seals;
111 Thus from the time we first begin to know,
112 We live and learn, but not the wiser grow.
113 We seldom use our Liberty aright,
114 Nor judge of things by universal Light;
115 Our Prepossessions and Affections bind
116 The Soul in Chains, and Lord it o'er the Mind;
117 And if Self-Interest be but in the Case,
118 Our unexamin'd Principles may pass.
119 Good Heavens! that Man should thus himself deceive,
120 To learn on Credit, and on Trust believe;
121 Better the Mind no Notions had retain'd,
122 But still a fair unwritten Blank remain'd;
123 For now, who Truth from Falshood would discern,
124 Must first disrobe the Mind, and all unlearn:
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125 Errors contracted in unmindful Youth
126 When once remov'd, will smooth the way to truth:
127 To dispossess the Child the Mortal lives,
128 But Death approaches e'er the Man arrives.
129 Those who would Learning's glorious Kingdom find,
130 The dear bought Purchase of the Trading Mind;
131 From many Dangers must themselves acquit,
132 And more than Scylla and Charibdis meet;
133 Oh! What an Ocean must be Voyag'd o'er,
134 To gain a Prospect of the shining Shore;
135 Resisting Rocks oppose th' inquiring Soul,
136 And adverse Waves retard it as they roll.
137 Does not that foolish Deference we pay,
138 To Men that liv'd long since, our Passage stay?
139 What odd prepost'rous Paths at first we tread?
140 And learn to walk, by stumbling on the Dead.
141 First we a Blessing from the Grave implore,
142 Worship Old Urns, and Monuments adore.
143 The rev'rend Sage with vast Esteem we prize,
144 He liv'd long since, and must be wond'rous Wise;
145 Thus are we Debtors to the famous Dead,
146 For all those Errors which their Fancies bred;
147 Errors indeed! for real Knowledge staid
148 With those first times, nor farther was convey'd:
149 While light Opinions are much lower brought,
150 For on the Waves of Ignorance they float;
151 But solid truth scarce ever gains the Shore,
152 So soon it sinks and ne'er emerges more.
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153 Suppose those many dreadful Dangers past,
154 Will Knowledge dawn, and bless the Mind at last?
155 Ah! no, 'tis now inviron'd from our Eyes,
156 Hides all its Charms, and undiscover'd lies.
157 Truth like a single Point escapes the Sight,
158 And claims Intention to perceive it right;
159 But what resembles truth is soon descry'd,
160 Spread like a Surface and expanded wide.
161 The first Man rarely, very rarely finds
162 The tedious Search of long inquiring Minds;
163 But yet what's worse, we know not when we err;
164 What Mark does truth, what bright Distinction bear?
165 How do we know, that what we Know, is True,
166 How shall we Falshood Fly, and Truth Pursue;
167 Let none then here, his certain Knowledge boast,
168 'Tis all but Probability at most;
169 This is the easy Purchase of the Mind,
170 The Vulgar's Treasure, which we soon may find,
171 But Truth lies hid, and e'er we can explore
172 The glittering Gem, our fleeting Life is o'er.


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About this text

Title (in Source Edition): REASON: A POEM.
Author: John Pomfret
Themes: reason
Genres: heroic couplet; essay

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Source edition

Pomfret, John, 1667-1702. Poems upon Several Occasions. By the Reverend Mr. John Pomfret [poems only]. The Sixth Edition, Corrected. With some Account Of his Life and Writings. To which are added, His Remains. London: printed for D. Brown without Temple Bar, J. Walthoe in the Temple Cloysters, A. Bettesworth, and E. Taylor, in Pater-Noster-Row, and J. Hooke in Fleetstreet, 1724, pp. 1-7. [12], 132, vi, 17p. (ESTC N21233)

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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.