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John Dryden Absalom and Achitophel

John Dryden Absalom and Achitophel

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Published by: Farman Wali on Mar 14, 2012
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06/11/2013

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John Dryden (1631-1700)
 Absalom and Achitophel 
1 In pious times, ere priest-craft did begin,2 Before polygamy was made a sin;3 When man, on many, multipli'd his kind,4 Ere one to one was cursedly confin'd:5 When Nature prompted, and no Law deni'd6 Promiscuous use of concubine and bride;7 Then, Israel's monarch, after Heaven's own heart,8 His vigorous warmth did variously impart9 To wives and slaves: and, wide as his command,10 Scatter'd his Maker's image through the land.11 Michal, of royal blood, the crown did wear;12 A soil ungrateful to the tiller's care:13 Not so the rest; for several mothers bore14 To god-like David, several sons before.15 But since like slaves his bed they did ascend,16 No true succession could their seed attend.17 Of all this numerous progeny was none18 So beautiful, so brave, as Absalom:19 Whether, inspir'd by some diviner lust,20 His father got him with a greater gust;21 Or that his conscious destiny made way,22 By manly beauty to imperial sway.23 Early in foreign fields he won renown,24 With kings and states alli'd to Israel's crown:25 In peace the thoughts of war he could remove,26 And seem'd as he were only born for love.27 Whate'er he did, was done with so much ease,28 In him alone, 'twas natural to please:29 His motions all accompani'd with grace;30 And Paradise was open'd in his face.31 With secret joy, indulgent David view'd32 His youthful image in his son renew'd:33 To all his wishes nothing he deni'd;34 And made the charming Annabel his bride.35 What faults he had (for who from faults is free?)36 His father could not, or he would not see.37 Some warm excesses, which the Law forbore,38 Were constru'd youth that purged by boiling o'er:39 And Amnon's murther, by a specious name,40 Was call'd a just revenge for injur'd fame.41 Thus prais'd, and lov'd, the noble youth remain'd,42 While David, undisturb'd, in Sion reign'd.43 But life can never be sincerely blest:44 Heav'n punishes the bad, and proves the best.45 The Jews, a headstrong, moody, murm'ring race,46 As ever tri'd th'extent and stretch of grace;47 God's pamper'd people whom, debauch'd withease,48 No king could govern, nor no God could please;49 (Gods they had tri'd of every shape and size,50 That god-smiths could produce, or priests devise:)51 These Adam-wits, too fortunately free,52 Began to dream they wanted liberty:53 And when no rule, no precedent, was found54 Of men, by laws less circumscrib'd and bound,55 They led their wild desires to woods and caves,56 And thought that all but savages were slaves.57 They who, when Saul was dead, without a blow,58 Made foolish Ishbosheth the crown forego;59 Who banisht David did from Hebron bring,60 And, with a general shout, proclaim'd him king:61 Those very Jews, who, at their very best,62 Their Humour more than loyalty exprest,63 Now, wonder'd why, so long, they had obey'd64 An idol-monarch which their hands had made:65 Thought they might ruin him they could create;66 Or melt him to that golden calf, a state.67 But these were random bolts: no form'd design,68 Nor interest made the factious crowd to join:69 The sober part of Israel, free from stain,70 Well knew the value of a peaceful reign:71 And, looking backward with a wise afright,72 Saw seams of wounds, dishonest to the sight:73 In contemplation of whose ugly scars,74 They curst the memory of civil wars.75 The moderate sort of men, thus qualifi'd,76 Inclin'd the balance to the better side:77 And, David's mildness manag'd it so well,78 The bad found no occasion to rebel.79 But, when to sin our bias'd nature leans,
 
80 The careful Devil is still at hand with means;81 And providently pimps for ill desires:82 The good old cause reviv'd, a plot requires.83 Plots, true or false, are necessary things,84 To raise up common-wealths, and ruin kings.85 Th' inhabitants of old Jerusalem86 Were Jebusites: the town so call'd from them;87 And theirs the native right--88 But when the chosen people grew more strong,89 The rightful cause at length became the wrong:90 And every loss the men of Jebus bore,91 They still were thought God's enemies the more.92 Thus, worn and weaken'd, well or ill content,93 Submit they must to David's government:94 Impoverish'd and depriv'd of all command,95 Their taxes doubled as they lost their land;96 And, what was harder yet to flesh and blood,97 Their gods disgrac'd, and burnt like common wood.98 This set the heathen priesthood in a flame;99 For priests of all religions are the same:100 Of whatsoe'er descent their godhead be,101 Stock, stone, or other homely pedigree,102 In his defence his servants are as bold,103 As if he had been born of beaten gold.104 The Jewish Rabbins though their Enemies,105 In this conclude them honest men and wise:106 For 'twas their duty, all the learned think,107 T'espouse his cause by whom they eat and drink.108 From hence began that plot, the nation's curse,109 Bad in itself, but represented worse.110 Rais'd in extremes, and in extremes decri'd;111 With oaths affirm'd, with dying vows deni'd.112 Not weigh'd, or winnow'd by the multitude;113 But swallow'd in the mass, unchew'd and crude.114 Some truth there was, but dash'd and brew'd with lies;115 To please the fools, and puzzle all the wise.116S ucceeding times did equal folly call,117 Believing nothing, or believing all.118 Th' Egyptian rites the Jebusites embrac'd;119 Where gods were recommended by their taste.120 Such sav'ry deities must needs be good,121 As serv'd at once for worship and for food.122 By force they could not introduce these gods;123 For ten to one, in former days was odds.124 So fraud was us'd, (the sacrificers' trade,)125 Fools are more hard to conquer than persuade.126 Their busy teachers mingled with the Jews;127 And rak'd, for converts, even the court and stews:128 Which Hebrew priests the more unkindly took,129 Because the fleece accompanies the flock.130 Some thought they God's anointed meant to slay131 By guns, invented since full many a day:132 Our author swears it not; but who can know133 How far the Devil and Jebusites may go?134 This plot, which fail'd for want of common sense,135 Had yet a deep and dangerous consequence:136 For, as when raging fevers boil the blood,137 The standing lake soon floats into a flood;138 And ev'ry hostile humour, which before139 Slept quiet in its channels, bubbles o'er:140 So, several factions from this first ferment,141 Work up to foam, and threat the government.142 Some by their friends, more by themselves thought wise,143 Oppos'd the pow'r, to which they could not rise.144 Some had in courts been great, and thrown from thence,145 Like fiends, were harden'd in impenitence.146 Some by their monarch's fatal mercy grown,147 From pardon'd rebels, kinsmen to the throne;148 Were rais'd in pow'r and public office high;149 Strong bands, if bands ungrateful men could tie.150 Of these the false Achitophel was first:151 A name to all succeeding ages curst.152 For close designs, and crooked counsels fit;153 Sagacious, bold and turbulent of wit:154 Restless, unfixt in principles and place;155 In pow'r unpleas'd, impatient of disgrace.156 A fiery soul, which working out its way,157 Fretted the pigmy-body to decay:158 And o'er inform'd the tenement of clay.159 A daring pilot in extremity;160 Pleas'd with the danger, when the waves went high161 He sought the storms; but for a calm unfit,
 
162 Would steer too nigh the sands, to boast his wit.163 Great wits are sure to madness near alli'd;164 And thin partitions do their bounds divide:165 Else, why should he, with wealth and honour blest,166 Refuse his age the needful hours of rest?167 Punish a body which he could not please;168 Bankrupt of life, yet prodigal of ease?169 And all to leave, what with his toil he won170 To that unfeather'd, two-legg'd thing, a son:171 Got, while his soul did huddled notions try;172 And born a shapeless lump, like anarchy.173 In friendship false, implacable in hate:174 Resolv'd to ruin or to rule the state.175 To compass this, the triple bond he broke;176 The pillars of the public safety shook:177 And fitted Israel for a foreign yoke.178 Then, seiz'd with fear, yet still affecting fame,179 Usurp'd a patriot's all-atoning name.180 So easy still it proves in factious times,181 With public zeal to cancel private crimes:182 How safe is treason, and how sacred ill,183 Where none can sin against the people's will:184 Where crowds can wink; and no offence be known,185 Since in another's guilt they find their own.186 Yet, fame deserv'd, no enemy can grudge;187 The statesman we abhor, but praise the judge.188 In Jewish courts ne'er sat an Abbethdin189 With more discerning eyes, or hands more clean:190 Unbrib'd, unsought, the wretched to redress;191 Swift of dispatch, and easy of access.192 Oh, had he been content to serve the crown,193 With virtues only proper to the gown;194 Or, had the rankness of the soil been freed195 From cockle, that opprest the noble seed:196 David, for him his tuneful harp had strung,197 And heav'n had wanted one immortal song.198 But wild ambition loves to slide, not stand;199 And fortune's ice prefers to virtue's land:200 Achitophel, grown weary to possess201 A lawful fame, and lazy happiness;202 Disdain'd the golden fruit to gather free,203 And lent the crowd his arm to shake the tree.204 Now, manifest of crimes, contriv'd long since,205 He stood at bold defiance with his prince:206 Held up the buckler of the people's cause,207 Against the crown; and skulk'd behind the laws.208 The wish'd occasion of the plot he takes;209 Some circumstances finds, but more he makes.210 By buzzing emissaries, fills the ears211 Of list'ning crowds, with jealousies and fears212 Of arbitrary counsels brought to light,213 And proves the king himself a Jebusite.214 Weak arguments! which yet he knew full well,215 Were strong with people easy to rebel.216 For, govern'd by the moon, the giddy Jews217 Tread the same track when she the prime renews:218 And once in twenty years, their scribes record,219 By natural instinct they change their lord.220 Achitophel still wants a chief, and none221 Was found so fit as warlike Absalom:222 Not, that he wish'd his greatness to create,223 (For politicians neither love nor hate:)224 But, for he knew, his title not allow'd,225 Would keep him still depending on the crowd:226 That kingly pow'r, thus ebbing out, might be227 Drawn to the dregs of a democracy.228 Him he attempts, with studied arts to please,229 And sheds his venom, in such words as these.230 Auspicious Prince! at whose nativity231 Some royal planet rul'd the southern sky;232 Thy longing country's darling and desire;233 Their cloudy pillar, and their guardian fire:234 Their second Moses, whose extended wand235 Divides the seas, and shows the promis'd land:236 Whose dawning day, in very distant age,237 Has exercis'd the sacred prophet's rage:238 The people's pray'r, the glad diviner's theme,239 The young men's vision, and the old men's dream!240 Thee, Saviour, thee, the nation's vows confess;241 And, never satisfi'd with seeing, bless:242 Swift, unbespoken pomps, thy steps proclaim,243 And stammering babes are taught to lisp thy name.244 How long wilt thou the general joy detain;

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