Rochester, John Wilmot, Earl of, 1647-1680

  Upon HitNothing

1   View previous hitHitNothing thou Elder Brother even to Shade
2   Thou hadst a being ere the world was made
3   And (well fixt) art alone of ending not afraid.

4   Ere Time and Place were, Time and Place were not
5   When Primitive Nothing, somthing straight begott
6   Then all proceeded from the great united what---

7   Somthing, the Generall Attribute of all
8   Severed from thee its sole Originall
9   Into thy boundless selfe must undistinguisht fall.

10   Yet Somthing did thy mighty power command
11   And from thy fruitfull Emptinesses hand
12   Snatcht, Men, Beasts, birds, fire, water, Ayre, and land.

13   Matter, the Wickedst offspring of thy Race
14   By forme assisted flew from thy Embrace
15   And Rebell-Light obscured thy Reverend dusky face.

16   With forme and Matter, Time and Place did joyne
17   Body thy foe with these did Leagues combine
18   To spoyle thy Peaceful Realme and Ruine all thy Line.

19   But Turncote-time assists the foe in vayne
20   And brib'd by thee destroyes their short liv'd Reign
21   And to thy hungry wombe drives back thy slaves again.

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22   Though Misteries are barr'd from Laick Eyes
23   And the Divine alone with warrant pries
24   Into thy Bosome, where thy truth in private lyes

25   Yet this of thee the wise may truly say
26   Thou from the virtuous Nothing doest delay
27   And to be part of thee the wicked wisely pray.

28   Great Negative how vainly would the wise
29   Enquire, define, distinguish, teach, devise,
30   Didst Thou not stand to poynt their blind Phylosophies.

31   Is or is not, the two great Ends of ffate
32   And true or false the Subject of debate
33   That perfect or destroy the vast designes of State---

34   When they have wrackt the Politicians Brest
35   Within thy Bosome most Securely rest
36   And when reduc't to thee are least unsafe and best.

37   But (Nothing) why does Somthing still permitt
38   That Sacred Monarchs should at Councell sitt
39   With persons highly thought, at best for nothing fitt,

40   Whilst weighty Somthing modestly abstaynes
41   ffrom Princes Coffers and from Statesmens braines
42   And nothing there like Stately nothing reignes?

43   Nothing who dwell'st with fooles in grave disguise
44   ffor whom they Reverend Shapes and formes devise
45   Lawn-sleeves and ffurrs and Gowns, when they like thee looke wise:

46   ffrench Truth, Dutch Prowess, Brittish policy
47   Hibernian Learning, Scotch Civility
48   Spaniards Dispatch, Danes witt, are Mainly seen in thee;

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49   The Great mans Gratitude to his best freind
50   Kings promises, Whors vowes towards thee they bend
51   fflow Swiftly into thee, and in thee ever end.


View next hit[from The poems (1984)]


Daniel Defoe's remarks on this poem, from his Political History of the Devil:


Speakers = narrator, Devil, Lord Graceless


Having thus articled with the Devil for liberty of speech, 1 shall talk of him sometimes in the singular, as a person, and sometimes in the plural, as a host of devils, or of infernal spirits; just as occasion requires, and as the history of his affairs makes necessary.

But before I enter upon any part of his history, the nature of the thing calls me back, and my lord B- of in his late famous orations in defence of liberty, summons me to prove that there is such a thing or such a person as the Devil; and, in short, unless I can give some evidence of his existence, as my lord said very well, I am talking of nobody.

D-mn me, sir, says a graceless comrade of his to a great man, your grace will go to the Devil.

D-mn ye, sir, says the d , then I shall go nowhere ; I wonder where you intend to go ?

Nay, to the Devil too, I doubt, says Graceless, for I am almost as wicked as my lord duke.

D. Thou art a silly empty dog, says the devil ,and if there is such a place as a hell, though I believe nothing of it, it is a place for fools, such as thou art.

Gr. I wonder, then, what heaven the great wits go to, such as my lord duke ? I don't care to go there, let it be where it will; they are a plaguy tiresome kind of people, there's no bearing them, they'll make a hell wherever they come.

D. Prithee, hold thy fool's tongue; I tell thee, if there is any such place as we call nowhere, that's all the heaven or hell that I know of, or believe anything about.

Gr. Very good, my lord ; so that heaven is nowhere, and hell is nowhere, and the Devil is nobody, according to my lord duke!

D. Yes, sir, and what then ?

Gr. And you are to go nowhere when you die, are you?

D. Yes, you dog; don't you know what that incomparable noble genius, my lord Rochester, sings upon the subject; I believe it unfeignedly ;

( sings,) After death nothing is,

And nothing death.

Gh. You believe it, my lord! you mean, you would fain believe it if you could ; but since you put that great genius, my lord Rochester, upon me, let me play him back upon your grace; I am sure you have read his fine poem upon Nothing, in one of the stanzas of which is this beautiful thought,

And to be part of thee
The wicked wisely pray.

D. You are a foolish dog.
Gr. And my lord duke is a wise infidel.
D. Why! is it not wiser to believe no Devil, than
to be always terrified at him ?

Gh. But shall I toss another poet upon you, my lord ?

If it should so fall out, as who can tell, / But there may be a God, a heaven, and hell,

/ Mankind had best consider well, for fear / 't should be too late when their mistakes appear.

D. D-mn your foolish poet, that's not my lord Rochester.

Gr. But how must I be damn'd, if there's no Devil ? Is not your grace a little inconsistent there ? My lord Rochester would not have said that, an 't please your grace.