from UPON NOTHING
~ by John Wilmot
Great Negative! How vainly would the wise
Inquire, define, distinguish, teach, devise
Dids’t thou not stand to point their dull philosophies?
Is or is not, the two great ends of Fate,
And true or false, the subject of debate
That perfect or destroy the vast designs of Fate,
When they have racked the politician’s breast,
Within thy bosom most securely rest
And, when reduced to thee, are least unsafe and best.
But Nothing, why does Something still permit
That sacred monarchs should at council sit
With persons highly thought at best for nothing fit,
Whilst weighty Something modestly abstains
From princes’ coffers– and from statesman’s brains–
And nothing there like stately Nothing reigns?
Nothing, who dwells with fools in grave disguise,
For whom they reverend shapes and forms devise,
Lawn sleeves, and furs and gowns, when they like thee look wise.
French truth, Dutch prowess, British policy,
Hibernian learning, Scotch civility,
Spaniards’ dispatch, Danes’ wit are mainly seen in thee.
The great man’s gratitude towards his best friend,
Kings’ promises, whores’ vows, towards thee they bend,
Flow swiftly into thee, and in thee ever end.
John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, friend of King Charles II, also his carousing partner and his candid critic, circulated his poems in manuscript and in correspondence during his brief life of thirty-two years. A collection of his poems was published after his death, and his writing style became influential among later English satirists, such as Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson, and Matthew Prior. Wilmot was very matter of fact, a cynic, a hard-core realist. Platonist idealism filled him with revulsion for its insipidity, its lack of sense, and it was frequently the target of his mockery. See his “Satire On Reason And Mankind.”