Upon Nothing

By John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester 1647–1680 John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester
Nothing! thou elder brother even to Shade:
That hadst a being ere the world was made,
And well fixed, art alone of ending not afraid.
Ere Time and Place were, Time and Place were not,
When primitive Nothing Something straight begot;
Then all proceeded from the great united What.
Something, the general attribute of all,
Severed from thee, its sole original,
Into thy boundless self must undistinguished fall; 
Yet Something did thy mighty power command,
And from fruitful Emptiness’s hand
Snatched men, beasts, birds, fire, air, and land.
Matter the wicked’st offspring of thy race,
By Form assisted, flew from thy embrace,
And rebel Light obscured thy reverend dusky face.
With Form and Matter, Time and Place did join;
Body, thy foe, with these did leagues combine
To spoil thy peaceful realm, and ruin all thy line;
But turncoat Time assists the foe in vain,
And bribed by thee, destroys their short-lived reign,
And to thy hungry womb drives back thy slaves again.
Though mysteries are barred from laic eyes,
And the divine alone with warrant pries
Into thy bosom, where truth in private lies,
Yet this of thee the wise may truly say,
Thou from the virtuous nothing dost delay,
And to be part with thee the wicked wisely pray.
Great Negative, how vainly would the wise
Inquire, define, distinguish, teach, devise,
Didst thou not stand to point their blind 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 state— 
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,
While weighty Something modestly abstains
From princes’ coffers, and from statemen’s brains,
And Nothing there like stately Nothing reigns?
Nothing! who dwell’st 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 to his best friend,
Kings’ promises, whores’ vows—towards thee may bend,
Flow swiftly into thee, and in thee ever end.


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Poet John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester 1647–1680


SCHOOL / PERIOD 17th Century

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Philosophy, Humor & Satire, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza