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Psalm 58

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Ye congregation of the tribes,
    On justice do you set your mind;
And are ye free from guile and bribes
   Ye judges of mankind?

Nay, ye of frail and mortal mould
   Imagine mischief in your heart;
Your suffrages and selves are sold
   Unto the general mart.

Men of unrighteous seed betray
   Perverseness from their mother’s womb;
As soon as they can run astray,
   Against the truth presume.

They are with foul infection stained,
   Ev’n with the serpent’s taint impure;
Their ears to blest persuasion chained,
   And locked against her lure.

Though Christ himself the pipe should tune,
   They will not to the measure tread,
Nor will they with his grief commune
   Though tears of blood he shed.

Lord, humanize their scoff and scorn,
   And their malevolence defeat;
Of water and the spirit born
   Let grace their change complete.

Let them with pious ardor burn,
   And make thy holy church their choice;
To thee with all their passions turn,
   And in thy light rejoice.

As quick as lightning to its mark,
   So let thy gracious angel speed;
And take their spirits in thine ark
   To their eternal mead.

The righteous shall exult the more
   As he such powerful mercy sees,
Such wrecks and ruins safe on shore,
   Such tortured souls at ease.

So that a man shall say, no doubt,
   The penitent has his reward;
There is a God to bear him out,
   And he is Christ our Lord.

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Psalm 58

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  • It is notable that beginning with Robert Browning, it has been poets rather than critics who have been the warmest and most perceptive admirers of the poetry of Christopher Smart. In a 1975 radio broadcast in Australia, Peter Porter spoke of Smart as "the purest case of man's vision prevailing over the spirit of his times." While it would be facile and unilluminating to characterize Smart as a proto-Romantic, there can be no doubt that the combination of visionary power, Christian ardor, and lyrical virtuosity in his finest poetry was unappreciated and unmatched in his own age.

    Smart was born on 11 April 1722 at Shipbourne in Kent, the youngest of three children of Peter and Winifred Griffiths Smart. He was proud of having Welsh ancestry through his mother, who belonged to a family from Radnorshire; his boast in Jubilate Agno (first published in 1939 as Rejoice in...

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