Samuel Butler (1612 - 1680 / England)
An Heroic Epistle of Hudibras To His Lady
I who was once as great as Caesar,
Am now reduc'd to Nebuchadnezzar;
And from as fam'd a conqueror
As ever took degree in war,
Or did his exercise in battle,
By you turn'd out to grass with cattle:
For since I am deny'd access
To all my earthly happiness
Am fallen from the paradise
Of your good graces, and fair eyes;
Lost to the world, and you, I'm sent
To everlasting banishment;
Where all the hopes I had t' have won
Your heart, b'ing dash'd, will break my own.
Yet if you were not so severe
To pass your doom before you hear,
You'd find, upon my just defence,
How much y' have wrong'd my innocence.
That once I made a vow to you,
Which yet is unperformed, 'tis true:
But not because it is unpaid,
'Tis violated, though delay'd;
Or, if it were, it is no fau't,
So heinous as you'd have it thought;
To undergo the loss of ears,
Like vulgar hackney perjurers
For there's a diff'rence in the case,
Between the noble and the base,
Who always are observ'd t' have done't
Upon as different an account:
The one for great and weighty cause,
To salve in honour ugly flaws;
For none are like to do it sooner
Than those who are nicest of their honour:
The other, for base gain and pay,
Forswear, and perjure by the day;
And make th' exposing and retailing
Their souls and consciences a calling.
It is no scandal, nor aspersion,
Upon a great and noble person,
To say he nat'rally abhorr'd
Th' old-fashion'd trick, To keep his word;
Though 'tis perfidiousness and shame
In meaner men to do the same:
For to be able to forget,
Is found more useful to the great,
Than gout, or deafness, or bad eyes,
To make 'em pass for wond'rous wise.
But though the law on perjurers
Inflicts the forfeiture of ears,
It is not just that does exempt
The guilty, and punish th' innocent;
To make the ears repair the wrong
Committed by th' ungovern'd tongue;
And when one member is forsworn,
Another to be cropt or torn.
And if you shou'd, as you design,
By course of law, recover mine,
You're like, if you consider right,
To gain but little honour by't.
For he that for his lady's sake
Lays down his life or limbs at stake,
Does not so much deserve her favour,
As he that pawns his soul to have her,
This y' have acknowledg'd I have done,
Although you now disdain to own;
But sentence what you rather ought
T' esteem good service than a fau't.
Besides, oaths are not bound to bear
That literal sense the words infer,
But, by the practice of the age,
Are to be judg'd how far th' engage;
And, where the sense by custom's checkt,
Are found void, and of none effect.
For no man takes or keeps a vow
But just as he sees others do;
Nor are th' oblig'd to be so brittle,
As not to yield and bow a little:
For as best-temper'd blades are found,
Before they break, to bend quite round,
So truest oaths are still most tough,
And though they bow, are breaking proof.
Then wherefore should they not b' allow'd
In love a greater latitude?
For as the law of arms approves
All ways to conquest, so should love's;
And not be ty'd to true or false,
But make that justest that prevails
For how can that which is above
All empire, high and mighty love,
Submit its great prerogative
To any other power alive?
Shall love, that to no crown gives place,
Become the subject of a case?
The fundamental law of nature,
Be over-rul'd by those made after?
Commit the censure of its cause
To any but its own great laws?
Love, that's the world's preservative,
That keeps all souls of things alive;
Controuls the mighty pow'r of fate,
And gives mankind a longer date;
The life of nature, that restores
As fast as time and death devours;
To whose free-gift the world does owe,
Not only earth, but heaven too;
For love's the only trade that's driven,
The interest of state in heav'n,
Which nothing but the soul of man
Is capable to entertain.
For what can earth produce, but love
To represent the joys above?
Or who but lovers can converse,
Like angels, by e the eye-discourse?
Address and compliment by vision;
Make love and court by intuition?
And burn in amorous flames as fierce
As those celestial ministers?
Then how can any thing offend,
In order to so great an end?
Or heav'n itself a sin f resent,
That for its own supply was meant?
That merits, in a kind mistake,
A pardon for th' offence's sake.
Or if it did not, but the cause
Were left to th' injury at laws,
What tyranny can disapprove
There should be equity in love;
For laws that are inanimate,
And feel no sense of love or hate,
That have no passion of their own,
Nor pity to be wrought upon,
Are only proper to inflict
Revenge on criminals as strict
But to have power to forgive,
Is empire and prerogative;
And 'tis in crowns a nobler gem
To grant a pardon than condemn.
Then since so few do what they ought,
'Tis great t' indulge a well-meant fau't.
For why should he who made address,
All humble ways, without success,
And met with nothing, in return,
But insolence, affronts, and scorn,
Not strive by wit to countermine,
And bravely carry his design?
He who was us'd so unlike a soldier,
Blown up with philters of love-powder?
And after letting blood, and purging,
Condemn'd to voluntary scourging;
Alarm'd with many a horrid fright,
And claw'd by goblins in the night;
Insulted on, revil'd, and jeer'd,
With rude invasion of his beard;
And when your sex was foully scandal'd,
As foully by the rabble handled;
Attack'd by despicable foes,
And drub'd with mean and vulgar blows;
And, after all, to be debarr'd
So much as standing on his guard;
When horses, being spurr'd and prick'd,
Have leave to kick for being kick'd?
Or why should you, whose mother-wits
Are furnish'd with all perquisites,
That with your breeding-teeth begin,
And nursing babies, that lie in,
B' allow'd to put all tricks upon
Our cully sex, and we use none?
We, who have nothing but frail vows
Against your stratagems t' oppose;
Or oaths more feeble than your own,
By which we are no less put down?
You wound, like g Parthians, while you fly,
And kill with a retreating eye:
Retire the more, the more we press
To draw us into ambushes.
As pirates all false colours wear
T' intrap th' unwary mariner,
So women, to surprise us, spread
The borrow'd flags of white and red;
Display 'em thicker on their cheeks
Than their old grandmothers, the Picts;
And raise more devils with their looks,
Than conjurer's less subtle books;
Lay trains of amorous intrigues,
In tow'rs, and curls, and perriwigs,
With greater art and cunning rear'd,
Than h PHILIP NYE's thanksgiving beard,
Prepost'rously t' entice, and gain
Those to adore 'em they disdain;
And only draw 'em in, to clog
With idle names a catalogue.
A lover is, the more he's brave,
T' his mistress but the more a slave;
And whatsoever she commands,
Becomes a favour from her hands;
Which he's obliged t' obey, and must,
Whether it be unjust or just.
Then when he is compell'd by her
T' adventures he would else forbear,
Who with his honour can withstand,
Since force is greater than command?
And when necessity's obey'd,
Nothing can be unjust or bad
And therefore when the mighty pow'rs
Of love, our great ally and yours,
Join'd forces not to be withstood
By frail enamour'd flesh and blood,
All I have done, unjust or ill,
Was in obedience to your will;
And all the blame that can be due,
Falls to your cruelty and you.
Nor are those scandals I confest,
Against my will and interest,
More than is daily done of course
By all men, when they're under force;
When some upon the rack confess
What th' hangman and their prompters please;
But are no sooner out of pain,
Than they deny it all again.
But when the Devil turns confessor,
Truth is a crime he takes no pleasure
To hear, or pardon, like the founder
Of liars, whom they all claim under
And therefore, when I told him none,
I think it was the wiser done.
Nor am I without precedent,
The first that on th' adventure went
All mankind ever did of course,
And daily dues the same, or worse.
For what romance can show a lover,
That had a lady to recover,
And did not steer a nearer course,
To fall a-board on his amours?
And what at first was held a crime,
Has turn'd to honourable in time.
To what a height did i infant ROME,
By ravishing of women, come
When men upon their spouses seiz'd,
And freely marry'd where they pleas'd,
They ne'er forswore themselves, nor ly'd.
Nor, in the mind they were in, dy'd;
Nor took the pains t' address and sue,
Nor play'd the masquerade to woo;
Disdain'd to stay for friends' consents;
Nor juggled about settlements:
Did need no license, nor no priest,
Nor friends, nor kindred, to assist;
Nor lawyers, to join land and money
In th' holy state of matrimony,
Before they settled hands and hearts,
Till k alimony or death them parts:
Nor wou'd endure to stay until
Th' had got the very bride's good will;
But took a wise and shorter course
To win the ladies, downright force.
And justly made 'em prisoners then,
As they have often since, us men,
With acting plays, and dancing jigs,
The luckiest of all love's intrigues;
And when they had them at their pleasure,
Then talk'd of love and flames at leisure;
For after matrimony's over,
He that holds out but half a lover,
Deserves for ev'ry minute more
Than half a year of love before;
For which the dames in contemplation
Of that best way of application,
Prov'd nobler wives than e'er was known,
By suit or treaty to be won;
And such as all posterity
Cou'd never equal nor come nigh.
For women first were made for men,
Not men for them. - It follows, then,
That men have right to ev'ry one,
And they no freedom of their own
And therefore men have pow'r to chuse,
But they no charter to refuse.
Hence 'tis apparent, that what course
Soe'er we take to your amours,
Though by the indirectest way,
'Tis no injustice, nor foul play;
And that you ought to take that course,
As we take you, for better or worse;
And gratefully submit to those
Who you, before another, chose.
For why should ev'ry savage beast
Exceed his great lord's interest?
Have freer pow'r than he in grace,
And nature, o'er the creature has?
Because the laws he since has made
Have cut off all the pow'r he had;
Retrench'd the absolute dominion
That nature gave him over women;
When all his pow'r will not extend
One law of nature to suspend;
And but to offer to repeal
The smallest clause, is to rebel.
This, if men rightly understood
Their privilege, they wou'd make good;
And not, like sots, permit their wives
T' encroach on their prerogatives;
For which sin they deserve to be
Kept, as they are, in slavery:
And this some precious Gifted Teachers,
Unrev'rently reputed leachers,
And disobey'd in making love,
Have vow'd to all the world to prove,
And make ye suffer, as you ought,
For that uncharitable fau't.
But I forget myself, and rove
Beyond th' instructions of my love.
Forgive me (Fair) and only blame
Th' extravagancy of my flame,
Since 'tis too much at once to show
Excess of love and temper too.
All I have said that's bad and true,
Was never meant to aim at you,
Who have so sov'reign a controul
O'er that poor slave of yours, my soul,
That, rather than to forfeit you,
Has ventur'd loss of heaven too:
Both with an equal pow'r possest,
To render all that serve you blest:
But none like him, who's destin'd either
To have, or lose you, both together.
And if you'll but this fault release
(For so it must be, since you please)
I'll pay down all that vow, and more,
Which you commanded, and I swore,
And expiate upon my skin
Th' arrears in full of all my sin.
For 'tis but just that I should pay
Th' accruing penance for delay,
Which shall be done, until it move
Your equal pity and your love.
The Knight, perusing this Epistle,
Believ'd h' had brought her to his whistle;
And read it like a jocund lover,
With great applause t' himself, twice over;
Subscrib'd his name, but at a fit
And humble distance to his wit;
And dated it with wond'rous art,
Giv'n from the bottom of his heart;
Then seal'd it with his Coat of Love,
A smoaking faggot - and above,
Upon a scroll - I burn, and weep;
And near it - For her Ladyship;
Of all her sex most excellent,
These to her gentle hands present.
Then gave it to his faithful Squire,
With lessons how t' observe and eye her.
She first consider'd which was better,
To send it back, or burn the letter.
But guessing that it might import,
Though nothing else, at least her sport,
She open'd it, and read it out,
With many a smile and leering flout:
Resolv'd to answer it in kind,
And thus perform'd what she design'd.
Comments about this poem (An Heroic Epistle of Hudibras To His Lady by Samuel Butler )
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