Of the four Humours in Mans Constitution. Poem by Anne Bradstreet
The former four now ending their discourse,
Ceasing to vaunt their good, or threat their force.
Lo other four step up, crave leave to show
The native qualityes that from them flow:
But first they wisely shew'd their high descent,
Each eldest daughter to each Element.
Choler was own'd by fire, and Blood by air,
Earth knew her black swarth child, water her fair:
All having made obeysance to each Mother,
Had leave to speak, succeeding one the other:
But 'mongst themselves they were at variance,
Which of the four should have predominance.
Choler first hotly claim'd right by her mother,
Who had precedency of all the other:
But Sanguine did disdain what she requir'd,
Pleading her self was most of all desir'd.
Proud Melancholy more envious then the rest,
The second, third or last could not digest.
She was the silentest of all the four,
Her wisdom spake not much, but thought the more
Mild Flegme did not contest for chiefest place,
Only she crav'd to have a vacant space.
Well, thus they parle and chide; but to be brief,
Or will they, nill they, Choler will be chief.
They seing her impetuosity
At present yielded to necessity.
To shew my high descent and pedegree,
Your selves would judge but vain prolixity;
It is acknowledged from whence I came,
It shall suffice to shew you what I am,
My self and mother one, as you shall see,
But shee in greater, I in less degree.
We both once Masculines, the world doth know,
Now Feminines awhile, for love we owe
Unto your Sisterhood, which makes us render
Our noble selves in a less noble gender.
Though under Fire we comprehend all heat,
Yet man for Choler is the proper seat:
I in his heart erect my regal throne,
Where Monarch like I play and sway alone.
Yet many times unto my great disgrace
One of your selves are my Compeers in place,
Where if your rule prove once predominant,
The man proves boyish, sottish, ignorant:
But if you yield subservience unto me,
I make a man, a man in th'high'st degree:
Be he a souldier, I more fence his heart
Then iron Corslet 'gainst a sword or dart.
What makes him face his foe without appal,
To storm a breach, or scale a city wall,
In dangers to account himself more sure
Then timerous Hares whom Castles do immure?
Have you not heard of worthyes, Demi-Gods?
Twixt them and others what is't makes the odds
But valour? whence comes that? from none of you,
Nay milksops at such brunts you look but blew.
Here's sister ruddy, worth the other two,
Who much will talk, but little dares she do,
Unless to Court and claw, to dice and drink,
And there she will out-bid us all, I think,
She loves a fiddle better then a drum,
A Chamber well, in field she dares not come,
She'l ride a horse as bravely as the best,
And break a staff, provided 'be in jest;
But shuns to look on wounds, & blood that's spilt,
She loves her sword only because its gilt.
Then here's our sad black Sister, worse then you.
She'l neither say she will, nor will she doe;
But peevish Malecontent, musing sits,
And by misprissions like to loose her witts:
If great perswasions cause her meet her foe,
In her dull resolution she's so slow,
To march her pace to some is greater pain
Then by a quick encounter to be slain.
But be she beaten, she'l not run away,
She'l first advise if't be not best to stay.
Now let's give cold white sister flegme her right,
So loving unto all she scorns to fight:
If any threaten her, she'l in a trice
Convert from water to congealed ice:
Her teeth will chatter, dead and wan's her face,
And 'fore she be assaulted, quits the place.
She dares not challeng, if I speak amiss,
Nor hath she wit or heat to blush at this.
Here's three of you all see now what you are,
Then yield to me preheminence in war.
Again who fits for learning, science, arts?
Who rarifies the intellectual parts:
From whence fine spirits flow and witty notions:
But tis not from our dull, slow sisters motions:
Nor sister sanguine, from thy moderate heat,
Poor spirits the Liver breeds, which is thy seat.
What comes from thence, my heat refines the same
And through the arteries sends it o're the frame:
The vital spirits they're call'd, and well they may
For when they fail, man turns unto his clay.
The animal I claim as well as these,
The nerves, should I not warm, soon would they freeze
But flegme her self is now provok'd at this
She thinks I never shot so far amiss.
The brain she challengeth, the head's her seat;
But know'ts a foolish brain that wanteth heat.
My absence proves it plain, her wit then flyes
Out at her nose, or melteth at her eyes.
Oh who would miss this influence of thine
To be distill'd, a drop on every Line?
Alas, thou hast no Spirits; thy Company
Will feed a dropsy, or a Tympany,
The Palsy, Gout, or Cramp, or some such dolour:
Thou wast not made, for Souldier or for Scholar;
Of greazy paunch, and bloated cheeks go vaunt,
But a good head from these are dissonant.
But Melancholy, wouldst have this glory thine,
Thou sayst thy wits are staid, subtil and fine;
'Tis true, when I am Midwife to thy birth
Thy self's as dull, as is thy mother Earth:
Thou canst not claim the liver, head nor heart
Yet hast the Seat assign'd, a goodly part
The sinke of all us three, the hateful Spleen
Of that black Region, nature made thee Queen;
Where pain and sore obstruction thou dost work,
Where envy, malice, thy Companions lurk.
If once thou'rt great, what follows thereupon
But bodies wasting, and destruction?
So base thou art, that baser cannot be,
Th'excrement adustion of me.
But I am weary to dilate your shame,
Nor is't my pleasure thus to blur your name,
Only to raise my honour to the Skies,
As objects best appear by contraries.
But Arms, and Arts I claim, and higher things,
The princely qualities befitting Kings,
Whose profound heads I line with policies,
They'r held for Oracles, they are so wise,
Their wrathful looks are death their words are laws
Their Courage it foe, friend, and Subject awes;
But one of you, would make a worthy King
Like our sixth Henry (that same virtuous thing)
That when a Varlet struck him o're the side,
Forsooth you are to blame, he grave reply'd.
Take Choler from a Prince, what is he more
Then a dead Lion, by Beasts triumph'd o're.
Again you know, how I act every part
By th'influence, I still send from the heart:
It's nor your Muscles, nerves, nor this nor that
Do's ought without my lively heat, that's flat:
Nay th'stomack magazine to all the rest
Without my boyling heat cannot digest:
And yet to make my greatness, still more great
What differences, the Sex? but only heat.
And one thing more, to close up my narration
Of all that lives, I cause the propagation.
I have been sparings what I might have said
I love no boasting, that's but Childrens trade.
To what you now shall say I will attend,
And to your weakness gently condescend.
Good Sisters, give me leave, as is my place
To vent my grief, and wipe off my disgrace:
Your selves may plead your wrongs are no whit less
Your patience more then mine, I must confess
Did ever sober tongue such language speak,
Or honesty such tyes unfriendly break?
Dost know thy self so well us so amiss?
Is't arrogance or folly causeth this?
Ile only shew the wrong thou'st done to me,
Then let my sisters right their injury.
To pay with railings is not mine intent,
But to evince the truth by Argument:
I will analyse this thy proud relation
So full of boasting and prevarication,
Thy foolish incongruityes Ile show,
So walk thee till thou'rt cold, then let thee go.
There is no Souldier but thy self (thou sayest,)
No valour upon Earth, but what thou hast
Thy silly provocations I despise,
And leave't to all to judge, where valour lies
No pattern, nor no pattron will I bring
But David, Judah's most heroick King,
Whose glorious deeds in Arms the world can tell,
A rosie cheek Musitian thou know'st well;
He knew well how to handle Sword and Harp,
And how to strike full sweet, as well as sharp,
Thou laugh'st at me for loving merriment,
And scorn'st all Knightly sports at Turnament.
Thou sayst I love my Sword, because it's gilt,
But know, I love the Blade, more then the Hill,
Yet do abhor such temerarious deeds,
As thy unbridled, barbarous Choler breeds:
Thy rudeness counts good manners vanity,
And real Complements base flattery.
For drink, which of us twain like it the best,
Ile go no further then thy nose for test:
Thy other scoffs, not worthy of reply
Shall vanish as of no validity:
Of thy black Calumnies this is but part,
But now Ile shew what souldier thou art.
And though thou'st us'd me with opprobrious spight
My ingenuity must give thee right.
Thy choler is but rage when tis most pure,
But usefull when a mixture can endure;
As with thy mother fire, so tis with thee,
The best of all the four when they agree:
But let her leave the rest, then I presume
Both them and all things else she would consume.
VVhilst us for thine associates thou tak'st,
A Souldier most compleat in all points mak'st:
But when thou scorn'st to take the help we lend,
Thou art a Fury or infernal Fiend.
Witness the execrable deeds thou'st done,
Nor sparing Sex nor Age, nor Sire nor Son;
To satisfie thy pride and cruelty,
Thou oft hast broke bounds of Humanity,
Nay should I tell, thou would'st count me no blab,
How often for the lye, thou'st given the stab.
To take the wall's a sin of so high rate,
That nought but death the same may expiate,
To cross thy will, a challenge doth deserve
So shed'st that blood, thou'rt bounden to preserve
Wilt thou this valour, Courage, Manhood call:
No, know 'tis pride most diabolibal.
If murthers be thy glory, tis no less,
Ile not envy thy feats, nor happiness:
But if in fitting time and place 'gainst foes
For countreys good thy life thou dar'st expose,
Be dangers n'er so high, and courage great,
Ile praise that prowess, fury, Choler, heat:
But such thou never art when all alone,
Yet such when we all four are joyn'd in one.
And when such thou art, even such are we,
The friendly Coadjutors still of thee.
Nextly the Spirits thou dost wholly claim,
Which nat'ral, vital, animal we name:
To play Philosopher I have no list,
Nor yet Physitian, nor Anatomist,
For acting these, l have no will nor Art,
Yet shall with Equity, give thee thy part
For natural, thou dost not much contest;
For there is none (thou sayst) if some not best;
That there are some, and best, I dare averre
Of greatest use, if reason do not erre:
What is there living, which do'nt first derive
His Life now Animal, from vegetive:
If thou giv'st life, I give the nourishment,
Thine without mine, is not, 'tis evident:
But I without thy help, can give a growth
As plants trees, and small Embryon know'th
And if vital Spirits, do flow from thee
I am as sure, the natural, from me:
Be thine the nobler, which I grant, yet mine
Shall justly claim priority of thine.
I am the fountain which thy Cistern fills
Through warm blew Conduits of my venial rills:
What hath the heart, but what's sent from the liver
If thou'rt the taker, I must be the giver.
Then never boast of what thou dost receive:
For of such glory I shall thee bereave.
But why the heart should be usurp'd by thee,
I must confess seems something strange to me:
The spirits through thy heat made perfect are,
But the Materials none of thine, that's clear:
Their wondrous mixture is of blood and air,
The first my self, second my mother fair.
But Ile not force retorts, nor do thee wrong,
Thy fi'ry yellow froth is mixt among,
Challeng not all, 'cause part we do allow;
Thou know'st I've there to do as well as thou:
But thou wilt say I deal unequally,
Their lives the irascible faculty,
Which without all dispute, is Cholers own;
Besides the vehement heat, only there known
Can be imputed, unto none but Fire
Which is thy self, thy Mother and thy Sire
That this is true, I easily can assent
If still you take along my Aliment;
And let me be your partner which is due,
So shall I give the dignity to you:
Again, Stomacks Concoction thou dost claim,
But by what right, nor do'st, nor canst thou name
Unless as heat, it be thy faculty,
And so thou challengest her property.
The help she needs, the loving liver lends,
Who th'benefit o'th' whole ever intends
To meddle further I shall be but shent,
Th'rest to our Sisters is more pertinent;
Your slanders thus refuted takes no place,
Nor what you've said, doth argue my disgrace,
Now through your leaves, some little time I'l spend
My worth in humble manner to commend
This, hot, moist nutritive humour of mine
When 'tis untaint, pure, and most genuine
Shall chiefly take the place, as is my due
Without the least indignity to you.
Of all your qualities I do partake,
And what you single are, the whole I make
Your hot, moist, cold, dry natures are but four,
I moderately am all, what need I more;
As thus, if hot then dry, if moist, then cold,
If this you cann't disprove, then all I hold
My virtues hid, I've let you dimly see
My sweet Complection proves the verity.
This Scarlet die's a badge of what's within
One touch thereof, so beautifies the skin:
Nay, could I be, from all your tangs but pure
Mans life to boundless Time might still endure.
But here one thrusts her heat, wher'ts not requir'd
So suddenly, the body all is fired,
And of the calme sweet temper quite bereft,
Which makes the Mansion, by the Soul soon left.
So Melancholy seizes on a man,
With her unchearful visage, swarth and wan,
The body dryes, the mind sublime doth smother,
And turns him to the womb of's earthy mother:
And flegm likewise can shew her cruel art,
With cold distempers to pain every part:
The lungs she rots, the body wears away,
As if she'd leave no flesh to turn to clay,
Her languishing diseases, though not quick
At length demolishes the Faberick,
All to prevent, this curious care I take,
In th'last concoction segregation make
Of all the perverse humours from mine own,
The bitter choler most malignant known
I turn into his Cell close by my side
The Melancholy to the Spleen t'abide:
Likewise the whey, some use I in the veins,
The overplus I send unto the reins:
But yet for all my toil, my care and skill,
Its doom'd by an irrevocable will
That my intents should meet with interruption,
That mortal man might turn to his corruption.
I might here shew the nobleness of mind
Of such as to the sanguine are inclin'd,
They're liberal, pleasant, kind and courteous,
And like the Liver all benignious.
For arts and sciences they are the fittest;
And maugre Choler still they are the wittiest:
With an ingenious working Phantasie,
A most voluminous large Memory,
And nothing wanting but Solidity.
But why alas, thus tedious should I be,
Thousand examples you may daily see.
If time I have transgrest, and been too long,
Yet could not be more brief without much wrong;
I've scarce wip'd off the spots proud choler cast,
Such venome lies in words, though but a blast:
No braggs i've us'd, to you I dare appeal,
If modesty my worth do not conceal.
I've us'd no bittererss nor taxt your name,
As I to you, to me do ye the same.
He that with two Assailants hath to do,
Had need be armed well and active too.
Especially when friendship is pretended,
That blow's most deadly where it is intended.
Though choler rage and rail, I'le not do so,
The tongue's no weapon to assault a foe:
But sith we fight with words, we might be kind
To spare our selves and beat the whistling wind,
Fair rosie sister, so might'st thou scape free;
I'le flatter for a time as thou didst me:
But when the first offender I have laid,
Thy soothing girds shall fully be repaid.
But Choler be thou cool'd or chaf'd, I'le venter,
And in contentions lists now justly enter.
What mov'd thee thus to vilifie my name,
Not past all reason, but in truth all shame:
Thy fiery spirit shall bear away this prize,
To play such furious pranks I am too wise:
If in a Souldier rashness be so precious,
Know in a General tis most pernicious.
Nature doth teach to shield the head from harm,
The blow that's aim'd thereat is latcht by th'arm.
When in Batalia my foes I face
I then command proud Choler stand thy place,
To use thy sword, thy courage and thy art
There to defend my self, thy better part.
This wariness count not for cowardize,
He is not truly valiant that's not wise.
It's no less glory to defend a town,
Then by assault to gain one not our own;
And if Marcellus bold be call'd Romes sword,
Wise Fabius is her buckler all accord:
And if thy hast my slowness should not temper,
'Twere but a mad irregular distemper;
Enough of that by our sisters heretofore,
Ile come to that which wounds me somewhat more
Of learning, policy thou wouldst bereave me,
But's not thine ignorance shall thus deceive me:
What greater Clark or Politician lives,
Then he whose brain a touch my humour gives?
What is too hot my coldness doth abate,
What's diffluent I do consolidate.
If I be partial judg'd or thought to erre,
The melancholy snake shall it aver,
Whose cold dry head more subtilty doth yield,
Then all the huge beasts of the fertile field.
Again thou dost confine me to the spleen,
As of that only part I were the Queen,
Let me as well make thy precincts the Gall,
So prison thee within that bladder small:
Reduce the man to's principles, then see
If I have not more part then all you three:
What is within, without, of theirs or thine,
Yet time and age shall soon declare it mine.
When death doth seize the man your stock is lost,
When you poor bankrupts prove then have I most.
You'l say here none shall e're disturb my right,
You high born from that lump then take your flight.
Then who's mans friend, when life & all forsakes?
His Mother mine, him to her womb retakes:
Thus he is ours, his portion is the grave,
But while he lives, I'le shew what part I have:
And first the firm dry bones I justly claim,
The strong foundation of the stately frame:
Likewise the usefull Slpeen, though not the best,
Yet is a bowel call'd well as the rest:
The Liver, Stomack, owe their thanks of right,
The first it drains, of th'last quicks appetite.
Laughter (thô thou say malice) flows from hence,
These two in one cannot have residence.
But thou most grosly dost mistake to think
The Spleen for all you three was made a sink,
Of all the rest thou'st nothing there to do,
But if thou hast, that malice is from you.
Again you often touch my swarthy hue,
That black is black, and I am black tis true;
But yet more comely far I dare avow,
Then is thy torrid nose or brazen brow.
But that which shews how high your spight is bent
Is charging me to be thy excrement:
Thy loathsome imputation I defie,
So plain a slander needeth no reply.
When by thy heat thou'st bak'd thy self to crust,
And so art call'd black Choler or adust,
Thou witless think'st that I am thy excretion,
So mean thou art in Art as in discretion:
But by your leave I'le let your greatness see
What Officer thou art to us all three,
The Kitchin Drudge, the cleanser of the sinks
That casts out all that man e're eats or drinks:
If any doubt the truth whence this should come,
Shew them thy passage to th'Duodenum;
Thy biting quality still irritates,
Till filth and thee nature exonerates:
If there thou'rt stopt, to th'Liver thou turn'st in,
And thence with jaundies saffrons all the skin.
No further time Ile spend in confutation,
I trust I've clear'd your slanderous imputation.
I now speak unto all, no more to one,
Pray hear, admire and learn instruction.
My virtues yours surpass without compare,
The first my constancy that jewel rare:
Choler's too rash this golden gift to hold,
And Sanguine is more fickle manifold,
Here, there her restless thoughts do ever fly,
Constant in nothing but unconstancy.
And what Flegme is, we know, like to her mother,
Unstable is the one, and so the other;
With me is noble patience also found,
Impatient Choler loveth not the sound,
What sanguine is, she doth not heed nor care,
Now up, now down, transported like the Air:
Flegme's patient because her nature's tame;
But I, by virtue do acquire the same.
My Temperance, Chastity is eminent,
But these with you, are seldome resident;
Now could I stain my ruddy Sisters face
With deeper red, to shew you her dsgrace,
But rather I with silence vaile her shame
Then cause her blush, while I relate the same.
Nor are ye free from this inormity,
Although she bear the greatest obloquie,
My prudence, judgement, I might now reveal
But wisdom 'tis my wisdome to conceal.
Unto diseases not inclin'd as you,
Nor cold, nor hot, Ague nor Plurisie,
Nor Cough, nor Quinsey, nor the burning Feaver,
I rarely feel to act his fierce endeavour;
My sickness in conceit chiefly doth lye,
What I imagine that's my malady.
Chymeraes strange are in my phantasy,
And things that never were, nor shall I see
I love not talk, Reason lies not in length,
Nor multitude of words argues our strength;
I've done pray sister Flegme proceed in Course,
We shall expect much sound, but little force.
Patient I am, patient i'd need to be,
To bear with the injurious taunts of three,
Though wit I want, and anger I have less,
Enough of both, my wrongs now to express
I've not forgot, how bitter Choler spake
Nor how her gaul on me she causeless brake;
Nor wonder 'twas for hatred there's not small,
Where opposition is Diametrical.
To what is Truth I freely will assent,
Although my Name do suffer detriment,
What's slanderous repell, doubtful dispute,
And when I've nothing left to say be mute.
Valour I want, no Souldier am 'tis true,
I'le leave that manly Property to you;
I love no thundring guns, nor bloody wars,
My polish'd Skin was not ordain'd for Skarrs:
But though the pitched field I've ever fled,
At home the Conquerours have conquered.
Nay, I could tell you what's more true then meet,
That Kings have laid their Scepters at my feet;
When Sister sanguine paints my Ivory face:
The Monarchs bend and sue, but for my grace
My lilly white when joyned with her red,
Princes hath slav'd, and Captains captived,
Country with Country, Greece with Asia fights
Sixty nine Princes, all stout Hero Knights.
Under Troys walls ten years will wear away,
Rather then loose one beauteous Helena.
But 'twere as vain, to prove this truth of mine
As at noon day, to tell the Sun doth shine.
Next difference that 'twixt us twain doth lye
Who doth possess the brain, or thou or I?
Shame forc'd the say, the matter that was mine,
But the Spirits by which it acts are thine:
Thou speakest Truth, and I can say no less,
Thy heat doth much, I candidly confess;
Yet without ostentation I may say,
I do as much for thee another way:
And though I grant, thou art my helper here,
No debtor I because it's paid else where.
With all your flourishes, now Sisters three
Who is't that dare, or can, compare with me,
My excellencies are so great, so many,
I am confounded; fore I speak of any:
The brain's the noblest member all allow,
Its form and Scituation will avow,
Its Ventricles, Membranes and wondrous net,
Galen, Hippocrates drive to a set;
That Divine Ofspring the immortal Soul
Though it in all, and every part be whole,
Within this stately place of eminence,
Doth doubtless keep its mighty residence.
And surely, the Soul sensitive here lives,
Which life and motion to each creature gives,
The Conjugation of the parts, to th'braine
Doth shew, hence flow the pow'rs which they retain
Within this high Built Cittadel, doth lye
The Reason, fancy, and the memory;
The faculty of speech doth here abide,
The Spirits animal, from hence do slide:
The five most noble Senses here do dwell;
Of three it's hard to say, which doth excell.
This point now to discuss, 'longs not to me,
I'le touch the sight, great'st wonder of the three;
The optick Nerve, Coats, humours all are mine,
The watry, glassie, and the Chrystaline;
O mixture strange! O colour colourless,
Thy perfect temperament who can express:
He was no fool who thought the soul lay there,
Whence her affections passions speak so clear.
O good, O bad, O true, O traiterous eyes
What wonderments within your Balls there lyes,
Of all the Senses sight shall be the Queen;
Yet some may wish, O had mine eyes ne're seen.
Mine, likewise is the marrow, of the back,
Which runs through all the Spondles of the rack,
It is the substitute o'th royal brain,
All Nerves, except seven pair, to it retain.
And the strong Ligaments from hence arise,
Which joynt to joynt, the intire body tyes.
Some other parts there issue from the Brain,
Whose worth and use to tell, I must refrain:
Some curious learned Crooke, may these reveal
But modesty, hath charg'd me to conceal
Here's my Epitome of excellence:
For what's the Brains is mine by Consequence.
A foolish brain (quoth Choler) wanting heat
But a mad one say I, where 'tis too great,
Phrensie's worse then folly, one would more glad
With a tame fool converse then with a mad;
For learning then my brain is not the fittest,
Nor will I yield that Choler is the wittiest.
Thy judgement is unsafe, thy fancy little,
For memory the sand is not more brittle;
Again, none's fit for Kingly state but thou,
If Tyrants be the best, I le it allow:
But if love be as requisite as fear,
Then thou and I must make a mixture here.
Well to be brief, I hope now Cholers laid,
And I'le pass by what Sister sanguine said.
To Melancholy I le make no reply,
The worst she said was instability,
And too much talk, both which I here confess
A warning good, hereafter I'le say less.
Let's now be friends; its time our spight were spent,
Lest we too late this rashness do repent,
Such premises will force a sad conclusion,
Unless we agree, all falls into confusion.
Let Sangine with her hot hand Choler hold,
To take her moist my moisture will be bold:
My cold, cold melancholy hand shall clasp;
Her dry, dry Cholers other hand shall grasp.
Two hot, two moist, two cold, two dry here be,
A golden Ring, the Posey VNITY.
Nor jarrs nor scoffs, let none hereafter see,
But all admire our perfect Amity
Nor be discern'd, here's water, earth, air, fire,
But here a compact body, whole intire.
This loving counsel pleas'd them all so well
That flegm was judg'd for kindness to excell.
Anne Bradstreet's Other Poems
Read this poem in other languages
This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.
Comments about this poem (Of the four Humours in Mans Constitution. by Anne Bradstreet )
Still I Rise
The Road Not Taken
If You Forget Me
Edgar Allan Poe
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
A Dream Within A Dream
Edgar Allan Poe
(10 December 1830 – 15 May 1886)
(4 April 1928 - 28 May 2014)
(March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963)
(1 February 1902 – 22 May 1967)
Edgar Allan Poe
(19 January 1809 - 7 October 1849)
(12 July 1904 – 23 September 1973)
(30 December 1865 – 18 January 1936)
(26 April 1564 - 23 April 1616)
(28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827)