Of the Courtier's Life
Of the Courtier’s Life, written to John Poins
Mine own John Poins, since ye delight to know
The causes why that homeward I me draw,
And fly the press of Courts, where so they go;
Rather than to live thrall under the awe
Of lordly looks; wrapped within my cloak;
To will and lust learning to set a law:
It is not that because I scorn or mock
The power of them, whom fortune here hath lent
Charge over us, of right to strike the stroke:
But true it is that I have always meant
Less to esteem them than the common sort,
Of outward things that judge in their intent
Without regard what inward doth resort.
I grant, sometime of glory that the fire
Doth touch my heart. Me list not to report
Blame by honour, and honour to desire.
But how may I this honour now attain,
That cannot dye the colour black a liar?
My Poins, I cannot frame my tune to feign,
To cloak the truth, for praise without desert
Of them that list all vice for to retain.
I cannot honour them that set their part
With Venus, and Bacchus, all their life long;
Nor hold my peace of them, although I smart
I cannot crouch nor kneel to such a wrong;
To worship them like God on earth alone,
That are as wolves these sely lambs among.
I cannot with my words complain and moan,
And suffer nought; nor smart without complaint:
Nor turn the word that from my mouth is gone.
I cannot speak and look like as a saint;
Use wiles for wit, and make deceit a pleasure
Call craft counsel, for lucre still to paint.
I cannot wrest the law to fill the coffer,
With innocent blood to feed myself fat,
And do most hurt, where that most help I offer.
I am not he, that can allow the state
Of high Cæsar, and damn Cato to die,
That with his death did scape out of the gate
From Cæsar’s hands, if Livy doth not lie;
And would not live where liberty was lost;
So did his heart the common wealth apply.
I am not he, such eloquence to boast,
To make the crow in singing as the swan;
Nor call the lion of coward beasts the most;
That cannot take a mouse as the cat can:
And he that dieth for hunger of the gold,
Call him Alexander; and say that Pan
Passeth Apollo in music manifold:
Praise Sir Topas for a noble tale,
And scorn the story that the Knight told:
Praise him for counsel that is drunk of ale;
Grin when he laughs, that beareth all the sway,
Frown when he frowns, and groan when he is pale
On others’ lust to hang both night and day.
None of these points could ever frame in me:
My wit is nought, I cannot learn the way.
And much the less of things that greater be,
That asken help of colours to devise:
To join the mean with each extremity,
With nearest virtue aye to clothe the vice:
And, as to purpose likewise it shall fall,
To press the virtue that it may not rise:
As drunkenness good fellowship to call;
The friendly foe, with his fair double face,
Say he is gentle, and courteous therewithal;
Affirm that Favel hath a goodly grace
In eloquence: and cruelty to name
Zeal of justice, and change in time and place:
And he that suffereth offence without blame,
Call him pitiful; and him true and plain,
That raileth rechless unto each man’s shame.
Say he is rude, that cannot lie and feign;
The lecher a lover; and tyranny
To be the right of a prince’s reign:
I cannot I, no, no, it will not be.
This is the cause that I could never yet
Hang on their sleeves that weigh, as thou mayst see,
A chip of chance more than a pound of wit:
This maketh me at home to hunt and hawk:
And in foul weather at my book to sit;
In frost and snow, then with my bow to stalk;
No man doth mark whereso I ride or go:
In lusty leas at liberty I walk;
And of these news I feel nor weal nor woe;
Save that a clog doth hang yet at my heel.
No force for that, for it is order’d so,
That I may leap both hedge and dyke full well.
I am not now in France, to judge the wine;
With savoury sauce those delicates to feel:
Nor yet in Spain, where one must him incline,
Rather than to be, outwardly to seem.
I meddle not with wits that be so fine;
Nor Flander’s cheer lets not my sight to deem
Of black, and white; nor takes my wits away
With beastliness; such do those beasts esteem,
Nor I am not, where truth is given in prey
For money, poison, and treason; of some
A common practice, used night and day.
But I am here in Kent and Christendom;
Among the Muses, where I read and rhyme;
Where if thou list, mine own John Poins, to come,
Thou shalt be judge how I do spend my time.
This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.