(Poem #1336) Of Human Knowledge
I know my body's of so frail a kind, As force without, fevers within can kill; I know the heavenly nature of my mind, But 'tis corrupted both in wit and will. I know my Soul hath power to know all things, Yet is she blind and ignorant in all; I know I am one of Nature's little kings, Yet to the least and vilest things am thrall. I know my life's a pain and but a span, I know my Sense is mock'd with every thing: And to conclude, I know myself a MAN, Which is a proud, and yet a wretched thing.
From Nosce Teipsum ('know thyself'), published in 1599. One thing I like about the Elizabethan and metaphysical poets is the wonderfully _assured_ quality of their verse. The Sonnets are perhaps the canonical example of this: again and again Shakespeare uses the most unexpected of words, yet on closer inspection these words are revealed to be absolutely, incontrovertibly _right_ for their contexts. Even the lesser poets of those days -- Campion, Peele and yes, John Davies -- seem to have this quality in spades. I think it has a lot to do with the intellectual climate of the time. The late 15th and early 16th centuries saw a confluence of factors -- the humanistic ideals of the Renaissance, the emergence of England as a seafaring power, the maturing of the English language, the merging of Italianate and classical prosody with the folk songs and ballads of the English countryside -- which combined to spark into life a poetry that was confident and self-assured, exploring brave new themes in a language perfectly suited to its purpose. English poetry had broken free of the intellectual and thematic limitations of the Middle Ages, and had yet to be entangled in the stifling conventions of the Augustan period. A true golden age, responsible for such gems as today's poem. thomas. A biography of Sir John Davies can be found at Luminarium: http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/daviebio.htm