A Celebration of Women Writers

"The Miseries of Man" by Mrs. Anne Killigrew (c.1660-1685).
From Killigrew, Anne. Poems 1686. Facs. edn., ed. R. E. Morton. Gainesville, Florida: Scholars, 1967. pp. 32-43.

[Page 32]

The Miseries of Man.

IN that so temperate Soil Arcadia nam'd,
For fertile Pasturage by Poets fam'd;
Stands a steep Hill, whose lofty jetting Crown,
Casts o'er the neighbouring Plains, a seeming Frown;
Close at its mossie Foot an aged Wood,
Compos'd of various Trees, there long has stood,
Whose thick united Tops scorn the Sun's Ray,
And hardly will admit the Eye of Day.
By oblique windings through this gloomy Shade,
Has a clear purling Stream its Passage made,
The Nimph, as discontented seem'd t'ave chose
This sad Recess to murmur forth her Woes.

  To this Retreat, urg'd by tormenting Care,
The melancholly Cloris did repair,

[Page 33]

As a fit Place to take the sad Relief
Of Sighs and Tears, to ease oppressing Grief.
Near to the Mourning Nimph she chose a Seat,
And these Complaints did to the Shades repeat.

  Ah wretched, truly wretched Humane Race!
Your Woes from what Beginning shall I trace,
Where End, from your first feeble New-born Cryes,
To the last Tears that wet your dying Eyes?
Man, Common Foe, assail'd on ev'ry hand,
Finds that no Ill does Neuter by him stand,
Inexorable Death, Lean Poverty,
Pale Sickness, ever sad Captivity.
Can I, alas, the sev'ral Parties name,
Which, muster'd up, the Dreadful Army frame?
And sometimes in One Body all Unite,
Sometimes again do separately fight:
While sure Success on either Way does waite,
Either a Swift, or else a Ling'ring Fate.

  But why 'gainst thee, O Death! should I inveigh,
That to our Quiet art the only way?

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And yet I would (could I thy Dart command)
Crie, Here O strike! and there O hold thy Hand!
The Lov'd, the Happy, and the Youthful spare,
And end the Sad, the Sick, the Poor Mans Care.
But whether thou or Blind, or Cruel art,
Whether 'tis Chance, or Malice, guides thy Dart,
Thou from the Parents Arms dost pull away
The hopeful Child, their Ages only stay:
The Two, whom Friendship in dear Bands has ty'd,
Thou dost with a remorseless hand devide;
Friendship, the Cement, that does faster twine
Two Souls, than that which Soul and Body joyn:
Thousands have been, who their own Blood did spill,
But never any yet his Friend did kill.
Then 'gainst thy Dart what Armour can be found,
Who, where thou do'st not strike, do'st deepest wound?
Thy Pitty, than thy Wrath's more bitter far,
Most cruel, where 'twould seem the most to spare:
Yet thou of many Evils art but One,
Though thou by much too many art alone.

[Page 35]

  What shall I say of Poverty, whence flows?
To miserable Man so many Woes?
Rediculous Evil which too oft we prove,
Does Laughter cause, where it should Pitty move;
Solitary Ill, into which no Eye,
Though ne're so Curious, ever cares to pry,
And were there, 'mongst such plenty, onely One
Poor Man, he certainly would live alone.

  Yet Poverty does leave the Man entire,
But Sickness nearer Mischiefs does conspire;
Invades the Body with a loath'd Embrace,
Prides both its Strength, and Beauty to deface;
Nor does its Malice in these bounds restrain,
But shakes the Throne of Sacred Wit, the Brain,
And with a ne're enough detested Force
Reason disturbs, and turns out of its Course.
Again, when Nature some Rare Piece has made,
On which her Utmost Skill she seems t'ave laid,
Polish't, adorn'd the Work with moving Grace,
And in the Beauteous Frame a Soul doth place,

[Page 36]

So perfectly compos'd, it makes Divine
Each Motion, Word, and Look from thence does shine;
This Goodly Composition, the Delight
Of ev'ry Heart, and Joy of ev'ry sight,
Its peevish Malice has the Power to spoyle,
And with a Sully'd Hand its Lusture soyle.
The Grief were Endless, that should all bewaile,
Against whose sweet Repose thou dost prevail:
Some freeze with Agues, some with Feavers burn,
Whose Lives thou half out of their Holds dost turn;
And of whose Sufferings it may be said,
They living feel the very State o'th' Dead.
Thou in a thousand sev'ral Forms are drest,
And in them all dost Wretched man infest.

  And yet as if these Evils were too few,
Men their own Kind with hostile Arms pursue;
Not Heavens fierce Wrath, nor yet the Hate of Hell,
Not any Plague that e're the World befel,
Not Inundations, Famines, Fires blind rage,
Did ever Mortals equally engage,

[Page 37]

As Man does Man, more skilful to annoy,
Both Mischievous and Witty to destroy.
The bloody Wolf, the Wolf does not pursue;
The Boar, though fierce, his Tusk will not embrue
In his own Kind, Bares, not on Bares do prey:
Then art thou, Man, more savage far than they.

  And now, methinks, I present do behold
The Bloudy Fields that are in Fame enroll'd,
I see, I see thousands in Battle slain,
The Dead and Dying cover all the Plain,
Confused Noises hear, each way sent out,
The Vanquisht Cries joyn'd with the Victors shout;
Their Sighs and Groans who draw a painful Breath,
And feel the Pangs of slow approaching Death:
Yet happier these, far happier are the Dead,
Than who into Captivity are led:
What by their Chains, and by the Victors Pride,
We pity these, and envy those that dy'd.
And who can say, when Thousands are betray'd,
To Widdowhood, Orphants or Childless made.

[Page 38]

Whither the Day does draw more Tears or Blood,
A greater Chrystal, or a Crimson Floud.
The faithful Wife, who late her Lord did Arm,
And hop'd to shield, by holy Vows, from Harm,
Follow'd his parting-steps with Love and Care,
Sent after weeping Eyes, while he afar
Rod heated on, born by a brave Disdain,
May now go seek him, lying 'mong the Slain:
Low on the Earth she'l find his lofty Crest,
And those refulgent Arms which late his Breast
Did guard, by rough Encounters broke and tore,
His Face and Hair, with Brains all clotted ore.
And Warlike Weeds besmeer'd with Dust and Gore.

  And will the Suffering World never bestow
Upon th'Accursed Causers of such Woe,
A vengeance that may parallel their Loss,
Fix Publick Thieves and Robbers on the Cross?
Such as call Ruine, Conquest, in their Pride,
And having plagu'd Mankind, in Triumph ride.
Like that renowned Murderer who staines
In these our days Alsatias fertile Plains,

[Page 39]

Only to fill the future Tromp of Fame,
Though greater Crimes, than Glory it proclame.
Alcides, Scourge of Thieves, return to Earth,
Which uncontrolled gives such Monsters birth;
On Scepter'd-Cacus let thy Power be shown,
Pull him not from his Den, but from his Throne.

  Clouds of black Thoughts her further Speech here broke,
Her swelling Grief too great was to be spoke,
Which strugl'd long in her tormented Mind,
Till it some Vent by Sighs and Tears did find.
And when her Sorrow something was subdu'd,
She thus again her sad Complaint renewed.

  Most Wretched Man, were th'Ills I nam'd before
All which I could in thy sad State deplore,
Did Things without alone 'gainst thee prevail,
My Tongue I'de chide, that them I did bewaile:
But, Shame to Reason, thou art seen to be
Unto thy self the fatall'st Enemy,
Within thy Breast the Greatest Plagues to bear,
First them to breed, and then to cherish there;

[Page 40]

Unmanag'd Passions which the Reins have broke
Of Reason, and refuse to bear its Yoke.
But hurry thee, uncurb'd, from place to place,
A wild, unruly, and an Uncouth Chace.
Now cursed Gold does lead the Man astray,
False flatt'ring Honours do anon betray,
Then Beauty does as dang'rously delude,
Beauty, that vanishes, while 'tis pursu'd,
That, while we do behold it, fades away,
And even a Long Encomium will not stay.

  Each one of these can the Whole Man employ,
Nor knows he anger, sorrow, fear, or joy,
But what to these relate; no Thought does start
Aside, but tends to its appointed Part,
No Respite to himself from Cares he gives,
But on the Rack of Expectation lives.
If crost, the Torment cannot be exprest,
Which boyles within his agitated Breast.
Musick is harsh, all Mirth is an offence,
The Choicest Meats cannot delight his Sense,

[Page 41]

Hard as the Earth he feels his Downy Bed,
His Pillow stufft with Thornes, that bears his Head,
He rolls from side to side, in vain seeks Rest;
For if sleep comes at last to the Distrest,
His Troubles then cease not to vex him too,
But Dreams present, what he does waking do.
On th'other side, if he obtains the Prey,
And Fate to his impetuous Sute gives way,
Be he or Rich, or Amorous, or Great,
He'll find this Riddle still of a Defeat,
That only Care, for Bliss, he home has brought,
Or else Contempt of what he so much fought.
So that on each Event if we reflect,
The Joys and Sufferings of both sides collect,
We cannot say where lies the greatest Pain,
In the fond Pursuit, Loss, or Empty Gain.

  And can it be, Lord of the Sea and Earth,
Off-spring of Heaven, that to thy State and Birth
Things so incompatible should be joyn'd,
Passions should thee confound, to Heaven assign'd?

[Page 42]

Passions that do the Soul unguarded lay,
And to the strokes of Fortune ope' a way.
Were't not that these thy Force did from thee take,
How bold, how brave Resistance would'st thou make ?
Defie the Strength and Malice of thy Foes,
Unmoved stand the Worlds United Blows ?
For what is't, Man, unto thy Better Part,
That thou or Sick, or Poor, or Captive art ?
Since no Material Stroke the Soul can feel,
The smart of Fire, or yet the Edge of Steel.
As little can it Worldly Joys partake,
Though it the Body does its Agent make,
And joyntly with it Servile Labour bear,
For Things, alas, in which it cannot share.
Surveigh the Land and Sea by Heavens embrac't,
Thou'lt find no sweet th'Immortal Soul can tast:
Why dost thou then, O Man! thy self torment
Good here to gain, or Evils to prevent?
Who only Miserable or Happy art,
As thou neglects, or wisely act'st thy Part.

  For shame then rouse thy self as from a Sleep,
The long neglected Reins let Reason keep,

[Page 43]

The Charret mount, and use both Lash and Bit,
Nobly resolve, and thou wilt firmly fit:
Fierce Anger, boggling Fear, Pride prauncing still,
Bounds-hating Hope, Desire which nought can fill,
Are stubborn all, but thou may'st give them Law;
Th'are hard-Mouth'd Horses, bu they well can draw.
Lash on, and the well-govern'd Charret drive,
Till thou a Victor at the Goal arrive,
Where the free Soul does all her burden leave,
And Joys commensurate to her self receive.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom