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Solomon on the Vanity of the World, A Poem. In Three Books. - Knowledge. Book I.

The bewailing of man's miseries hath been elegantly and copiously set forth by many, in the writings as well of philosophers as divines; and it is both a pleasant and a profitable contemplation.
~
Lord Bacon's Advancement of Learning.

The Argument

Solomon, seeking happiness from knowledge, convenes the learned men of his kingdom; requires them to explain to him the various operations and effects of Nature; discourses of vegetables, animals and man; proposes some questions concerning the origin and situation of the habitable earth: proceeds to examine the system of the visible heaven: doubts if there may not be a plurality of worlds; inquires into the nature of spirits and angels, and wishes to be more fully informed as to the attributes of the Supreme Being. He is imperfectly answered by the Rabbins and Doctors; blames his own curiosity: and concludes that, as to human science, All Is Vanity.

Ye sons of men with just regard attend,
Observe the preacher, and believe the friend,
Whose serious muse inspires him to explain
That all we act and all we think is vain:
That in this pilgrimage of seventy years,
O'er rocks of perils and through vales of tears
Destined to march, our doubtful steps we tend,
Tired with the toil, yet fearful of its end:
That from the womb we take our fatal shares
Of follies, passions, labours, tumults, cares;
And at approach of death shall only know
The truths which from these pensive numbers flow,
That we pursue false joy and suffer real wo.

Happiness! object of that waking dream
Which we call life, mistaking; fugitive theme
Of my pursuing verse: ideal shade,
Notional good; by fancy only made,
And by tradition nursed; fallacious fire,
Whose dancing beams mislead our fond desire;
Cause of our care, and error of our mind:
Oh! hadst thou ever been by Heaven design'd
To Adam, and his mortal race, the boon
Entire had been reserved for Solomon;
On me the partial lot had been bestow'd,
And in my cup the golden draught had flow'd.

But, O! ere yet original man was made,
Ere the foundations of this earth were laid,
It was opponent to our search ordain'd,
That joy still sought should never be attain'd:
This sad experience cites me to reveal,
And what I dictate is from what I feel.

Born, as I as, great David's favourite son,
Dear to my people on the Hebrew throne,
Sublime my court, with Ophir's treasures bless'd.
My name extended to the farthest east,
My body clothed with every outward grace,
Strength in my limbs, and beauty in my face,
My shining thought with fruitful notions crown'd,
Quick my invention, and my judgement sound:
Arise, (I communed with myself) arise,
Think to be happy; to be great be wise;
Content of spirit must from science flow,
For 'tis a godlike attribute to know.

I said, and sent my edict through the land;
Around my throne the letter'd Rabbins stand,
Historic leaves revolve, long volumes spread,
The old discoursing as the younger read!
Attend I heard, proposed my doubts, and said:

The vegetable world, each plant and tree,
Its seed, its name, its nature, its degree,
I am allow'd, as Fame reports, to know,
From the fair cedar on the craggy brow
Of Lebanon nodding supremely tall,
To creeping moss, and hyssop on the wall;
Yet just and conscious to myself, I find
A thousand doubts oppose the searching mind.

I know not why the beach delights the glade,
With boughs extended and a rounder shade,
Whilst towering firs in conic forms arise,
And with a pointed spear divide the skies:
Nor why again the changing oak should shell
The yearly honour of his stately head,
Whilst the distinguish'd yew is ever seen
Unchanged his branch, and permanent his green;
Wanting the sun why does the caltha fade?
Why does the cypress flourish in the shade?
The fig and date, why love they to remain
In middle station and an even plain,
While in the lower marsh the gourd is found,
And while the hill with olive shade is crown'd?
Why does one climate and one soil endue
The blushing poppy with a crimson hue,
Yet leave the lily pale, and tinge the violet blue?
Why does the fond carnation love to shoot
A various colour from one parent root,
While the fantastic tulip strives to break
In twofold beauty and a parted streak?
The twining jasmine and the blushing rose
With lavish grace their morning scents disclose;
The smelling tuberose and jonquil declare,
The stronger impulse of an evening air.
Whence has the tree (resolve me) or the flower
A various instinct or a different power?
Why should one earth, one clime, one stre
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Matthew Prior

Matthew Prior was an English poet and diplomat. more…

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    "Solomon on the Vanity of the World, A Poem. In Three Books. - Knowledge. Book I." Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 22 Sep. 2021. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/27397/solomon-on-the-vanity-of-the-world,-a-poem.-in-three-books.---knowledge.-book-i.>.

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