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Of Experience. From Proverbial Philosophy

I KNEW that age was enriched with the hard-earned wages of knowledge,
And I saw that hoary wisdom was bred in the school of disappointment:
I noted that the wisest of youth, though provident and cautious of evil,
Yet sailed along misteadily, as lacking some ballast of the mind:
And the cause seemed to lie in this, that while they considered around them,
And warded off all dangers from without, they forgat their own weakness within.
So steer they in self-confidence, until, from the multitude of perils,
They begin to be wary of themselves, and learn the first lesson of Experience.
I knew that in the morning of life, before its wearisome Journey,
The youthful soul doth expand, in the simple luxury of being;
It hath not contracted its wishes, nor set a limit to its hopes;
The wing of fancy is unclipt, and sin hath not seared the feelings:
Each feature is stamped with immortality, for all its desires are infinite,
And it seeketh an ocean of happiness, to fill the deep hollow within.
But the old and the grave look on, pitying that generous youth,
For they also have tasted long ago the bitterness of hope destroyed:
They pity him, and are sad, remembering the days that are past,
But they know he must taste for himself, or he will not give ear to their wisdom.
For Experience hath another lesson, which a man will do well if he learn,
By checking the flight of expectation, to cheat disap- pointment of its pain.
Experience teacheth many things, and all men are his scholars:
Yet is he a strange tutor, unteaching that which he hath taught.
Youth is confident, manhood wary, and old age confident again:
Youth is kind, manhood cold, and age retumeth unto kindness.
For youth suspecteth nought, till manhood, bitterly learned,
Mistrusteth all, overleaping the mark; and age correcteth his excess.
Suspicion is the scaffold unto faith, a temporaiy needful eyesore,


By which the strong man's dwelling is slowly builded up behind;
But soon as the top-stone hath been set to the well proved goodly pyramid,
The scaffold is torn down, and well-timed trust taketh its long leave of suspicion.
A thousand volumes in a thousand tongues enshrine the lessons of Experience,
Yet a man shall read them all, and go forth none the wiser:
For self-love lendeth him a glass, to colour all he conneth,
Lest in the features of another he find his own complexion.
And we secretly judge of ourselves as differing greatly from all men,
And love to challenge causes to show how we can master their effects:
Pride is pampered in expecting that we need not fear a common fate,
Or wrong-headed prejudice exulteth, in combating old experience;
Or perchance caprice and discontent are the spurs that goad us into danger,
Careless, and half in hope to find there an enemy to joust with.
Private experience is an unsafe teacher, for we rarely learn both sides,
And from the gilt surface reckon not on steel beneath:
The torrid sons of Guinea think scorn of icy seas,
And the frostbitten Greenlander disbelieveth suns too hot.
But thou, student of Wisdom, feed on the marrow of the matter;
If thou wilt suspect, let it be thyself; if thou wilt expect, let it not be gladness.

Transcribed from Proverbial Philosophy by Mick Puttock, August 2011 (Spelling, punctuation and grammer left mostly unchanged from the 25th edition)


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Submitted on August 03, 2020

2:54 min read

Martin Farquhar Tupper

Martin Farquhar Tupper was an English writer and poet more…

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