by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (1647-1680)
Nothing, thou elder brother even to shade,
That hadst a being ere the world was made,
And (well fixed) art alone of ending not afraid.
Ere time and place were, time and place were not,
When primitive Nothing Something straight begot,
Then all proceeded from the great united—What?
Something, the general attribute of all,
Severed from thee, its sole original,
Into thy boundless self must undistinguished fall.
Yet Something did thy mighty power command,
And from thy fruitful emptiness’s hand,
Snatched men, beasts, birds, fire, air, and land.
Matter, the wickedest offspring of thy race,
By Form assisted, flew from thy embrace,
And rebel Light obscured thy reverend dusky face.
With Form and Matter, Time and Place did join,
Body, thy foe, with these did leagues combine
To spoil thy peaceful realm, and ruin all thy line.
But turncoat Time assists the foe in vain,
And, bribed by thee, assists thy short-lived reign,
And to thy hungry womb drives back thy slaves again.
Though mysteries are barred from laic eyes,
And the Divine alone with warrant pries
Into thy bosom, where thy truth in private lies,
Yet this of thee the wise may freely say,
Thou from the virtuous nothing takest away,
And to be part of thee the wicked wisely pray.
Great Negative, how vainly would the wise
Inquire, define, distinguish, teach, devise?
Didst thou not stand to point their dull philosophies.
Is, or is not, the two great ends of Fate,
And true or false, the subject of debate,
That perfects, or destroys, the vast designs of Fate,
When they have racked the politician’s breast,
Within thy bosom most securely rest,
And, when reduced to thee, are least unsafe and best.
But Nothing, why does Something still permit
That sacred monarchs should at council sit
With persons highly thought at best for nothing fit?
Whist weighty Something modestly abstains
From princes’ coffers, and from statesmen’s brains,
And Nothing there like stately Nothing reigns,
Nothing, who dwellest with fools in grave disguise,
For whom they reverend shapes and forms devise,
Lawn sleeves, and furs, and gowns, when they like thee look wise.
French truth, Dutch prowess, British policy,
Hibernian learning, Scotch civility,
Spaniard’s dispatch, Dane’s wit are mainly seen in thee.
The great man’s gratitude to his best friend,
King’s promises, whore’s vows, towards thee they bend,
Flow swiftly to thee, and in thee never end.