Category Archives: Francis Quarles (1592-1644)

Francis Quarles (1592-1644)

Francis Quarles was a surprise find for me–he’s missing from most introductory surveys of poetry. Which is a shame, because he’s absolutely brilliant in the way he represents human experience and religious imagery. See for yourself:

On Jacob’s Purchase

How poor was Jacob’s motion, and how strange
His offer! How unequal was th’exchange!
A mess of porridge for inheritance?
Why could not hungry Esau strive t’enhance
His price a little? So much underfoot?
Well might he give him bread and drink to boot:
An easy price! The case is even our own;
For toys we often sell our Heaven, our Crown.

On the Babel-Builders

Sure, if those Babel-builders had thought good
To raise their heaven-high tower before the flood,
The wiser sort of people might deride
Their folly, and that folly had salved their pride;
Or had their faiths but enterprised that plot,
Their hearts had finished what their hands could not;
‘Twas not for love of heaven: nor did they aim
So much to raise a building, as a name:
They that by works shall seek to make intrusion
To heaven, find nothing but their own confusion.

The Vanity of the World

False world, thou ly’st: thou canst not lend
The least delight:
Thy favors cannot gain a friend,
They are so slight:
Thy morning pleasures make an end
To please at night:
Poor are the wants that thou supply’st,
And yet thou vaunt’st, and yet thou vy’st
With heaven; fond earth, thou boasts; false world, thou ly’st.

Thy babbling tongue tells golden tales
Of endless treasure;
Thy bounty offers easy sales
Of lasting pleasure;
Thou ask’st the conscience what she ails,
And swear’st to ease her;
There’s none can want where thou supply’st:
There’s none can give where thou deny’st.
Alas! fond world, thou boasts; false world, thou ly’st.

What well-advised ear regards
What earth can say?
Thy words are gold, but thy rewards
Are painted clay:
Thy cunning can but pack the cards,
Thou canst not play:
Thy game at weakest, still thou vy’st;
If seen, and the revy’d deny’st:
Thou art not what thou seemst; false world, thou ly’st.

Thy tinsel bosom seems a mint
Of new-coined treasure;
A paradise, that has no stint,
No change, no measure;
A painted cask, but nothing in’t,
Nor wealth, nor pleasure:
Vain earth! that falsely thus comply’st
With man; vain man! that thou rely’st
On earth; vain man, thou dot’st; vain earth, thou ly’st.

What mean dull souls, in this high measure,
To haberdash
In earth’s base wares, whose greatest treasure
Is dross and trash!
The height of whose enchanting pleasure
Is but a flash?
Are these the goods that thou supply’st
Us mortals with? Are these the high’st?
Can these bring cordial peace? false world, thou ly’st.

Nahum 2.10

She’s empty: hark, she sounds: there’s nothing there
But noise to fill thy ear;
Thy vain enquiry can at length but find
A blast of murmuring wind:
It is a cask, that seems as full as fair
But merely tunned with air:
Fond youth, go build thy hopes on other grounds:
The soul that vainly founds
Her joys upon this world but feeds on empty sounds.

She’s empty: hark, she sounds: there’s nothing in’t
The spark-engendering flint
Shall sooner melt, and hardest raunce shall first
Dissolve and quench thy thirst;
Ere this false world shall still thy stormy breast
With smooth-faced calms of rest:
Thou mayst as well expect Meridian light
From shades of black-mouthed night,
As in this empty world to find a full delight.

She’s empty: hark, she sounds: ‘tis void and vast;
What if some flattering blast
Of fatuous honor should perchance be there,
And whisper in thine ear:
It is but wind, and blows but where it list,
And vanishes like a mist:
Poor honor earth can give! What generous mind
Would be so base to bind
Her Heaven-bred soul a slave to serve a blast of wind?

She’s empty: hark, she sounds: ‘tis but a ball
For fools to play withal:
The painted film but of a stronger bubble,
That’s lined with silken trouble:
It is a world, whose work and recreation
Is vanity and vexation?
A hag, repaired with vice-complexion, paint,
A quest-house of complaint:
It is a saint, a fiend; worse fiend, when most a saint.