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Alexander Pope (1688–1744). Complete Poetical Works. 1903.

Early Poems: Imitations of English Poets

Earl of Rochester: On Silence

SILENCE! coeval with Eternity,

Thou wert ere Nature’s self began to be,

’T was one vast nothing all, and all slept fast in thee.

Thine was the sway ere Heav’n was form’d, or earth,

Ere fruitful thought conceiv’d Creation’s birth,

Or midwife word gave aid, and spoke the infant forth.

Then various elements against thee join’d,

In one more various animal combin’d,

And framed the clam’rous race of busy humankind.

The tongue mov’d gently first, and speech was low,

Till wrangling Science taught its noise and show,

And wicked Wit arose, thy most abusive foe.

But rebel Wit deserts thee oft in vain;

Lost in the maze of words he turns again,

And seeks a surer state, and courts thy gentle reign.

Afflicted Sense thou kindly dost set free,

Oppress’d with argumental tyranny,

And routed Reason finds a safe retreat in thee.

With thee in private modest Dulness lies,

And in thy bosom lurks in thought’s disguise;

Thou varnisher of fools, and cheat of all the wise!

Yet thy indulgence is by both confest;

Folly by thee lies sleeping in the breast,

And ’t is in thee at last that Wisdom seeks for rest.

Silence, the knave’s repute, the whore’s good name,

The only honour of the wishing dame;

The very want of tongue makes thee a kind of Fame.

But couldst thou seize some tongues that now are free,

How Church and State should be obliged to thee!

At Senate and at Bar how welcome wouldst thou be!

Yet speech, ev’n there, submissively withdraws

From rights of subjects, and the poor man’s cause;

Then pompous Silence reigns, and stills the noisy Laws.

Past services of friends, good deeds of foes,

What fav’rites gain, and what the nation owes,

Fly the forgetful world, and in thy arms repose.

The country wit, religion of the town,

The courtier’s learning, policy o’ th’ gown,

Are best by thee express’d, and shine in thee alone.

The parson’s cant, the lawyer’s sophistry,

Lord’s quibble, critic’s jest, all end in thee;

All rest in peace at last, and sleep eternally.