John Henry Dryden

Here you will find the Long Poem Religio Laici of poet John Henry Dryden

Religio Laici


 Dim, as the borrow'd beams of moon and stars
 To lonely, weary, wand'ring travellers,
 Is reason to the soul; and as on high,
 Those rolling fires discover but the sky
 Not light us here; so reason's glimmering ray
 Was lent not to assure our doubtful way,
 But guide us upward to a better day.
 And as those nightly tapers disappear
 When day's bright lord ascends our hemisphere
 So pale grows reason at religion's sight:
 So dies, and so dissolves in supernatural light.
 Some few, whose lamp shone brighter, have been led
 From cause to cause, to Nature's secret head;
 And found that one first principle must be:
 But what, or who, that Universal He;
 Whether some soul incompassing this ball
 Unmade, unmov'd; yet making, moving all;
 Or various atoms'interfering dance
 Leapt into form (the noble work of chance
 Or this great all was from eternity;
 Not even the Stagirite himself could see;
 And Epicurus guess'd as well as he:
 As blindly grop'd they for a future state;
 As rashly judg'd of Providence and Fate:
 But least of all could their endeavours find
 What most concern'd the good of human kind.
 For happiness was never to be found;
 But vanish'd from 'em, like enchanted ground.
 One thought content the good to be enjoy'd:
 This, every little accident destroy'd:
 The wiser madmen did for virtue toil:
 A thorny, or at best a barren soil:
 In pleasure some their glutton souls would steep;
 But found their line too short, the well too deep;
 And leaky vessels which no bliss could keep.
 Thus anxious thoughts in endless circles roll,
 Without a centre where to fix the soul:
 In this wild maze their vain endeavours end:
 How can the less the greater comprehend?
 Or finite reason reach infinity?
 For what could fathom God were more than He.

 The Deist thinks he stands on firmer ground;
 Cries [lang g]eur{-e}ka[lang e] the mighty secret's found:
 God is that spring of good; supreme, and best;
 We, made to serve, and in that service blest;
 If so, some rules of worship must be given;
 Distributed alike to all by Heaven:
 Else God were partial, and to some deny'd
 The means his justice should for all provide.
 This general worship is to PRAISE, and PRAY:
 One part to borrow blessings, one to pay:
 And when frail Nature slides into offence,
 The sacrifice for crimes is penitence.
 Yet, since th'effects of providence, we find
 Are variously dispens'd to human kind;
 That vice triumphs, and virtue suffers here,
 (A brand that sovereign justice cannot bear
 Our reason prompts us to a future state:
 The last appeal from fortune, and from fate:
 Where God's all-righteous ways will be declar'd;
 The bad meet punishment, the good, reward.

 Thus man by his own strength to Heaven would soar:
 And would not be oblig'd to God for more.
 Vain, wretched creature, how art thou misled
 To think thy wit these god-like notions bred!
 These truths are not the product of thy mind,
 But dropt from Heaven, and of a nobler kind.
 Reveal'd religion first inform'd thy sight,
 And reason saw not, till faith sprung the light.
 Hence all thy natural worship takes the source:
 'Tis revelation what thou think'st discourse.
 Else how com'st thou to see these truths so clear,
 Which so obscure to heathens did appear?
 Not Plato these, nor Aristotle found:
 Nor he whose wisdom oracles renown'd.
 Hast thou a wit so deep, or so sublime,
 Or canst thou lower dive, or higher climb?
 Canst thou, by reason, more of God-head know
 Than Plutarch, Seneca, or Cicero?
 Those giant wits, in happier ages born,
 (When arms, and arts did Greece and Rome adorn)
 Knew no such system; no such piles could raise
 Of natural worship, built on pray'r and praise,
 To one sole God.
 Nor did remorse, to expiate sin, prescribe:
 But slew their fellow creatures for a bribe:
 The guiltless victim groan'd for their offence;
 And cruelty, and blood was penitence.
 If sheep and oxen could atone for men
 Ah! at how cheap a rate the rich might sin!
 And great oppressors might Heaven's wrath beguile
 By offering his own creatures for a spoil!

 Dar'st thou, poor worm, offend Infinity?
 And must the terms of peace be given by thee?
 Then thou art justice in the last appeal;
 Thy easy God instructs thee to rebel:
 And, like a king remote, and weak, must take
 What satisfaction thou art pleas'd to make.

 But if there be a pow'r too just, and strong
To wink at crimes, and bear unpunish'd wrong;
Look humbly upward, see his will disclose
The forfeit first, and then the fine impose:
A mulct thy poverty could never pay
Had not Eternal Wisdom found the way:
And with celestial wealth supply'd thy store:
His justice makes the fine, his m