The Abraham Cowley Text and Image Archive

The Plagues of Egypt
from Pindarique Odes  [XV.],  Poems (1656; editor's copy)

    Is this thy Brav'ery Man, is this thy Pride?
    Rebel to God, and Slave to all beside!
    Captiv'ed by every thing! and onely Free
          To fly from thine own Libertie!
    All Creatures the Creator said Were Thine;
    No Creature but might since, say, Man is Mine!
    In black Egyptian Slavery we lie;
    And sweat and toil in the vain Drudgerie
          Of Tyrant Sin;
    To which we Trophees raise, and wear out all our Breath,      10
    In building up the Monuments of Death;
    We, the choice Race, to God and Angels Kin!
    In vain the Prophets and Apostles come
          To call us home,
    Home to the promis'ed Canaan above,
    Which does with nourishing Milk. and pleasant Honey flow;
    And ev'en i'th'way to which we should be fed
          With Angels tasteful Bread:
       But we, alas, the Flesh-pots love;
    We love the very Leeks and sordid roots below.      20
    In vain we Judgements feel, and Wonders see;
    In vain did God to descend hither da'ine,
    He was his own Ambassador in vain,
    Our Moses and our Guide himself to bee.
          We will not let our selves to go,
    And with worse hardned hearts, do our own Pharaohs grow;
          Ah, lest at last we perish so!
    Think, stubborn Man, think of th'Egyptian Prince,
    (Hard of Belief and Will, but not so hard as Thou)
    Think with what dreadful proofs God did convince      30
    The feeble arguments that humane pow'er could show;
          Think what Plagues attend on Thee.
    Who Moses God dost now refuse, more oft than Moses he.
    If from some God you come (said the proud King)
[1]          With half a smile and half a Frown;
2    (But what God can to Egypt be unknown?)
3    What Sign, what Powers, what Credence do you bring?
    Behold his Seal, behold his Hand,
    Cryes Moses, and casts down th'Almighty Wand.
        Th'Almighty Wand scarce toucht the Earth,      40
        When, with an undiscerned birth,
4        Th'Almighty Wand a Serpent grew,
    And his long half in painted folds behinde him drew.
        Upwards his threatning Tail he threw;
        Upwards he cast his threatning Head,
          He gap'ed and hist aloud;
    With flaming Eyes survey'd the trembling croud,
    And, like a Basilisk almost lookt the Assembly dead;
5    Swift fled th'Amazed King, the Guards before him fled.
1       Jannes and Jambres stopt their flight,      50
        And with proud words allay'd th'affright.
    The God of Slaves (said they) how can he be
    More powerful then their Masters Deitie?
          And down they cast their Rods,
2    And mutter'ed secret sounds that charm the servile Gods.
          The evil Spirits their charms obey,
    And in a subtle cloud they snatch the Rods away,
3    And Serpents in their place the airy Juglers lay.
          Serpents in Egypts monstrous land,
              Were never not at hand,      60
    And ready all at the Old Serpents first command.
          And they too gap'ed, and they too hist,
          And they their threatning Tails did twist,
    But straight on both the Hebrew-Serpent flew;
    Broke both their active Backs, and both it slew,
          And both almost at once devour'ed,
             So much was over-power'ed
          By Gods miraculous Creation
    His Servant Natures slightly-wrought, and feeble Generation.
1    On the fame'd Bank the Prophets stood,      70
    Toucht with their Rod, and wounded all the Flood;
    Flood now no more, but a long Vein of putrid Blood.
          The helpless Fish were found
          In their strange Current drownd,
    The Herbs and Trees washt by the mortal Tide
          About it blusht and dye'd.
    Th'amazed Crocodiles made haste to ground;
    From their vast trunks the dropping gore they spied,
    Thought it their Own, and dreadfully aloud they cried.
2          Nor all thy Priests, nor Thou      80
          Oh King, couldst ever show
    From whence thy wandering Nile begins his course;
    Of this new Nile thou seest the sacred Sourse,
          And as thy land that does oreflow,
          Take heed lest this do so.
    What Plague more just could on thy Waters fall?
    The Hebrew Infants Murder stains them all.
    The kinde, Instructing Punishment enjoy;
    Whom the Red River cannot mend, the Red-sea shall Destroy.
    The River yet gave one Instruction more,      90
1    And from the rotting Fish and unconcocted Gore,
             Which was but Water just before,
             A loathsome Host was quickly made,
    That scale'd the Banks, and with loud noise did all the Country invade;
    As Nilus when he quits his sacred Bed
2    (But like a Friend he visits all the Land,
             With welcome presents in his hand)
    So did this Living Tide the Fields orespread.
             In vain th'alarmed Countrey tries
             To kill their noisome Enemies,      100
    From th'unhausted Sourse still new Recruits arise.
    Nor does the Earth these greedy Troops suffice,
             The Towns and Houses they posses,
             The Temples and the Palaces,
             Nor Pharaoh, nor his Gods they fear;
    Both their importune croakings hear.
          Unsatiate yet they mount up higher,
    Where never Sun-born Frog durst to aspire,
    And in the silken Beds their slimy members place,
    A Luxurie unknown before to all the Watry Race.      110
    The Water thus her Wonders did produce,
             But both were to no use.
    As yet the Sorcerers mimick Power serv'ed for excuse.
    Try what the Earth will do (said God) and, Lo!
             They stroke the Earth a fertile blow,
    And all the Dust did strait to stir begin;
    One would have thought some sudden Wind t'had bin;
[1]    But, Lo, 'twas nimble Life was got within!
             And all the little Springs did move,
    And every Dust did an arm'ed Vermine prove,      120
    Of an unknown and new-created kinde,
    Such as the Magick-Gods could neither make nor finde.
    The wretched shameful Foe allow'ed no rest
             Either to Man or beast.
    Not Pharaoh from th'unquiet Plague could bee,
    With all his change of Rayments free;
             The Devils themselves confest
             This was Gods Hand; and 'twas but just
    To punish thus man's pride, to punish Dust with Dust.
    Lo the third Element does his Plagues prepare,      130
    And swarming Clouds of Insects fill the Aire.
             With sullen noise they take their flight,
               And march in Bodies infinite;
    In vain 'tis Day above, 'tis still beneath them Night.
1    Of harmful Flies the Nations numberless
    Compos'ed this mighty Armies spacious boast;
    Of different Manners, different Languages;
             And different Habits too they wore,
                And different Arms they bore.
             And some, like Scythians, liv'ed on Blood,      140
    And some on Green, and some on Flowry Food,
2    And Accaron, the Airy Prince, led on this various Host.
    Houses secure not Men, the populous ill
                Did all the Houses fill.
                The Country, all around,
    Did with the cryes of tortured Cattel sound;
             About the fields enrag'ed they flew,
             And wisht the Plague that was t' ensue.
1    From poysonous Stars a mortal Influence came,
             (The mingled Malice of their Flame)      150
    A skilful Angel did th'Ingredients take,
    And with just hands the sad Composure make,
    And over all the Land did the full viol shake.
    Thirst, Giddiness, Faintness, and putrid Heats,
             And pining Pains, and shivering Sweats,
    On all the Cattle, all the Beasts, did fall;
    With deform'ed Death the Countrey's covered all.
    The labouring Ox drops down before the Plow;
    The crowned Victims to the Altar led
             Sink, and prevent the lifted blow.      160
    The generous Horse from the full Manger turns his Head;
             Does his Lov'ed Floods and Pastures scorn,
             Hates the shrill Trumpet and the Horn,
             Nor can his lifeless Nostril please
    With the once-ravishing smell of all his dappled Mistresses.
             The starving Sheep refuse to feed,
    They bleat their innocent Souls out into aire;
    The faithful Dogs lie gasping by them there;
    Th'astonisht Shepherd weeps, and breaks his tuneful Reed.
    Thus did the Beasts for Mans Rebellion die;      170
    God did on Man a Gentler Medicine try,
    And a Disease for Physick did apply.
    Warm ashes from the Furnace Moses took;
    The Sorcerers did with wonder on him look;
             And smil'ed at th'unaccustom'ed Spell
1                Which no Egyptian Rituals tell.
    He flings the pregnant Ashes through the Aire,
                And speaks a mighty Prayer,
    Both which the Ministring Winds around all Egypt bear.
    As gentle western Blasts with downy wings      180
                Hatching the tender Springs
    To the'unborn Buds with vital whispers say,
                Ye living Buds, why do ye stay?
    The passionate Buds break through the Bark their way.
    So wheresoere this tainted Wind but blew,
                Swelling Pains and Ulcers grew;
    It from the body call'ed all sleeping Poysons out,
                And to them added new;
2    A noisome Spring of Sores, as thick as Leaves did sprout.
             Heaven itself is angry next;      190
             Wo to Man, when Heav'en is vext.
                With sullen brow it frown'd,
    And murmur'ed first in an imperfect sound.
              Till Moses lifting up his hand,
    Waves the expected Signal of his Wand,
    And all the full-charg'ed clouds in ranged Squadrons move,
             And fill the spacious Plains above.
    Through which the rolling Thunder first does play,
    And opens wide the Tempests noisy way.
                And straight a stony shower      200
             Of monstrous Hail does downward powre,
             Such as ne're Winter yet brought forth,
    From all her stormy Magazins of the North.
    It all the Beasts and Men abroad did slay,
1    Ore the defaced corps, like Monuments, lay,
    The houses and strong-bod'yed Trees it broke,
                Nor askt aid from the Thunders stroke.
    The Thunder but for Terror through it flew,
2                The Hail alone the work could do.
                The dismal Lightnings all around,      210
    Some flying through the Air, some running on the ground,
                Some swimming ore the waters face,
                Fill'd with bright Horror every place;
    One would have thought, their dreadful Day to have seen,
    The very Hail, and Rain itself had kindled been.
1    The infant Corn, which yet did scarce appear,
             Escap'ed this general Massacer
                Of every thing that grew,
             And the well-stored Egyptian year
    Began to clothe her Fields and Trees anew.      220
2    When, Lo, a scortching wind from the burnt Countrys blew,
             And endless Legions with it drew
3             Of greedy Locusts, who, where ere
                With sounding wings they flew,
    Left all the Earth depopulate and bare,
    As if Winter itself had marcht by there.
                What ere the Sun and Nile
    Gave with large Bounty to the thankful soil,
    The wretched Pillagers bore away,
    And the whole Summer was their Prey.      230
                Till Moses with a prayer
    Breath'd forth a violent Western wind,
    Which all these living clouds did headlong bear
                (No Stragglers left behind)
4    Into the purple Sea, and there bestow
    On the luxurious Fish a Feast they nere did know.
    With untaught joy, Pharaoh the News does hear,
    And little thinks their Fate attends on Him, and His so near.
    What blindeness and what Darkness did there ere      240
             Like this undocile King's appear?
    What ere but that which now does represent
    And paint the Crime out in the Punishment?
1    From the deep, baleful Caves of Hell below,
             Where the old Mother Night does grow,
             Substantial Night, that does disclaime,
                Privation's empty Name,
    Through secret conduits monstrous shades arose,
    Such as the Suns whole force could not oppose,
                They with a Solid Cloud
                All heavens Eclypsed Face did shrowd.      250
    Seem'd with large Wings spread ore the Sea and Earth
    To brood up a new Chaos his deformed birth.
2             And every Lamp, and every Fire
    Did at the dreadful sight wink and expire,
    To th'Empyrean Sourse all streams of Light seem'd to retire.
    The living Men were in their standing-houses buried;
                But the long night no slumber knows,
                But the short Death findes no repose.
    Ten thousand terrors through the darkness fled,
    And Ghosts complain'd, and Spirits murmured.      260
                And Fancies multiplying sight
    View'd all the Scenes Invisible of Night.
             Of Gods dreadful anger these
             Were but the first light Skirmishes;
    The Shock and bloody battel now begins,
    The plenteous Harvest of full-ripened Sins.
1             It was the time, when the still Moon
                Was mounted softly to her Noon,
    And dewy sleep, which from Nights secret springs arose,
                Gently as Nile the land oreflows.      270
2    When (Lo!) from the high Countreys of refined Day,
                The Golden Heaven without allay,
    Whose dross in the Creation purg'ed away,
                Made up the Suns adulterate ray,
3    Michael, the warlike Prince, does downwards fly
                Swift as the jorneys of the Sight,
                Swift as the race of Light,
    And with his Winged Will cuts through the yielding sky.
    He past through many a Star, and as he past,
    Shone (like a star in them) more brightly there,      280
                Then they did in their Sphere
    On a tall Pyramids pointed Head he stopt at last,
    And a mild look of sacred Pity cast
    Down on the sinful Land where he was sent
                T'inflict the tardy punishment.
    Ah! yet (said He) yet stubborn King repent;
                Whilst thus unarm'ed I stand,
    Ere the keen Sword of God fill my commanded Hand;
    Suffer but yet Thy Self, and Thine to live;
                Who would, alas! believe      290
                That it for Man (said He)
                So hard to be Forgiven should be,
    And yet for God so easie to Forgive!
                 He spoke, and downwards flew,
    And ore his shining Form a well-cut cloud he threw
                Made of the blackest Fleece of Night,
    And close-wrought to keep in the powerful Light,
    Yet, wrought so fine it hindred not his Flight.
    But through the Key-holes and the chinks of dores,
    And through the narrow'est Walks of crooked Pores,      300
1                He past more swift and free,
    Then in wide air the wanton Swallows flee.
    He took a pointed Pestilence in his hand,
    The Spirits of thousand mortal poysons made
                The strongly-temper'd Blade,
                The sharpest Sword that ere was laid
    Up in the Magazins of God to scourge a wicked Land.
    Through Egypts wicked Land his march he took,
2    And as he marcht the sacred First born strook
                Of every womb; none did he spare;      310
3    None from the meanest Beast to Cenchres purple Heire.
             The swift approach of endless Night
    Breaks ope the wounded Sleepers rowling Eyes;
             They'awake the rest with dying cries,
                And Darkness doubles the affright.
    The mixed sounds of scatter'd Deaths they hear,
    And lose their parted Souls 'twixt Grief and Fear.
    Louder than all the shreiking Womens voice
    Pierces this Chaos of confused noise.
                As brighter Lightning cuts a way      320
                Clear, and distinguisht through the Day.
1    With less complaints the Zoan Temples sound
2                When the adored Heifer's drownd,
    And no true markt Successor to be found.
    Whilst Health, and Strength, and Gladnesse does possesse
                The festal Hebrew Cottages;
                The blest Destroyer comes not there
                To interrupt the sacred cheare
3    That new begins their well-reformed Yeare.
    Upon their doors he read and understood,      330
                Gods Protection writ in Blood;
    Well was he skild i'th' Character Divine,
                And though he past by it in haste,
                He bow'd and worshipt as he past,
    The mighty Mysterie through its humble Signe.
             The Sword strikes now too deep and near,
                Longer with it's edge to play;
             No Diligence or Cost they spare
                To haste the Hebrews now away,
             Pharaoh himself chides their delay;      340
             So kinde and bountiful is Fear!
    But, oh, the Bounty which to Fear we owe,
             Is but like Fire, struck out of stone.
             So hardly got, and quickly gone,
                That it scarce out-lives the Blowe.
    Sorrow and fear soon quit the Tyrants brest;
                Rage and Revenge their place possest
    With a vast Host of Chariots and of Horse,
    And all his powerful Kingdoms ready force,
                The travelling Nation he pursues;      350
    Ten times orecome, he still th'unequal war renewes.
                Fill'd with proud hopes, At least (said hee)
    Th' Egyptian Gods from Syrian Magick free
                Will now revenge Themselves and Mee;
    Behold what passless Rocks on either hand
                Like Prison walls about them stand!
             Whilst the Sea bounds their Flight before,
    And in our injur'ed justice they must find
    A worser stop than Rocks and Seas behinde.
                Which shall with crimson gore      360;
1          New paint the Waters Name, and double dye the shore.
             He spoke; and all his Host
             Approv'ed with shouts th'unhappy boast,
    A bidden wind bore his vain words away,
             And drown'd them in the neighb'ring Sea.
    No means t'escape the faithless Travellers spie,
             And with degenerous fear to die,
             Curse their new-gotten Libertie.
    But the great Guide well knew he led them right,
    And saw a Path hid yet from humane sight.      370
    He strikes the raging waves, the waves on either side
    Unloose their close Embraces, and divide;
    And backwards press, as in some solemn show
                The crowding People do
             (Though just before no space was seen)
    To let the admired Triumph pass between.
    The wondring Army saw on either hand,
    The no less wondring Waves, like Rocks of Crystal stand.
             They marcht betwixt, and boldly trod
                The secret paths of God.      380
    And here and there all scatter'd in their way
    The Seas old spoils, and gaping Fishes lay
             Deserted on the sandy plain.
    The Sun did with astonishment behold
    The inmost Chambers of the opened Main,
                 For whatsoere of old
    By his own Priests the Poets has been said,
    He never sunk till then into the Oceans Bed.
    Led chearfully by a bright Captain Flame,
    To th'other shore at Morning Dawn they came,      390
             And saw behinde th'unguided Foe
                March disorderly and slow.
    The Prophet straight from th'Idumaean strand
                Shakes his Imperious Wand.
    The upper waves, that highest crowded lie,
                The beckning Wand espie.
    Straight their first right-hand files begin to move,
                And with a murmuring wind
             Give the word March to all behind.
    The left-hand Squadrons no less ready prove,      400
                But with a joyful, louder noise
             Answer their distant fellows voice,
                And haste to meet them make,
    As several Troops do all at once a common Signal take.
    What tongue th'amazement and th'affright can tell
1                Which on the Chamian Army fell,
    When on both sides they saw the roaring Maine
                 Broke loose from his Invisible Chaine?
    They saw the monstrous Death and watery war
    Come rowling down loud Ruine from afar.      410
    In vain some backward, and some forwards fly
                With helpless haste; in vain they cry
                To their Coelestial Beasts for aid;
2                In vain their guilty King they'upbraid,
    In vain on Moses he, and Moses God does call,
                With a Repentance true too late;
    They're compast round with a devouring Fate
    That draws, like a strong Net, the mighty Sea upon them All.

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