Mine own John Poins
Mine own John Poins, since ye delight to know
The cause why that homeward I me draw
(And flee the press of courts, whereso they go,
Rather than to live thrall under the awe
Of lordly looks) wrapped within my cloak,
To will and lust learning to set a law;
It is not for because I scorn or mock
The power of them to whom Fortune hath lent
Charge over us, of right to strike the stroke.
But true it is that I have always meant
Less to esteem them than the common sort,
Of outward things that judge in their intent,
Without regard what doth inward resort.
I grant sometime that of glory the fire
Doth touch my heart; me list not to report
Blame by honor, and honor to desire.
But how may I this honor now attain,
That cannot dye the color black a liar?
My Poins, I cannot frame my tune to feign,
To cloak the truth for praise, without desert,
Of them that list all vice for to retain.
I cannot honor them that sets their part
With Venus and Bacchus all their life long,
Nor hold my peace of them although I smart.
I cannot crouch nor kneel nor do so great a wrong
To worship them like God on earth alone
That are as wolves these sely lambs among.
I cannot wtih my words complain and moan
And suffer naught, nor smart without complaint,
Nor turn the word that from my mouth is gone;
I cannot speak and look like a saint,
Use wiles for wit and make deceit a pleasure,
And call craft counsel, for profit still to paint;
I cannot wrest the law to fill the coffer,
With innocent blood to feed myself fat,
And do most hurt where most help I offer.
I am not he that can allow the state
Of high Caesar and damn Cato to die,
That with his death did 'scape out of the gate
From Caesar's hands, if Livy do not lie,
And would not live where liberty was lost,
So did his heart the common weal apply.
I am not he such eloquence to boast
To make the crow singing as the swan,
Nor call the lion of coward beasts the most,
That cannot take a mouse as the cat can;
And he that dieth for hunger of the gold,
Call him Alexander, and say that Pan
Passeth Apollo in music many fold;
Praise Sir Thopas for a noble tale,
And scorn the story that the Knight told;
Praise him for counsel that is drunk of ale;
Grin when he laugheth that beareth all the sway,
Frown when he frowneth, and groan when he is pale;
On other's lust to hang both night and day--
None of these points would ever frame in me;
My wit is naught: I cannot learn the way;
And much the less of things that greater be,
That asken help of colors of device
To join the mean with each extremity:
With the nearest virtue to cloak alway the vice,
And, as to purpose likewise it shall fall,
To press the virtue that it may not rise;
As drunkenness, good fellowship to call;
The friendly foe, with his double face,
Say he is gentle and courteous therewithal;
And say that favel hath a goodly grace
In eloquence; and cruelty to name
Zeal of justice, and change in time and place;
And he that suffereth offense without blame,
Call him pitiful, and him true and plain
That raileth reckless to every man's shame;
Say he is rude that cannot lie and feign,
The lecher a lover, and tyranny
To be the right of a prince's reign.
I cannot, I: no, no, it will not be.
This is the cause that I could never yet
Hang on their sleeves that weigh, as thou mayst see,
A chip of chance more than a pound of wit.
This maketh me at home to hunt and hawk
And in foul weather at my book to sit;
In frost and snow then with my bow to stalk.
No man doth mark whereso I ride or go.
In lusty leas at liberty I walk,
And of these news I feel nor weal nor woe,
Save that a clog doth hang yet at my heel.
No force for that, for it is ordered so
That I may leap both hedge and dike full well.
I am not now in France, to judge the wine,
With sav'ry sauce the delicates to feel;
Nor yet in Spain, where one must him incline,
Rather than to be, outwardly to seem.
I meddle not with wits that be so fine;
Nor Flanders' cheer letteth not my sight to deem
Of black and white, nor taketh my wit away
With beastliness they, beasts, do so esteem.
Nor am I not where Christ is given in prey
For money, poison, and treason--at Rome
A common practice, usèd night and day.
But here I am in Kent and Christendom,
Among the Muses, where I read and rhyme;
Where if thou list, my Poins, for to come,
Thou shalt be judge how I do spend my time.
This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.