The Passion of a Discontented Mind

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The Passion of a Discontented Mind  (1601) 
by Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
This was probably written by Essex while in prison shortly before his execution. It has also been attributed to Nicholas Breton, a view rejected by May (1980). Parts of the poem were set to music by John Dowland in 1612 and by Orlando Gibbons in the same year.[1]

Notes

  1. Steven W. May, "The poems of Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford and Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex" in Studies in Philology, 77 (Winter 1980), Chapel Hill, p.92.

From silent night, true register of moans,
From saddest Soul consumed with deepest sins,
From heart quite rent with sighs and heavy groans,
My wailing Muse her woeful work begins.
And to the world brings tunes of sad despair,
Sounding nought else but sorrow, grief and care.

Sorrow to see my sorrow's cause augmented,
And yet less sorrowful were my sorrows more:
Grief that my grief with grief is not prevented,
For grief it is must ease my grieved sore.
Thus grief and sorrow cares but how to grieve,
For grief and sorrow must my cares relieve.

The wound fresh bleeding must be staunched with tears
Tears cannot come unless some grief precede;
Griefs come but slack, which doth increase my fears.
Fears, lest for want of help I still should bleed.
Do what I can to lengthen my life’s breath,
If tears be wanting, I shall bleed to death.

Thou, deepest searcher of each secret thought,
Infuse in me thy all-affecting grace;
So shall my works to good effects be brought,
While I peruse my ugly sins a space,
Whose staining filth so spotted hath my soul,
As nought will wash but tears of inward dole.

Oh that the learned poets of this time
(who in a love-sick line so well indite)
Would not consume good wit in hateful rhyme,
But would with care some better subject write:
For if their music please in earthly things,
Well would it sound if strained with heavenly strings.

But woe it is to see fond worldlings use,
Who most delight in things that vainest be;
And without fear work virtue’s foul abuse,
Scorning soul’s rest and all true piety,
As if they made account never to part
From this frail life, the pilgrimage of smart.

Such is the nature of our foolish kind,
When practiced sin hath deeply taken root,
The way to penance due is hard to find,
Repentance held a thing of little boot;
For contrite tears, soul’s health, and angels’
Most men account a mere fantastic toy.

Ill-working use, devourer of all grace,
The fretting moth that wasteth soul’s chief bliss,
The sly close thief that lurks in every place,
Filching by piece-meal, till the whole be his;
How many are deceived by thy bait,
T’account their sins as trifles of no weight?

Oh cursed custom, causing mischief still,
Too long thy craft my senses hath misled;
Too long have I been slave unto thy will,
Too long my soul on bitter sweets hath fed;
Now surfeiting with thy hell poisoned cates,
In deep repent, her former folly hates.

And humbly comes with sorrow rented heart,
With blubbered eyes, and hands up-reared to heaven
To play a poor lamenting Maudlin’s part,
That would weep streams of blood to be forgiven;
But oh, I fear mine eyes are drained so dry,
That though I would, yet now I cannot cry.

If any eye therefore can spare a tear
To fill the well-spring that must wet my cheeks,
O let that eye to this sad feast draw near,
Refuse me not my humble soul beseeks:
For all the tears mine eyes have ever wept
Were now too little had they all been kept.

I see my sins arraigned before my face
I see their number pass the moths in sun.
I see that my continuance in this place
Cannot be long, and all that I have done,
I see before my face the judge hath laid,
At whose stern looks all creatures are afraid.

If he be just my soul condemned is,
And just he is; what then may be expected,
But banishment from everlasting bliss?
To live like cursed Cain, base, vile, abjected;
He in his rage his brother’s blood did spill;
I more unkind mine own soul’s life do kill.

O could mine eyes send trickling tears amain,
Never to cease till my eternal night,
Till this eye flood his mercy might obtain,
Whom my defaults have banished from his sight;
Then could I bless my happy time of crying,
But ah, too soon my barren springs are drying.

Thrice happy sinner was that blessed saint,
Who though he fell with puff of woman’s blast,
Went forth and wept with many a bitter plaint.
And by his tears obtained grace at last;
But wretched I have fallen of mine accord,
Ten thousand times against the living Lord.

Yet cannot strain one true repentant tear,
To gain the bliss from which my soul is banished;
My flinty heart such sorrowing doth forebear,
And from my sense all true remorse is vanished;
For heart and sense are cloyed with dregs of sin,
And there’s no place for Grace to enter in.

No place (dear Lord) unless thy goodness please
To pity him that worst deserves of any,
And in thy tender mercy showed to many;
Yet none of those do equal me in sin,
Oh how may I hope mercy then to win?

The traitor Judas, heir born to perdition,
Who for a trifle did his Lord betray,
In equal doom deserveth more remission,
Then my defaults can challenge any way;
He sold him once, that once for gain was done;
I oftentimes, yet than nothing won.

The bloody-minded Jews, in fury mad,
Until on Christ their cruel rage was fed,
In their fell anger more compassion had
Than I, for whom his harmless blood was shed;
Their hellish spite within a day was past,
My sinful fit doth all my lifetime last.

For every stripe that he from them did take,
A thousand deadly sins have I committed;
And every sin as deep a wound did make,
As did the cords wherewith my Christ was whipped;
Oh hateful caitiff, parricide most vile,
Thus (with my sin) his pure blood to defile.

O sin, first parent of man’s ever woe,
The distance large that severs hell and heaven;
Sense’s confounded, soul’s chief overthrow,
Grafted by men, not by the grafter given;
Consuming canker, wasting soul’s chief treasure,
Only to gain a little trifling pleasure.

Happy were man if sin had never been,
Thrice happy now, if sin he would forsake,
But happier far, if for his wicked sin
He would repent, and hearty sorrow make;
Leaving this dross and fleshy delectation,
To gain in heaven a lasting habitation.

There is the place wherein all sorrows die,
Where joy exceeds all joy that ever were;
Where angels make continual harmony,
The mind set free from care, distrust, or fear;
There all receive all joyful contention,
Happied by that most heavenly contemplation.

Now see (alas) the change we make for sin,
Instead of heaven, hell is become our lot;
For blessed saints, damned fiends we ever win;
For rest and freedom, lasting bondage got;
For joy, content, eternal love and peace,
Grief, despair, hate, and jars that never cease.

The worm of conscience still attendeth on us,
Telling each hour, each instant we shall die,
And that our sins cannot be parted from us,
But where we are, thither they likewise fly;
Still urging this, that death we have deserved,
Because we fled from him we should have served.
 
What greater sin can touch a human heart?
What hellish fury can be worse tormented?
What sinner lives that feeleth not a part
Of this sharp plague, unless he have repented?
And yet repentance surely is but vain,
Without full purpose not to sin again.

And is it not then our plain folly’s error,
To covet that that brings with it contempt,
And makes us live in fear, disgust, and terror,
Hating at last the thing we did attempt?
For never sin did yet so pleasing taste,
But lustful flesh did loathe it when t’was past.

Witness my woeful soul, which well can tell,
In highest hope of sin’s most fresh delight,
Although my frailty suffered me to dwell,
Yet being past, I loathed it with despight;
But like the swine, I fed mine own desire,
That being clean, still coveteth the mire.

So greedy is man’sd beastly appetite,
To follow after dunghill pleasures still,
And feed on carrion like the ravening kite,
Not caring what his hungry maw doth fill,
But worketh evermore his will’s effect,
Without restraint, controlment or respect.

O why should man, that bears the stamp of heaven,
So much abase heaven’s holy will and pleasure?
O, why was sense and reason to him given,
That in his sin cannot contain a measure?
He knows he must account for every sin,
And yet committeth sins that countless been.

This to peruse (dear God) doth kill my soul,
But that thy mercy quickeneth it again;
O hear me, Lord, in bitterness of dole,
That of my sins do prostrate here complain;
And at thy feet with Mary, knock for grace,
Though wanting Marie’s tears to wet my face.

She, happy sinner, saw her life misled,
At sight whereof her inward heart did bleed,
To witness which her outward tears were shed,
O blessed saint, and o most blessed deed;
But wretched I, that see more sins than she,
Nor grieve within, nor yet weep outwardly.

When she had lost thy presence but one day,
The want was such, her heart could not sustain;
But to thy tomb alone she took her way,
And there with sighs and tears she did complain;
Nor from her sense once moved or stirred was she,
Until again she got a sight of thee.

But I have lost thy presence all my days,
And still am slack to seek thee as I should;
My wretched soul in wicked sin so stays,
I am unmet to see thee, though I would;
Yet if I could with tears thy coming tend,
I know I should (as she) find thee my friend.

Tears are the key that ope the way to bliss,
The holy water quenching heaven’s quick fire,
The atonement true twixt God and our amiss,
The angels’ drink, the blessed saints’ desire,
The joy of Christ, the balm of grieved heart,
The spring of life, the ease of every smart.

The second king of Israel by succession,
When with Uriah’s wife he had offended,
In bitter tears bewailed his great transgression,
And by his tears found grace, and so repented;
He night and day in weeping did remain,
I night nor day, to shed one tear take pain.

And yet my sins in greatness and in number,
Far his exceed; how comes it then to pass,
That my repentance should so far be under,
And grace’s force, dear God, is as it was?
Truth is, that I, although I have more need,
Do not, as he, so truly weep indeed.

O wherefore is my steely heart so hard?
Why am I made of metal unrelenting?
Why is all ghostly comfort from me barred?
Or, to what end do I defer repenting?
Can lustful flesh, or flattering world persuade me,
That I can ‘scape the power of him that made me?

No, no, the secret searcher of all hearts,
Both sees and knows each deed that I have done,
And for each deed will pay me home with smart,
No place can serve his will decreed to shun,
I should deceive myself to think that he
For sin would punish others, and not me.

Our first born sir, first breeder of man’s thrall,
For one bare sin was of perfection reft,
And all mankind were banished by his fall
From Paradise, and unto sorrow left;
If he for one, and all for him feel pain,
Then for so many, what should I sustain?

The angels made to attend on God in glory,
Were thrust from heaven, and only for one sin;
That but in thought (for so records the story),
For which they still in lasting darkness been;
If those, once glorious, thus tormented by,
I (basest slave) what will become of me?

What will become of me, that not in thought,
In thought alone, but in each word and deed,
A thousand thousand deadly sins have wrought,
And still do work, whereat my heart doth bleed?
For even now, in this my sad complaining,
With new-made sins, my flesh my soul is staining.

O that I were removed to some close cave,
Where all alone retired from delight,
I might my sighs and tears untroubled have,
And never come in wretched worldlings’ sight;
Whose ill-bewitching company still brings
Deep provocation, whence great danger springs.

Ill company, the cause of many woes,
The sugared bait, that hideth poisoned hook;
The rock unseen that ship-wracked souls o’erthrows,
The weeping crocodile that kills with look,
The readiest step to ruin and decay,
Grace’s confounder, and hell’s nearest way.

How many souls do perish by thy guile?
How many men without all fear frequent
Thy deadly haunts, where they in pleasure smile,
Taking no care such dangers to prevent?
But live like Beliels, unbridled or untamed,
Not looking they shall for their faults be blamed.

Alas, alas, too wretched do we live,
That carelessly doth work our own confusion,
And to our wills such liberty do give;
Ay me, it is the devil’s mere illusion,
To flatter us with such sense-pleasing trains,
That he thereby may take us in his chains.

This well foresaw good men of ancient time,
Which made them shun th’ occasions of foul sin,
Knowing it was the nurse of every crime,
And siren-like would train fond worldlings in;
Alluring them with show of music’s sound,
Until on sin’s deep shelf their souls be drowned.

But he is held no sociable man
In this corrupted age, that shall refuse
To keep accursed company now and then;
Nay but a fool, unless he seem to choose
Their fellowship, and give them highest place,
That vildest live, and furthest off from grace.

But better t’is, believe me in my trial,
To shun hell-hounds, factors of the devil,
And give them leave to grudge at your denial,
Than to partake with such in sin and evil;
For if that God (in Justice) then should slay us,
From hell and horror, who (alas) could stay us?

Good God, the just (as he himself hath spoken),
Should scarce be saved, o terror unremovable;
What then should they that never had a token,
Or sign of grace (soul’s comfort most behoveable),
But graceless lived, and all good deeds did hate;
What hope of them that live in such a state?

O who will give me tears that I may wail
Both nights and days the dangers I have passed?
My soul, my soul, ‘tis much for thy avail,
That thou art gotten from these straits at last;
O joy, but in thy joy mix tears withal,
That thou hast time to say, Lord hear me call.

I might as others (Lord) have perished,
Amid my sins and damnable delights;
But thou (good God) with care my soul hast cherished,
And brought me home to look on heavenly lights;
Ay me, what thanks, what service can I render
To thee that of my safety art so tender?

Now do I curse the time I ever went
In sin’s black path, that leadeth to damnation;
Now do I hate the hours I have mis-spent
In idle vice, neglecting soul’s salvation;
And to redeem the time I have mis-worn,
I wish this hour, I were again new-born.

But vain it is, as saith the wisest man.
To call again the day that once is past,
O let me see what best is for me then,
To gain thy favour whilst my life doth last;
That in the next I may but worthy be,
Ev’n in the meanest place to wait on thee.

I will, as did the prodigal son sometime,
Upon my knees with hearty true contrition,
And weeping eyes, confess my former crime,
And humbly beg upon my low submission,
That thou will not of former faults detect me,
But like a loving father now respect me.

Or as the wife that hath her husband wronged,
So will I come with fear and blushing cheek,
For giving others what to thee belonged,
And say, “My King, my Lord, and Spouse most meek,
I have defiled the bed that thou didst owe;
Forgive me this, it shall no more be so.”

Yet, for the world can witness mine abuse,
I’ll hide my face from face that witched mine eyes;
These graceless eyes, that had my body’s use,
Till it be withered with my very cries,
That when my wrinkles shall my sorrows tell,
The world may say, I joy’d not, though I fell.

And thus will I in sorrowing spend my breath,
And spot my face with never-dying tears,
Till aged wrinkles, messengers of death,
Have purchased mercy and removed my fears;
And then the world within my looks shall read,
The piteous wrack, unbridled sin hath bred.

And that which was a pleasure to behold,
 Shall be to me an ever-griping pain;
All my misdeeds shall one and one be told,
That I may see what tyrants have me slain;
And when I have thus mustered them apart,
I will display on each a bleeding heart.

And lest my tears should fail me at most need,
Before my face I’ll fix my saviour’s passion,
And see how his most precious side did bleed,
And note his death and torments in such fashion
As never man the like did undertake,
For freely he hath done it for my sake.

If this his kindness and his mercy shown,
Cannot provoke me unto tender crying,
Then will I back again turn to mine own,
Mine own sins, cause of this his cruel dying;
And if for them no tears mine eyes can find,
Sighs shall cause tears, tears make my poor eyes blind.

No far-fetched story have I now brought home,
Nor taught to speak more language than his mother’s,
No long done poem is from darkness come
To light again, it’s ill to fetch from others;
The song I sing, is made from heart-bred sorrow,
Which pensive muse from pining soul doth borrow.

I sing not not I, of wanton love-sick lays,
Of trickling toys to feed fantastic ears,
My muse respects no flattering tattling praise,
A guilty conscience this sad passion bears;
My sin-sick soul, with sorrow woebegone,
Lamenting thus a wretched deed mis-done.
 

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.