Saturday, November 21, 2009

Order and Disorder

Lucy Hutchinson (1620-1681) was the first to translate the complete text into English of De Rerum Natura, an epic poem by Lucretius (which she later regretted because it was a pagan work; thus, it was not published until 1996), and she was perhaps the first woman to write an epic poem herself in the English language: Order and Disorder: or, The World Made and Undone, Being Meditations Upon the Creation and Fall; As It is Recorded in the Beginning of Genesis (1679), described by her modern editor (David Norbrook) as a "militantly Trinitarian and Calvinist epic."

Her husband Sir John Hutchinson (1615-1664) served as a military leader of Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War and, later, was among the commissioners who signed the death warrant of King Charles I. After the Restoration, a measure of leniency was shown towards him because of Royalist connections on his wife's side of the family, but he died in prison. Lucy wrote a memorable biography of her husband to vindicate his name. She and her husband were devout Puritans, and the book does much to dispel "many false impressions about the narrowness and austerity of the educated Puritans."

Order and Disorder, Canto 1:

My ravished soul a pious ardour fires
To sing those mystic wonders it admires,
Contemplating the rise of everything
That with Time's birth flowed from th'eternal spring:
And the no less stupendous Providence
By which discording natures ever since
Have kept up universal harmony,
While in one joint obedience all agree,
Performing that to which they were designed
With ready inclination; but Mankind
Alone rebels against his Maker's will,
Which, though opposing, he must yet fulfil.
And so that wise power who each crooked stream
Most rightly guides becomes the glorious theme
Of endless admiration, while we see,
Whatever mortals' vain endeavours be,
They must be broken who with power contend,
And cannot frustrate their Creator's end,
Whose wisdom, goodness, might and glory shines
In guiding men's unto his own designs.

In these outgoings would I sing his praise,
But my weak sense with the too glorious rays
Is struck with such confusion that I find
Only the world's first Chaos in my mind,
Where light and beauty lie wrapped up in seed
And cannot be from the dark prison freed
Except that Power by whom the world was made
My soul in her imperfect strugglings aid,
Her rude conceptions into forms dispose,
And words impart which may those forms disclose.

O thou eternal spring of glory, whence
All other streams derive their excellence,
From whose love issues every good desire,
Quicken my dull earth with celestial fire,
And let the sacred theme that is my choice
Give utterance and music to my voice,
Singing the works by which thou art revealed.
What dark Eternity hath kept concealed
From mortals apprehensions, what hath been
Before the race of time did first begin,
It were presumptuous folly to inquire.
Let not my thoughts beyond their bounds aspire:
Time limits mortals, and Time had its birth,
In whose Beginning God made Heaven and Earth.

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