No Comment, Quotation — August 17, 2008, 6:13 am

More’s Immortality

boel-vanitas

Behold a light far brighter than the Sun!
The Sun’s a shadow if you them compare,
Or grosse Cimmerian mist; the fairest Noon
Exceeds not the meridian night so far
As that light doth the Sun. So perfect clear
So perfect pure it is, that outward eye
Cannot behold this inward subtile starre,
But indisperst is this bright Majesty,
Yet every where out shining in infinitie;

Unplac’d, unparted, one close Unity,
Yet omnipresent; all things, yet but one;
Not streak’d with gaudy multiplicity,
Pure light without discolouration,
Stable without circumvolution,
Eternall rest, joy without passing sound:
What sound is made without collision?
Smell, taste and touch make God a grosse compound:
Yet truth of all that’s good is perfectly here found.

This is a riddle unto outward sense:
And heavy phansie, that can rise no higher
Then outward senses, knows no excellence
But what those Five do faithfully inspire
From their great God, this world; nor do desire
No more then then know: wherefore to consopite
Or quench this false light of bold phansies fire,
Surely must be an act contrary quite
Unto this bodies life, and its low groveling upright.

Henry More, The Argument of Psychathansia; or, The Immortality of the Soul from Philosophical Poems (1647) in The Complete Poems of Dr. Henry More, p. 73 (A. Grosart ed. 1878)


Henry More is a bright but not particularly well known star in the constellation of the English metaphysical poets. A relative of Sir Thomas More, he spent his years as a philosopher at Cambridge, and his poetry is much like his philosophical writings. More is concerned with a reconciliation of philosophical and religious ideas, and in his writing we see the confluence of Platonic and Neoplatonic thought with the mainstream protestantism of his age (Anglican, with visible strands of Calvinism). But he takes a notably embracing and affirming attitude towards science–engagement with mathematics and the natural sciences is for him a devotional act, a reverential grappling with the mysteries of the universe. In fact, though More is probably best known for his concept of the “fourth dimension” (the spiritual world), he was also an accomplished mathematician. We see these ideas in this remarkable poem, and particularly in the numerology, since for More all numbers derive from and are given meaning by their relationship with the whole (“Unplac’d, unparted, one close Unity.”) For More the mathematical and spiritual worlds reflect one another, so in the moral world the concept of unity is mirrored in the notion of spiritual love, from which all moral and ethical laws flow as fragmentary elements. More forms a remarkable bridge between two fellow Cambridge men, John Milton and Isaac Newton. The traces of Milton’s thought and writings are apparent almost everywhere in More’s writing, whereas Newton is hardly to be imagined without the environment that More helped to craft at Cambridge–particularly the advocacy of natural science and fearless scientific inquiry.


Listen to the opening sonata and title aria from the Cantata “Ich habe Lust abzuscheiden” by Dietrich Buxtehude. This work was composed in Buxtehude’s days as the organist of the Marienkirche in Lübeck, probably around 1670, and it carries No. 47 in the historical-critical index of Buxtehude’s works (BuxWV). The text is taken from Philippians 1:23 (????????? ?? ?? ??? ???, ??? ????????? ???? ??? ?? ???????? ??? ??? ?????? ?????, ????? ??? ?????? ????????? – For I am hardpressed between the two; I long to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.) The work unfolds very slowly and laden with pathos in a way that presages Bach’s passions. (After hearing some of Buxtehude’s organ music, the twenty-year-old Bach walked 250 miles to Lübeck to visit the aging master–this was in 1705, just two years before Buxtehude’s death). The aria speaks of weariness of the world and its illusory vanities, using a series of metaphors typical of the age and location. Human existence is likened to a shipwreck and reunion with heaven is called a safe harbor. A superior recording of this canata with Emma Kirkby singing the soprano part can be found on this Chaconne recording.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

November 2014

Stop Hillary!

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

How the Islamic State was Won

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Cage Wars

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Everyday Grace

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Stop Hillary!·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"What Hillary will deliver, then, is more of the same. And that shouldn’t surprise us."
Photograph by Joe Raedle
Article
Cage Wars·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"In the 1970s, “Chickens’ Lib” was a handful of women in flower-print dresses holding signs, but in the past decade farm hens have become almost a national preoccupation."
Photograph by Adam Dickerson/Big Dutchman USA, courtesy Vande Bunte Farms
Article
Paradise Lost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Suffering Sappho! Here we still are, marching right into yet another century with our glass ceilings, unequal pay, unresolved work and child-care balance, and still marrying, forever marrying, men."
Illustration by Anthony Lister
Article
Off the Land·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Nearly half the reservation lives below the poverty line, with unemployment as high as 60 percent, little to no infrastructure, few entitlements, a safety net that never was, no industry to speak of, and a housing crisis that has been dire not for five years but since the reservation’s founding in 1855."
Illustration by Stan Fellows
Post
Introducing the November 2014 Issue·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Doug Henwood on stopping Hillary Clinton, fighters and potential recruits discuss the rise of the Islamic State, the inevitability of factory farming, and more

Cover photo by Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Chances that a doctor’s diagnosis of Lyme disease is erroneous:

4 in 5

Engineers were said to be at greater risk of becoming terrorists.

A deaf dog belonging to a deaf owner was shot and killed in Alabama, and an Indiana dog’s skin troubles were found to be caused by an allergy to humans. “It’s just not his fault,” said the owner of Lucky Dog Retreat.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today