Man is a creature like himself alone;
In him all qualities do join as one.
When man is injured, and his honor stung,
He seems a lion, furious, fierce, and strong.
With greedy covetousness, like to wolves and bears, 5
Right he devours, and truth in pieces tears.
Or like as crafty foxes lie in wait
To catch young novice kids by their deceit,
So subtle knaves do watch who errors make,
That they thereby advantages might take, 10
Not for examples them to rectify,
But that much mischief they can make thereby.
Others, like crouching spaniels, close will set,
Creeping about the partridge to in-net.
Some humble seem, and lowly bend the knee 15
To men of power and authority,
Not out of love to honor and renown,
But to ensnare, and so to pull them down.
For as a mastiff flies at every throat,
So spite will fly at all that are of note. 20
With slanderous words, as teeth, good deeds they tear,
No power, strength, nor greatness do they spare,
And are so mischievous, love not to see
Any to live without an infamy.
Most do like ravenous beasts in blood delight, 25
And only to do mischief, love to fight.
But some are like to horses, strong and free,
Will gallop over wrong, and injury,
Who fear no foe, nor enemies do dread,
Will fight in battles till they fall down dead. 30
Their heart with noble rage so hot will grow,
That from their nostrils clouds of smoke do blow.
And with their hooves the firm hard ground will strike
In anger, that they cannot go to fight.
Their eyes, like flints, will shoot out sparks of fire; 35
They’ll neigh out loud when combats they desire.
So valiant men their foe aloud will call,
To try their strength, and grapple arms withal.
And in their eyes such courage doth appear,
As if god Mars did rule that hemisphere. 40
Some, like to slow, dull asses, full of fear,
Contented are heavy burdens to bear,
And every clown doth beat his back and side
Because he’s slow, and faster he would ride.
Then will he bray out loud, but dare not bite, 45
For why he hath not courage for to fight.
Base minds will yield their heads under the yoke,
Offer their backs to every tyrant’s stroke.
Like fools they’ll grumble, but they dare not speak,
Nor strive for liberty, their bonds to break. 50
So dull will those that live in slav’ry grow;
Dejected spirits make the body slow.
Others as swine lie groveling in the mire,
Have no heroic thoughts to rise up higher;
They from their birth do never sport nor play, 55
But eat and drink, and grunting run away,
Of grumbling natures, never doing good,
And cruel are, as of a boorish brood.
So gluttons, sluggards care for nought but ease,
In conversations seek no man to please, 60
Ambition none, to make their name to live,
Nor have they generosity to give,
And are so churlish, that if any pray
To help their wants, they’ll cursing go away.
So cruel are, so far from death to save, 65
That they will take away the life they have.
Some, as the fearful hart, or frighted hare,
Shun every noise, and their own shadows fear.
So cowards, that are sent in wars to fight,
Think not to beat, but how to make their flight. 70
The trumpet, when to charge the foe it calls,
Then with that sound the heart o’th’coward falls.
Others, as harmless sheep, in peace do live,
Contented are, no injury will give,
But on the tender grass they gently feed, 75
And neither spite nor rankled malice breed.
They never in the ways of mischief stood,
To set their teeth in flesh or drink up blood.
They grieve to walk alone, and pine away,
Grow fat in flocks, and with each other play. 80
The naked they do clothe with their soft wool;
The ewes do feed the hungry stomach full.
So gentle natures and sweet dispositions
Contented live, and shun foolish ambitions,
Full of compassion, pitying the distressed, 85
And with their bounty help they the oppressed.
They swell not with the pride of self-conceit,
Nor for their neighbor’s life do lie in wait,
Nor innocence by their extortions tear,
Nor fill the widow’s heart with grief or care, 90
Nor any bribes do take with cov’tous hands,
Nor set they back the mark of th’owners’ lands,
But gratefully all courtesies requite,
Free from all envy, malice, spleen and spite,
And in their conversation, meek and mild, 95
Without lascivious words or actions wild.
Those men are fathers to a commonwealth
Where justice lives, and truth may show herself.
Others, as apes, do imitate the rest,
And when they mischief do, seem but to jest. 100
So are buffoons, which seem for mirth to sport,
Whose liberty makes factions in a court.
Those that delight in fools must in good part
Take what they say, although their words are smart.
And many times they rankled thoughts beget 105
In hearts of princes, and much envy set
By praising rivals, or else do reveal
Those faults they should with privacy conceal.
For when a fool unpleasing truth doth tell—
Or be it false, if like a truth it smell— 110
It gets such hold, e’en in a wise man’s brain,
That hardly it will ever out again.
Some are like worms, upon which others tread,
And some like ven’mous vipers do sting dead.
Some like to subtle serpents wind about, 115
To compass their designs crawl in and out,
And never leave until some nest they find,
Suck out the eggs, and leave the shells behind.
So flatterers with praises wind about
A noble mind, to get a secret out, 120
For flattery through every ear will glide
Down to the heart, and there some time abide,
And in the breast with feignèd friendship lie,
Till to the death it stings it cruelly.
Thus some like beasts, and some like worms are such, 125
But some do flying birds resemble much.
Some, like a soaring eagle, mount up high;
Wings of ambition bear them to the sky.
And some, like hawks, fly round to catch their prey;
Some, like to puttocks, bear the chick away; 130
Some, are like ravens, which on carrion feed,
Feeding on spite, which spite doth slanders breed.
And like as peacocks proud their tails do show,
So men that followers have will haughty grow.
Some melancholy owls that hate the light, 135
And like as bats fly in the shades of night;
So envious men their neighbor hate to see,
When that he shines in great prosperity,
Keep home in discontent, repine at all,
Until some mischief on the good do fall. 140
Others, like cheerful larks, sing as they fly,
So they are merry and have no envy,
And some, like nightingales, do sweetly sing,
As messengers when they good news do bring.
Thus men, beasts, birds, in humours much agree, 145
But several properties in these there be.
’Tis proper for a lively horse to neigh,
And for a slow, dull, foolish ass to bray.
For dogs to bark, bulls roar, wolves howl, pigs squeak,
For men to frown, to weep, to laugh, to speak. 150
Proper for flies to buzz, birds sing and chatter,
Only for men to promise, swear, and flatter.
Thus can man’s shape their properties express,
Yet they have some which all his skill surpass.
For men want wings to fly up to the sky, 155
Nor can they like to fish in waters lie.
What man like roes can run so swift, and long?
Nor are they like to horse, or lions strong.
Nor have they scent like dogs, a hare to find,
Nor sight like swine, to see the subtle wind. 160
Thus several creatures, by their several sense,
Have better far (than man) intelligence.
These several creatures several arts know well,
But man in gen’ral doth them far excel.
For arts in men as well did nature give, 165
As other qualities to beasts to live.
And from men’s brains such fine inventions flow,
As in his head all other heads do grow.
What creature builds like man such stately towers,
And makes such things as time cannot devour? 170
What creature makes such engines as man’s hand,
To traffic and to use, at sea and land,
To kill, or spoil, or else alive to take,
Destroying all that other creatures make?
This makes man seem of all the world a king, 175
Because he power hath of everything.
He’ll teach birds words, in measure beasts to go,
Makes passions in the mind to ebb and flow.
And though he cannot fly as birds, with wings,
Yet he can take the height and breadth of things. 180
He knows the course and number of the stars,
But birds and beasts are no astrologers.
And though he cannot like to fishes swim,
Yet nets he makes to catch those fishes in.
And with his ships the world he’ll circle round; 185
What beast or bird that doth so is yet found?
He’ll fell down woods; with axes sharp he’ll strike;
Whole herds of beasts can never do the like.
What beast can plead to save another’s life,
Or by his eloquence can end a strife? 190
Or counsels give, great dangers for to shun,
Or tell the cause of the eclipsèd sun?
He’ll turn the current of the waters clear,
And make that they do like new seas appear;
Where fish do only in old waters glide, 195
Can cut new rivers out on any side.
He’ll mountains make, which clouds almost do touch,
Mountains of moles or ants scarce do so much.
What creature like to man can reasons show,
Which makes him know that he thereby doth know? 200
And who but man makes use of everything?
For goodness out of poison he can bring.
’Tis only man that’s fill’d with strong desire,
And by his rhet’rick sets the soul on fire.
Beasts no ambition have to get a fame, 205
Nor build they tombs t’eternalize their name.
They never war, high honor for to get,
But to secure themselves, or meat to eat.
But men are like to gods; they live for ever shall;
And beasts are like themselves, to dust shall fall. 210