The Motion of Thoughts

Musing one time alone,1 mine eyes being2 fixed
Upon the ground, my sight with gravel mixed,
My feet did walk without direction’s guide;
My thoughts did travel far and wander wide.
At last they chanced upon3 a hill to climb,                                 5
And being there, saw things that were divine.
        First, what4 they saw: a glorious light did5 blaze,6
Whose splendor made it painful for the7 gaze.
No separations nor shadows by stops8 made,
No darkness did9 obstruct this light with shade.                     10
This light had no dimension, nor no bound,10
No limits, but it11 filled all places round.12
Always in motion ’twas,13 yet fixed did prove,
Like to the twinkling stars, which never move.
This motion working, running several ways,                           15
Seemed as if contradictions it would14 raise,
For with itself it seemed not to agree,15
Like to16 a skein of thread, if’t knotted be.
For some did go straight in an even line,
But some again did cross, and some did twine.                        20
Yet at the last, all several motions run
Into the first Prime Motion, which begun.
In various forms and shapes did life run through,
Which was eternal, but the shapes were17 new;
No18 sooner made, but quickly19 passed away,                         25
Yet while they were, they did desire20 to stay.
But motion to one form can ne’er constant21 be,
For life, which motion is, joys in22 variety.
For the23 First Motion everything can make,
But cannot add unto itself, nor take.                                           30
Indeed no other matter could it24 frame:
Itself was all, and in itself the same.
Perceiving now this fixèd point of light,
I spied25 a union: Knowledge, Power, and Might,
Wisdom, Truth, Justice,26 Providence, all one,                          35
No attribute was by itself27 alone.
Not like to28 several lines drawn to one point,
For what doth meet may be again29 disjoint.
But this same30 point, from whence all lines did31 flow,
Nought can diminish it, or32 make it grow.                               40
’Tis its own center and circumference round,
Yet neither has a limit nor33 a bound.
A fixed eternity,34 and so will last:
All present is, nothing to come or35 past.
A fixed perfection; nothing can add more;                               45
All things is it, and itself doth36 adore.
My thoughts then wondering at what they did see,
Found at the last themselves the same to be,37
Yet were38 so small a branch, as they39 could not
Know40 whence they sprung, nor how they41 were begot.    50
        Some say, all that42 we know of Heaven above
Is that we joy, and that we love.43
But who44 can tell that? For all we know,45
Those passions we call joy and love below46
May by excess such other passions grow;                                  55
None in the world is capable to know.
Just like our bodies, although47 they shall rise,
And as St. Paul says, see God with our eyes,48
Yet may we in the change such difference find,
Both in our bodies, and also in mind,49                                      60
As if we never had been of50 mankind,
And that these51 eyes we see with now were blind.
Say we can measure all the planets high,
And number all the stars be52 in the sky,
And we can circle53 all the world about,                                    65
And can find all54 th’effects of nature out:55
Yet all56 the wise and learnèd cannot tell57
What’s done in Heaven, or how we there shall dwell.

  1. one time alone] alone 1653
  2. being] were 1664, 1668
  3. upon] up to 1653
  4. what] when 1664, 1668
  5. did] to 1653
  6. This poem offers a dream vision, a bit unusually for Cavendish. For a poem grappling with similar questions, see Hester Pulter, “Oh My Aflicted Solitary Soul” (Poem 39, Amplified Edition), ed. Liza Blake, in The Pulter Project: Poet in the Making, edited by Leah Knight and Wendy Wall (2018),
  7. made it painful for the] pain’d their Sight upon’t to 1664; pain’d their Sight, upon’t to 1668
  8. separations, nor shadows by stops] Shadows it, nor Separations 1664, 1668
  9. did] to 1653
  10. no bound,] Extent, 1653
  11. No limits, but it] But 1653
  12. round.] full, without Circumvent; 1653
  13. motion ’twas,] Motion, 1653
  14. Seemed as if contradictions it would] Did seeme a Contradiction for to 1653
  15. For with itself it seemed not to agree,] As to it selfe with it selfe disagree, 1653
  16. Like to] Is like 1653
  17. Which was eternal, but the shapes were] Life from Eternity, but Shapes still 1653
  18. No] And these not 1664, 1668
  19. but quickly] but 1664, 1668
  20. they did desire] desirous were 1653
  21. to one form can ne’er constant] which is Life, can never 1664, 1668
  22. For life, which motion is, joys in] Constant to one, but loves 1664, 1668
  23. For the] And as 1664, 1668
  24. Indeed no other matter could it] So it could not another Matter 1664, 1668
  25. I spied] To be 1653
  26. Truth, Justice,] Justice, Truth, 1653
  27. was by itself] is with it selfe 1653
  28. to] as 1664, 1668
  29. be again] separate, 1653
  30. same] a 1653
  31. did] do 1653
  32. Nought can diminish it, or] Nothing can Diminish nor 1664; Nothing diminish can, nor 1668
  33. nor] or 1653
  34. A fixed eternity] But fix’d Eternally 1664, 1668
  35. or] nor 1664, 1668
  36. itself doth] doth It self 1664, 1668
  37. A marginal note in Cavendish’s 1653 text reads: “All things come from God Almighty.”
  38. were] was 1653
  39. as they] perceive 1653
  40. Know] From 1653
  41. nor how they] or which waies 1653
  42. that] what 1664, 1668
  43. that we joy, and that we love.] we shall have a perfect Joy and Love; 1664; we shall have a perfect Joy and Love. 1668
  44. But who] Who 1653
  45. all we know,] what do we call 1664, 1668
  46. Those passions we call joy and love below] Below here Joy and Love, these Passions all 1664; Below here, Joy and Love, these Passions all 1668
  47. although] though that 1653
  48. The reference is to 1 Corinthians 12: “For now we see through a glasse, darkely: but then face to face [i.e., with God]: now I know in part, but then shall I know euen as also I am knowen”; the quotation is taken from The Holy Bible, conteyning the Old Testament, and the New / newly translated out of the originall tongues, and with the former translations diligently compared and reuised, by His Maiesties speciall comandement; appointed to be read in churches (London: by Robert Barker, printer to the Kings most Excellent Maiestie, 1611), sig. R1r–v (Transcription modernized). The point of this final section seems to be that until the transformation of human bodies in the final resurrection, there is no way for human bodies to know everything about Heaven.
  49. in mind,] in our Mind, 1653
  50. we never had been of] that we were never of 1653
  51. these] those 1664, 1668
  52. all the stars be] every Star that’s 1664; every Starr that’s 1668
  53. we can circle] Circle could we 1653
  54. can find all] all 1653
  55. out] could finde out 1653
  56. all] cannot all 1653
  57. cannot tell] tell 1653