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Poem by John Oldham

A Dithyrambic


'Ονκ ἐστἱ Διθύραμζος ῧν ῦδωρ πίνη.


YES, you are mighty wise, I warrant, mighty wise!
With all your godly tricks and artifice,
Who think to chouse me of my dear and pleasant vice.
Hence, holy sham! in vain your fruitless toil;
Go, and some inexperienced fop beguile,
To some raw entering sinner cant and whine,
Who never knew the worth of drunkenness and wine.
I've tried, and proved, and found it all divine:
It is resolved, I will drink on, and die,
I'll not one minute lose, not I,
To hear your troublesome divinity:
Fill me a top-full glass, I'll drink it on the knee,
Confusion to the next that spoils good company!


⁠That gulp was worth a soul; like it, it went,
⁠And throughout new life and vigour sent:
⁠I feel it warm at once my head and heart,
I feel it all in all, and all in every part.
⁠Let the vile slaves of business toil and strive,
⁠Who want the leisure, or the wit to live;
⁠While we life's tedious journey shorter make.
⁠And reap those joys which they lack sense to take.
Thus live the gods (if aught above ourselves there be)
⁠They live so happy, unconcerned, and free;
⁠Like us they sit, and with a careless brow
Laugh at the petty jars of human kind below;
⁠Like us they spend their age in gentle ease;
Like us they drink; for what were all their heaven, alas!
If sober, and compelled to want that happiness.


Assist, almighty wine, for thou alone hast power,
⁠And others I'll invoke no more;
⁠Assist, while with just praise I thee adore;
⁠Aided by thee, I dare thy worth rehearse,
In flights above the common pitch of grovelling verse.
⁠Thou art the world's great soul, that heavenly fire,
⁠Which dost our dull half-kindled mass inspire.
We nothing gallant and above ourselves produce,
⁠Till thou dost finish man, and reinfuse.
Thou art the only source of all the world calls great,
Thou didst the poets first, and they the gods create;
⁠To thee their rage, their heat, their flame they owe,
⁠Thou must half share with art, and nature too;
They owe their glory, and renown to thee;
⁠Thou givest their verse and them eternity.
⁠Great Alexander, that biggest word of fame,
⁠That fills her throat, and almost rends the same,
⁠Whose valour found the world too strait a stage
⁠For his wide victories and boundless rage,

⁠Got not repute by war alone, but thee,
He knew he ne'er could conquer by sobriety,
And drunk, as well as fought, for universal monarchy.


⁠Pox o' that lazy claret! how it stays!
⁠Were it again to pass the seas,
⁠'Twould sooner be in cargo here,
'Tis now a long East-India voyage, half a year.
⁠'Sdeath! here's a minute lost, an age I mean,
⁠Slipped by, and ne'er to be retrieved again.
For pity suffer not the precious juice to die,
Let us prevent our own, and its mortality:
Like it, our life with standing and sobriety is palled,
And like it too, when dead, can never be recalled.
⁠Push on the glass, let it measure out each hour,
⁠For every sand an health let's pour,
⁠Swift as the rolling orbs above,
⁠And let it too as regularly move;
Swift as heaven's drunken red-faced traveller, the sun,
⁠And never rest till his last race be done,
⁠Till time itself be all run out, and we
⁠Have drunk ourselves into eternity.


Six in a hand begin! We'll drink it twice apiece,
⁠A health to all that love and honour vice!
Six more as oft to the great founder of the vine!
⁠(A god he was, I'm sure, or should have been)
⁠The second father of mankind I meant,
⁠He, when the angry powers a deluge sent,
⁠When for their crimes our sinful race was drowned,
⁠The only bold and venturous man was found,
Who durst be drunk again, and with new vice the world replant.
⁠The mighty patriarch 'twas of blessed memory,
Who 'scaped in the great wreck of all mortality,
And stocked the globe afresh with a brave drinking progeny.

⁠In vain would spiteful nature us reclaim,
⁠Who to small drink our isle thought fit to damn,
⁠And set us out of the reach of wine,
⁠In hope strait bounds could our vast thirst confine;
⁠He taught us first with ships the seas to roam,
⁠Taught us from foreign lands to fetch supply.
⁠Rare art! that makes all the wide world our home,
Makes every realm pay tribute to our luxury.


⁠Adieu, poor tottering reason! tumble down!
This glass shall all thy proud usurping powers drown,
And wit on thy cast ruins shall erect her throne:
⁠Adieu, thou fond disturber of our life!
That checkest our joys, with all our pleasure art at strife:
⁠I've something brisker now to govern me,
⁠A more exalted noble faculty,
Above thy logic, and vain boasted pedantry.
Inform me, if you can, ye reading sots, what 'tis
⁠That guides the unerring deities?
⁠They no base reason to their actions bring,
⁠But move by some more high, more heavenly thing,
⁠And are without deliberation wise:
⁠Even such is this, at least 'tis much the same,
For which dull schoolmen never yet could find a name.
⁠Call ye this madness? damn that sober fool,
(Twas sure some dull philosopher, some reasoning tool)
⁠Who the reproachful term did first devise,
⁠And brought a scandal on the best of vice.
Go, ask me, what's the rage young prophets feel,
⁠When they with holy frenzy reel:
Drunk with the spirits of infused divinity,
⁠They rave, and stagger, and are mad, like me.


⁠Oh, what an ebb of drink have we,
⁠Bring, bring a deluge, fill us up the sea,
Let the vast ocean be our mighty cup,
We'll drink it, and all its fishes too, like loaches, up.

⁠Bid the Canary fleet land here: we'll pay
⁠The freight, and custom too defray:
⁠Set every man a ship, and when the store
Is emptied, let them straight dispatch, and sail for more.
⁠'Tis gone! and now have at the Rhine,
⁠With all its petty rivulets of wine:
The empire's forces with the Spanish we'll combine,
We'll make their drink too in confederacy join.
⁠'Ware France the next: this round Bordeaux shall swallow;
⁠Champagne, Langon, and Burgundy shall follow.
⁠Quick! let's forestall Lorraine;
⁠We'll starve his army, all their quarters drain,
And, without treaty, put an end to the campaign.
Go, set the universe a tilt, turn the globe up,
⁠Squeeze out the last, the slow unwilling drop:
A pox of empty nature! since the world's drawn dry,
⁠'Tis time we quit mortality,
⁠'Tis time we now give out, and die,
Lest we are plagued with dulness and sobriety.
⁠Beset with link-boys, we'll in triumph go,
A troop of staggering ghosts, down to the shades below:
⁠Drunk we'll march off, and reel into the tomb,
⁠Nature's convenient dark retiring-room;
And there, from noise removed, and all tumultuous strife,
Sleep out the dull fatigue, and long debauch of life.

⁠   Tries to go off, but tumbles down, and falls asleep.

Written in August, 1677. This characteristic delineation of the mad valour of drink must be understood, like the Satire against Virtue, to have been intended as a masked attack on one of the prominent vices of the day. Etherege, Rochester, or Sedley might have sat for the portrait, and were probably the actual originals from whom it was drawn. They were as notorious for their excesses in this way, as Dryden for his temperance, and Waller for water-drinking. It would be absurd to suppose that this reeling dithyrambic was seriously meant. The bombastic fury that pervades it is the very essence of ridicule. Oldham, when he wrote it, was secluded at Croydon, and neither in the disposition nor the circumstances to indulge in riotous, guilty living.' His days and nights were given to labour and study, and we have an evidence in the next poem, written in the following month, that his thoughts were differently employed. The dithyrambic is a singular example of premeditated extravagance. The end is attained, not by peculiar felicity of diction, but by audacious hyperbole. It does not bring out its effects by striking phrases, such as the 'plumpy Bacchus with pink eyne' of Shakespeare, or Dryden's portrait of Shadwell rolling home from a treason-tavern, liquored in every chink;' but it hits the mark by its accumulation of daring images. The sublimity of the Ercles' vein is capitally sustained in the last stanza, where the imperious roarer demands a deluge, with the ocean for his mighty cup; calls for the Canary fleet, setting every man to empty a ship; and finally desires the universe to be set a tilt, and the globe turned up, that they may drain the world dry.

John Oldham

John Oldham's other poems:
  1. A Satire Touching Nobility
  2. David's Lamentation for the Death of Saul and Jonathan, Paraphrased
  3. Upon the Works of Ben Jonson
  4. Some Verses on Presenting a Book to Cosmelia
  5. The Praise of Homer

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