Why Did My Parents Send Me To The Schools? by John Davies

Why did my parents send me to the Schools,
That I with knowledge might enrich my mind?
Since the desire to know first made men fools,
And did corrupt the root of all mankind:

Even so by tasting of that fruit forbid,
Where they sought knowledge, they did error find;
Ill they desir’d to know, and ill they did;
And to give Passion eyes, made Reason blind.

For then their minds did first in Passion see
Those wretched shapes of misery and woe,
Of nakedness, of shame, of poverty,
Which then their own experience made them know.

But then grew Reason dark, that she no more,
Could the faire forms of Good and Truth discern;
Bats they became, that eagles were before:
And this they got by their desire to learn.

All things without, which round about we see,
We seek to know, and how therewith to do:
But that whereby we reason, live and be,
Within our selves, we strangers are thereto.

We seek to know the moving of each sphere,
And the strange cause of th’ebs and floods of Nile;
But of that clock within our breasts we bear,
The subtle motions we forget the while.

We that acquaint our selves with every Zone
And pass both Tropics and behold the Poles
When we come home, are to our selves unknown,
And unacquainted still with our own souls.

We study Speech but others we persuade;
We leech-craft learn, but others cure with it;
We interpret laws, which other men have made,
But read not those which in our hearts are writ.

Is it because the mind is like the eye,
Through which it gathers knowledge by degrees −
Whose rays reflect not, but spread outwardly:
Not seeing itself when other things it sees?

No, doubtless; for the mind can backward cast
Upon her self her understanding light;
But she is so corrupt, and so defac’t,
As her own image doth her self affright.

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem


How well do you know yourself?  As Facebook says, “it’s complicated.”  Since the oracle of Delphi uttered ‘Nosce Te Ipsum!’ (know thyself!) our best and finest writers have struggled to articulate the quest.  Into this fray came John Davies in the late 16th century.  A contemporary of William Shakespeare and Ben Johnson, Davies composed a 2,000 line poem that takes us to task on self-knowledge.

For the next three days, we look to Davies’ poem for insight.  In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcom Guite wrote:

What we need is the kind of self-knowledge that would lead us to understand that we are not self-made, and would put ourselves and our world into better perspective. Davies exclaims upon the strange paradox of our sophisticated knowledge of the world set against our wilful self-ignorance, and, anticipating both Freud and Jung, suggests that we prefer to hide ourselves rather than know ourselves because we are afraid of what we might find:

For the mind can backward cast
Upon her self her understanding light;
But she is so corrupt, and so defac’t,
As her own image doth her self affright.

Davies’ response to this insight is not flight or cynicism, the two characteristic responses of our own age, but rather courageous exploration.

How has your understanding of yourself evolved?

Proverbs 20:5

Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.

Dig Deeper: Literature & Liturgy

John Davies

John Davies

(1569–1626). The Englishman John Davies distinguished himself as a poet and as a statesman. His famous work Orchestra, or a Poem of Dancing reveals a typically Elizabethan pleasure in the contemplation of the correspondence between the natural order and human activity.

Davies was born in April 1569 in Tisbury, Wiltshire, England. Educated at the University of Oxford, he was called to the bar in 1595. On the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, Davies was one of the messengers who carried the news to James VI of Scotland, who succeeded Elizabeth as James I. James received him with great favor, sent him to Ireland as solicitor general, and conferred a knighthood on him. In 1606 Davies was made attorney general for Ireland. He took an active part in the Protestant settlement of Ulster, a province in the northeastern part of the island of Ireland, and wrote several tracts on Irish affairs. He entered the Irish Parliament and was elected speaker in 1613, and after he returned to England he sat in the English Parliament of 1621. He was appointed lord chief justice in 1626 but died later that year, on December 8, before taking office.

Much of Davies’ early poetry consisted of epigrams. Epigrammes and Elegies by J.D. and C.M. (1590?) contained both Davies’ work and posthumous works by Christopher Marlowe; it was one of the books the archbishop of Canterbury ordered burned in 1599. Orchestra (1596) is a poem in praise of dancing set against the background of Elizabethan cosmology and its theory of the harmony of the spheres. In Nosce teipsum (1599; Know Thyself), he gave a lucid account of his philosophy on the nature and immortality of the soul. In the same year he published Hymnes of Astraea in Acrosticke Verse, a series of poems in which the initials of the first lines form the words Elisabetha Regina in honor of Queen Elizabeth. A volume of his collected poems was published in 1622.

“Davies, John,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).


Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith


51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

ART: Narcissus

Alternative name: Narcissus (Caravaggio)
Date: c.1599
Style: Baroque
Genre: portrait
Media: oil, canvas
Dimensions: 110 x 92 cm
Location: National Gallery of Ancient Art (GNAA), Rome, Italy

The Cognoscenti & the Apologetics of Curiosity by Kate Thomsen Gremillion

Kate Thomsen Gremillion

One of the most delightful aspects of participating in Literary Life is the charm and fascination of its members. As I read through the posts and comments, I meet a range of characters from the beguiling and clever to the serious and searching. Much of what I encounter is at first a bit intimidating. And I pause here to bring a topic to light. Why is it that when we find a subject matter or a field of study intimidating, we turn away?

We turn away because we are embarrassed about what we don’t know.

Antidote: Strike out the voice of shame that whispers “not knowing makes you bad or uneducated” and embrace the idea that you have discovered a way for curiosity to exercise her muscles. I have discovered alternate ways of dealing with the shame of not knowing. To begin, there is no shame in not knowing. Be gentle with yourself and delight in the quest to grow in knowledge. Instead of backing down, dig in. Ask questions and be inquisitive (and no, curiosity did not kill the cat. English playwright, Ben Jonson first penned the saying in Every Man in His Humour, 1598 and it went like this “Helter skelter, hang sorrow, care’ll kill a Cat, up-tails all, and a Louse for the Hangman.” Worry and care in other people’s affairs were the behaviors in question).

This is especially useful in The Arts as it is an area where many feel insecure. Being articulate with regards to Music and Art can feel elusive to the beginner, but do not let that deter you. The best ways to discovery are through experience, research, and seeking out the like-minded. Being a part of Literary Life is a great step.

In things of beauty, he contemplated the One who is supremely beautiful, and, led, by the footprints he found in creatures, he followed the Beloved everywhere.

~Pope John Paul II from Bonaventure


We turn away because we do not know how to find out about what we know.

Antidote: Start searching and digging deeper into what you do not know. One of the easiest ways to do that is to find a community who is similarly stimulated.

Another good way to understand what you do not know is to use what you do know to approach it. Because I am trained in the musical arts I often begin with music, as understanding poetry can come more easily when married with the additional talents of a composer. Take, for instance the second movement of Vaughan William’s A Sea Symphony. The poetry is Walt Whitman’s On The Beach At Night Alone:

On the beach at night alone,

As the old mother sways her to and fro, singing her husky song,

As I watch the bright stars shining, I think a thought of the clef of the universes, and of the future.

A vast similitude interlocks all,

All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, planets

All distances of place however wide,

All distances of time, all inanimate forms,

All souls, all living bodies, though they be ever so different, or in different worlds,

All gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes, the fishes, the brutes,

All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, languages,

All identities that have existed, or may exist, on this globe, or any globe,

All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future,

This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann’d,

And shall forever span them and compactly hold and enclose them.

After reading the poem, travel with the poetry along with composer Vaughan Williams and listen for the musical elements that pull us along further into meaning. There are immediately recognizable elements such as the lone voice at the beginning singing “On the beach at night alone”, the expansiveness of the horn section introducing us to the “vast similitude”, the widening of the vocal rang to extremes at “all distances of place however wide”. I read the poem and I am struck by its insights. I listen to the music and I find myself on the beach at night alone.

We turn away because we listen to the voices that exaggerate our fears and inabilities.

Antidote: Everyone feels that way. Instead of berating yourself and neglecting your natural curiosity, embrace it.

Let us listen to each other

Learn from each other.

Kate resides in Newport Beach, CA. After pursuing a music degree at Trinity University and Indiana University she currently studies at HBU in the Master of Arts in Apologetics program. She is a full time homeschooling mother of four, two of whom have graduated to college (Cornell and LMU). She is also a professional singer performing regularly with the Pacific Symphony and Pacific Chorale. Kate gives regular recitals in Art Song and Opera and conducts the St Matthew’s Choristers at St Matthews Anglican Church in Newport Beach where they study Latin, Liturgy and Music. Her newest projects are the establishing of The Children’s Conservatory at St Matthew’s Montessori school and… as a contributing writer to Literary Life!