The Consolation of Philosophy


How the might of Nature sways

All the world in ordered ways,

How resistless laws control

Each least portion of the whole--

Fain would I in sounding verse

On my pliant strings rehearse.

Lo, the lion captive ta'en

Meekly wears his gilded chain;

Yet though he by hand be fed,

Though a master's whip he dread,

If but once the taste of gore

Whet his cruel lips once more,

Straight his slumbering fierceness wakes,

With one roar his bonds he breaks,

And first wreaks his vengeful force

On his trainer's mangled corse.

And the woodland songster, pent

In forlorn imprisonment,

Though a mistress' lavish care

Store of honeyed sweets prepare;

Yet, if in his narrow cage,

As he hops from bar to bar,

He should spy the woods afar,

Cool with sheltering foliage,

All these dainties he will spurn,

To the woods his heart will turn;

Only for the woods he longs,

Pipes the woods in all his songs.

To rude force the sapling bends,

While the hand its pressure lends;

If the hand its pressure slack,

Straight the supple wood springs back.

Phoebus in the western main

Sinks; but swift his car again

By a secret path is borne

To the wonted gates of morn.

Thus are all things seen to yearn

In due time for due return;

And no order fixed may stay,

Save which in th' appointed way

Joins the end to the beginning

In a steady cycle spinning.


'Ye, too, creatures of earth, have some glimmering of your origin, however faint, and though in a vision dim and clouded, yet in some wise, notwithstanding, ye discern the true end of happiness, and so the aim of nature leads you thither--to that true good--while error in many forms leads you astray therefrom. For reflect whether men are able to win happiness by those means through which they think to reach the proposed end. Truly, if either wealth, rank, or any of the rest, bring with them anything of such sort as seems to have nothing wanting to it that is good, we, too, acknowledge that some are made happy by the acquisition of these things. But if they are not able to fulfil their promises, and, moreover, lack many good things, is not the happiness men seek in them clearly discovered to be a false show? Therefore do I first ask thee thyself, who but lately wert living in affluence, amid all that abundance of wealth, was thy mind never troubled in consequence of some wrong done to thee?'

'Nay,' said I, 'I cannot ever remember a time when my mind was so completely at peace as not to feel the pang of some uneasiness.'

'Was it not because either something was absent which thou wouldst not have absent, or present which thou wouldst have away?'

'Yes,' said I.

'Then, thou didst want the presence of the one, the absence of the other?'


'But a man lacks that of which he is in want?'

'He does.'

'And he who lacks something is not in all points self-sufficing?'

'No; certainly not,' said I.

'So wert thou, then, in the plenitude of thy wealth, supporting this insufficiency?'

'I must have been.'

'Wealth, then, cannot make its possessor independent and free from all want, yet this was what it seemed to promise. Moreover, I think this also well deserves to be considered--that there is nothing in the special nature of money to hinder its being taken away from those who possess it against their will.'

'I admit it.'

'Why, of course, when every day the stronger wrests it from the weaker without his consent. Else, whence come lawsuits, except in seeking to recover moneys which have been taken away against their owner's will by force or fraud?'

'True,' said I.

'Then, everyone will need some extraneous means of protection to keep his money safe.'

'Who can venture to deny it?'

'Yet he would not, unless he possessed the money which it is possible to lose.'

'No; he certainly would not.'

'Then, we have worked round to an opposite conclusion: the wealth which was thought to make a man independent rather puts him in need of further protection. How in the world, then, can want be driven away by riches? Cannot the rich feel hunger? Cannot they thirst? Are not the limbs of the wealthy sensitive to the winter's cold? "But," thou wilt say, "the rich have the wherewithal to sate their hunger, the means to get rid of thirst and cold." True enough; want can thus be soothed by riches, wholly removed it cannot be. For if this ever-gaping, ever-craving want is glutted by wealth, it needs must be that the want itself which can be so glutted still remains. I do not speak of how very little suffices for nature, and how for avarice nothing is enough. Wherefore, if wealth cannot get rid of want, and makes new wants of its own, how can ye believe that it bestows independence?'