Francis Quarles (1592 – 1644) fathered 18 children before he began writing. Personally, I don't know how he did it. Though his major contributions were poetic summarizations of biblical passages, it is reported that most of his works were generally gloomy though threaded with moral lessons. Not much is known about this man except that whatever he did, he did it well and to completion. While this poem is a wonderful illustration of one living with an eternal perspective, one cannot but wonder if it is autobiographical:
I heare the whistling Plough-man, all day long,
Sweetning his labour with a chearefull song:
His Bed ‘s a Pad of Straw; His dyet, course;
In both, he fares not better then his Horse:
He seldome slakes his thirst, but from the Pumpe,
And yet his heart is blithe; his visage, plumpe;
His thoughts are nere acquainted with such things,
As Griefes or Feares; He onely sweats, and sings:
Whenas the Landed Lord, that cannot dine
Without a Qualme, if not refresht with Wine,’
That cannot judge that controverted case,
‘Twixt meat and mouth, without the Bribe of Sauce;
That claimes the service of the purest linnen,
To pamper and to shroud his dainty skin in,
Groanes out his dayes, in lab’ring to appease
The rage of either Buisnes, or Disease:
Alas, his silken Robes, his costly Diet
Can lend a little pleasure, but no Quiet:
The untold summes of his descended wealth
Can give his Body plenty, but not Health:
The one, in Paynes, and want, possesses all;
T’ other, in Plenty, finds no peace at all; ‘Tis strange!
And yet the cause is easly showne;
T’ one’s at God’s finding; t’other, at his owne.’
What an interesting way to show two different people looking at the world. One may very well be in the employ of the other. Both have a place to sleep, something to eat, something to drink, something to do; yet, one could very well live without the other while the other could not live without the one. One has all, while the other, merely everything.
One simply does his business while the other is consumed by it. The rich man, having plenty, is anxious for everything while the ploughman, in need, worries about nothing. Why? Because one views the world as a right, while the other views the world as the place of responsibility. One is separated from the pull of the world while the other is overwhelmed and caught up in it. One lacks grief and fears while the other is full of groans and rage. One is in pain while the other in plenty. One is humble, self-controlled while the other is prideful and without discipline. One has character and integrity, while the other is compromised.
What does the ploughman see that the rich man does not? Dare we suppose he is more educated? What does the ploughman know that the rich man does not, that he can have both quiet and pleasure? What is “quiet” and what is “pleasure?”
At bottom, this is nothing more than the description of a placid, content soul. The last few lines of the poem are the key: one has been apprehended by God and lives with an eternal perspective while the other is very much his own man.