"Thus anxious thoughts in endless circles roll, / Without a centre where to fix the soul."

— Dryden, John (1631-1700)

Place of Publication
Printed for Jacob Tonson
November, 1682
"Thus anxious thoughts in endless circles roll, / Without a centre where to fix the soul."
Metaphor in Context
Dim, as the borrow'd beams of moon and stars
To lonely, weary, wand'ring travellers,
Is reason to the soul; and as on high,
Those rolling fires discover but the sky
Not light us here; so reason's glimmering ray
Was lent not to assure our doubtful way,
But guide us upward to a better day.
And as those nightly tapers disappear
When day's bright lord ascends our hemisphere
So pale grows reason at religion's sight:
So dies, and so dissolves in supernatural light.
Some few, whose lamp shone brighter, have been led
From cause to cause, to Nature's secret head;
And found that one first principle must be:
But what, or who, that Universal He;
Whether some soul incompassing this ball
Unmade, unmov'd; yet making, moving all;
Or various atoms' interfering dance
Leapt into form (the noble work of chance;)
Or this great all was from eternity;
Not even the Stagirite himself could see;
And Epicurus guess'd as well as he:
As blindly grop'd they for a future state;
As rashly judg'd of Providence and Fate:
But least of all could their endeavours find
What most concern'd the good of human kind.
For happiness was never to be found;
But vanish'd from 'em, like enchanted ground.
One thought content the good to be enjoy'd:
This, every little accident destroy'd:
The wiser madmen did for virtue toil:
A thorny, or at best a barren soil:
In pleasure some their glutton souls would steep;
But found their line too short, the well too deep;
And leaky vessels which no bliss could keep.
Thus anxious thoughts in endless circles roll,
Without a centre where to fix the soul
In this wild maze their vain endeavours end:
How can the less the greater comprehend?
Or finite reason reach infinity?
For what could fathom God were more than He.
(ll. 1-41)
Reading John Dryden, ed. Keith Walker (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).

Text from Representative Poetry Online, ed. G. G. Falle. Original from John Dryden, Poetry, Prose, and Plays, ed. Douglas Grant (Reynard Library edition: Hart-Davis, 1952). <Link to RPO>

See also Religio Laici, or, A Laymans Faith. A Poem (London: Printed for Jacob Tonson, 1682). <Link to EEBO>
Date of Entry

The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.