Thesis and Antithesis

A poem by Arthur Hugh Clough

If that we thus are guilty doth appear,
Ah, guilty tho’ we are, grave judges, hear!
Ah, yes; if ever you in your sweet youth
’Midst pleasure’s borders missed the track of truth,
Made love on benches underneath green trees,
Stuffed tender rhymes with old new similes,
Whispered soft anythings, and in the blood
Felt all you said not most was understood
Ah, if you have, as which of you has not?
Nor what you were have utterly forgot,
Then be not stern to faults yourselves have known,
To others harsh, kind to yourselves alone.

That we, young sir, beneath our youth’s green trees
Once did, not what should profit, but should please,
In foolish longing and in love-sick play
Forgot the truth and lost the flying day,
That we went wrong we say not is not true,
But, if we erred, were we not punished too?
If not, if no one checked our wandering feet,
Shall we our parents’ negligence repeat?
In future times that ancient loss renew,
If none saved us, forbear from saving you?
Nor let that justice in your faults be seen
Which in our own or was or should have been!

Yet, yet, recal the mind that you had then,
And, so recalling, listen yet again;
If you escaped, ’tis plainly understood
Impunity may leave a culprit good;
If you were punished, did you then, as now,
The justice of that punishment allow?
Did what your age consents to now, appear
Expedient then and needfully severe?
In youth’s indulgence think there yet might be
A truth forgot by grey severity.
That strictness and that laxity between,
Be yours the wisdom to detect the mean.

’Tis possible, young sir, that some excess
Mars youthful judgment and old men’s no less;
Yet we must take our counsel as we may
For (flying years this lesson still convey),
’Tis worst unwisdom to be overwise,
And not to use, but still correct one’s eyes.

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