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About this poet

Christopher Smart was born on April 11, 1722 in Shipbourne, Kent, England. His father, a steward on the estate of Lord Vane, died when Smart was eleven. Smart attended the Durham School and was later educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge University, where he was well known for his Latin verses.

The Odes of Horace would remain influential throughout Smart's career; he translated The Works of Horace in 1756. After college, Smart earned a living in London editing and writing copy for periodicals and composing songs for the popular theater. During this time, he became known for his reckless drinking and spending habits; he was arrested for debt in 1747. In 1752 he published his first collection, Poems on Several Occasions, and married Anna Maria Carnan. They had two daughters.

In the 1750s Smart developed a form of religious mania that compelled him to continuous prayer. Samuel Johnson remarked, "My poor friend Smart showed the disturbance of his mind by falling upon his knees, and saying his prayers in the street, or in any other unusual place." In 1756 he published Hymn to the Supreme Being, on Recovery from a Dangerous Fit of Illness. However, from that time onward, Smart was confined, with one brief Intermission, until 1763 in St. Luke's Hospital and then in Mr. Potter's Madhouse in Bethnal Green.

During his confinement he wrote what many see as his most original and lasting works—A Song to David, and the lengthy manuscript of Jubilate Agno. The last five years of Smart's life were marked by increasing debt and need; he was arrested again for debt in 1770 and died on May 21, 1771.

Smart is best known for A Song to David (1763), which praises the author of the Psalms as an archetype of the Divine poet. Although in its own time the poem was greeted largely with confusion, later poets such as Browning and Yeats would single out this poem for its affirmation of spirituality in an increasingly materialistic world.

In this respect Smart has been considered as a forerunner to poets such as John Clare and William Blake. Smart is also known for his distinctive and often anthologized homage to his cat, Jeoffry. This poem comes from the surviving fragments of Jubilate Agno, which was also written during his confinement but not published in a definitive edition until 1954.

The surviving fragments of Jubilate Agno are composed in a series of antiphonal verses beginning either with the word let or for. Smart envisions himself as "the Lord's News-Writer—the scribe-evangelist" spreading the Word. The poem is both a personal and philosophical diary and it presents an encyclopedic gathering of obscure lore, genealogy, and wordplay. Startling alterations of tone and juxtaposition of material as well as a careful attention to the quotidian energize Jubilate Agno.

Smart's work has captured the attention of contemporary artists such as Benjamin Britten, Allen Ginsberg, and Theodore Roethke.

Song to David [Sublime—invention ever young]

Sublime—invention ever young,   
Of vast conception, tow'ring tongue   
    To God th' eternal theme;   
Notes from yon exaltations caught,   
Unrivall'd royalty of thought           
    O'er meaner strains supreme.   
His muse, bright angel of his verse,   
Gives balm for all the thorns that pierce,   
    For all the pangs that rage;   
Blest light still gaining on the gloom,    
The more than Michal of his bloom,   
    Th' Abishag of his age.   
He sang of God—the mighty source   
Of all things—the stupendous force   
    On which all strength depends;    
From whose right arm, beneath whose eyes,   
All period, power, and enterprise   
    Commences, reigns, and ends.   
Tell them, I AM, Jehovah said   
To Moses; while earth heard in dread,    
    And, smitten to the heart,   
At once above, beneath, around,   
All Nature, without voice or sound,   
    Replied, O LORD, THOU ART.   
The world, the clustering spheres, He made;    
The glorious light, the soothing shade,   
    Dale, champaign, grove, and hill;   
The multitudinous abyss,   
Where Secrecy remains in bliss,   
    And Wisdom hides her skill.    
The pillars of the Lord are seven,   
Which stand from earth to topmost heaven;   
    His Wisdom drew the plan;   
His Word accomplish'd the design,   
From brightest gem to deepest mine;    
    From Christ enthroned, to Man.   
For Adoration all the ranks   
Of Angels yield eternal thanks,   
    And David in the midst;   
With God's good poor, which, last and least    
In man's esteem, Thou to Thy feast,   
    O blessèd Bridegroom, bidd'st!   
For Adoration, David's Psalms   
Lift up the heart to deeds of alms;   
    And he, who kneels and chants,    
Prevails his passions to control,   
Finds meat and medicine to the soul,   
    Which for translation pants.   
For Adoration, in the dome   
Of Christ, the sparrows find a home,    
    And on His olives perch:   
The swallow also dwells with thee,   
O man of God's humility,   
    Within his Saviour's church.   
Sweet is the dew that falls betimes,    
And drops upon the leafy limes;   
    Sweet Hermon's fragrant air:   
Sweet is the lily's silver bell,   
And sweet the wakeful tapers' smell   
    That watch for early prayer.    
Sweet the young nurse, with love intense,   
Which smiles o'er sleeping innocence;   
    Sweet, when the lost arrive:   
Sweet the musician's ardour beats,   
While his vague mind's in quest of sweets,    
    The choicest flowers to hive.   
Strong is the horse upon his speed;   
Strong in pursuit the rapid glede,   
    Which makes at once his game:   
Strong the tall ostrich on the ground;
Strong through the turbulent profound   
    Shoots Xiphias to his aim.   
Strong is the lion—like a coal   
His eyeball,—like a bastion's mole   
    His chest against the foes: 
Strong, the gier-eagle on his sail;   
Strong against tide th' enormous whale   
    Emerges as he goes.   
But stronger still, in earth and air,   
And in the sea, the man of prayer,
    And far beneath the tide:   
And in the seat to faith assign'd,   
Where ask is have, where seek is find,   
    Where knock is open wide.   
Precious the penitential tear;
And precious is the sigh sincere,   
    Acceptable to God:   
And precious are the winning flowers,   
In gladsome Israel's feast of bowers   
    Bound on the hallow'd sod.
Glorious the sun in mid career;   
Glorious th' assembled fires appear;   
    Glorious the comet's train:   
Glorious the trumpet and alarm;   
Glorious the Almighty's stretched-out arm; 
    Glorious th' enraptured main:   
Glorious the northern lights astream;   
Glorious the song, when God 's the theme;   
    Glorious the thunder's roar:   
Glorious Hosanna from the den;   
Glorious the catholic Amen;   
    Glorious the martyr's gore:   
Glorious—more glorious—is the crown   
Of Him that brought salvation down,   
    By meekness call'd thy Son:   
Thou that stupendous truth believed;—   
And now the matchless deed 's achieved,   
    Determined, dared, and done!

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Christopher Smart

Christopher Smart

Christopher Smart was born on April 11, 1722 in Shipbourne, Kent, England.

by this poet

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which