Lorenzo! to recriminate is just.
Fondness for fame is avarice of air.
I grant the man is vain who writes for praise.
Praise no man e'er deserved, who sought no more.
As just thy second charge. I grant the Muse
Has often blush'd at her degenerate sons,
Retain'd by sense to plead her filthy cause;
To raise the low, to magnify the mean,
And subtilize the gross into refined:
As if to magic numbers' powerful charm 10
'Twas given, to make a civet of their song
Obscene, and sweeten ordure to perfume.
Wit, a true Pagan, deifies the brute,
And lifts our swine-enjoyments from the mire.
The fact notorious, nor obscure the cause.
We wear the chains of pleasure and of pride.
These share the man; and these distract him too;
Draw different ways, and clash in their commands.
Pride, like an eagle, builds among the stars;
But pleasure, lark-like, nests upon the ground.20
Joys shared by brute creation, pride resents; 21
Pleasure embraces: man would both enjoy,
And both at once: a point so hard, how gain!
But, what can't wit, when stung by strong desire?
Wit dares attempt this arduous enterprise.
Since joys of sense can't rise to reason's taste;
In subtle sophistry's laborious forge,
Wit hammers out a reason new, that stoops
To sordid scenes, and meets them with applause.
Wit calls the graces the chaste zone to loose; 30
Nor less than a plump god to fill the bowl:
A thousand phantoms, and a thousand spells,
A thousand opiates scatters, to delude,
To fascinate, inebriate, lay asleep,
And the fool'd mind delightfully confound.
Thus that which shock'd the judgment, shocks no more;
That which gave Pride offence, no more offends.
Pleasure and Pride, by nature mortal foes,
At war eternal, which in man shall reign,
By Wit's address, patch up a fatal peace, 40
And hand in hand lead on the rank debauch,
From rank refined to delicate and gay.
Art, cursed Art! wipes off th' indebted blush
From Nature's cheek, and bronzes every shame.
Man smiles in ruin, glories in his guilt,
And infamy stands candidate for praise.
All writ by man in favour of the soul,
These sensual ethics far, in bulk, transcend.
The flowers of eloquence, profusely pour'd
O'er spotted vice, fill half the letter'd world.50
Can powers of genius exorcise their page,
And consecrate enormities with song?
But let not these inexpiable strains
Condemn the Muse that knows her dignity;
Nor meanly stops at time, but holds the world 55
As 'tis, in nature's ample field, a point,
A point in her esteem; from whence to start,
And run the round of universal space,
To visit being universal there,
And being's source, that utmost flight of mind!
Yet, spite of this so vast circumference,
Well knows, but what is moral, nought is great.62
Sing syrens only? Do not angels sing?
There is in Poesy a decent pride,
Which well becomes her when she speaks to Prose,
Her younger sister; haply, not more wise.
Think'st thou, Lorenzo! to find pastimes here?
No guilty passion blown into a flame,
No foible flatter'd, dignity disgraced,
No fairy field of fiction, all on flower, 70
No rainbow colours here, or silken tale:
But solemn counsels, images of awe,
Truths, which eternity lets fall on man
With double weight, through these revolving spheres,
This death-deep silence, and incumbent shade:
Thoughts, such as shall revisit your last hour;
Visit uncall'd, and live when life expires;
And thy dark pencil, Midnight! darker still
In melancholy dipp'd, embrowns the whole.
Yet this, even this, my laughter-loving friends! 80
Lorenzo! and thy brothers of the smile!
If, what imports you most, can most engage,
Shall steal your ear, and chain you to my song.
Or if you fail me, know, the wise shall taste
The truths I sing; the truths I sing shall feel;
And, feeling, give assent; and their assent
Is ample recompence; is more than praise.
But chiefly thine, O Lichfield! nor mistake;
Think not unintroduced I force my way; 89
Narcissa, not unknown, not unallied,
By virtue, or by blood, illustrious youth!
To thee, from blooming amaranthine bowers,
Where all the language harmony, descends
Uncall'd, and asks admittance for the Muse:
A Muse that will not pain thee with thy praise;
Thy praise she drops, by nobler still inspired.
O Thou! Blest Spirit! whether the supreme,
Great antemundane Father! in whose breast
Embryo creation, unborn being, dwelt,
And all its various revolutions roll'd 100
Present, though future; prior to themselves;
Whose breath can blow it into nought again;
Or, from his throne some delegated power,
Who, studious of our peace, dost turn the thought
From vain and vile, to solid and sublime!
Unseen thou lead'st me to delicious draughts
Of inspiration, from a purer stream,
And fuller of the god, than that which burst
From famed Castalia: nor is yet allay'd
My sacred thirst; though long my soul has ranged 110
Through pleasing paths of moral, and divine,
By Thee sustain'd, and lighted by the stars.
By them best lighted are the paths of thought:
Nights are their days, their most illumined hours.
By day, the soul, o'erborne by life's career,
Stunn'd by the din, and giddy with the glare,
Reels far from reason, jostled by the throng.
By day the soul is passive, all her thoughts
Imposed, precarious, broken ere mature.
By night, from objects free, from passion cool, 120
Thoughts uncontroll'd, and unimpress'd, the births
Of pure election, arbitrary range,
Not to the limits of one world confined; 123
But from ethereal travels light on earth,
As voyagers drop anchor, for repose.
Let Indians, and the gay, like Indians, fond
Of feather'd fopperies, the sun adore:
Darkness has more divinity for me;
It strikes thought inward; it drives back the soul
To settle on herself, our point supreme! 130
There lies our theatre; there sits our judge.
Darkness the curtain drops o'er life's dull scene;
'Tis the kind hand of Providence stretch'd out
'Twixt man and vanity; 'tis reason's reign,
And virtue's too; these tutelary shades
Are man's asylum from the tainted throng.
Night is the good man's friend, and guardian too;
It no less rescues virtue, than inspires.
Virtue, for ever frail, as fair, below,
Her tender nature suffers in the crowd, 140
Nor touches on the world, without a stain:
The world's infectious; few bring back at eve.
Immaculate, the manners of the morn.
Something we thought, is blotted; we resolved,
Is shaken; we renounced, returns again.
Each salutation may slide in a sin
Unthought before, or fix a former flaw.
Nor is it strange: light, motion, concourse, noise,
All, scatter us abroad; thought outward-bound,
Neglectful of our home affairs, flies off 150
In fume and dissipation, quits her charge,
And leaves the breast unguarded to the foe.
Present example gets within our guard,
And acts with double force, by few repell'd.
Ambition fires ambition; love of gain
Strikes, like a pestilence, from breast to breast;
Riot, pride, perfidy, blue vapours breathe; 157
And inhumanity is caught from man,
From smiling man. A slight, a single glance,
And shot at random, often has brought home
A sudden fever, to the throbbing heart,
Of envy, rancour, or impure desire.
We see, we hear, with peril; safety dwells 163
Remote from multitude; the world's a school
Of wrong, and what proficients swarm around!
We must, or imitate, or disapprove;
Must list as their accomplices, or foes;
That stains our innocence; this wounds our peace.
From nature's birth, hence, wisdom has been smit
With sweet recess, and languish'd for the shade.170
This sacred shade, and solitude, what is it?
'Tis the felt presence of the Deity.
Few are the faults we flatter when alone.
Vice sinks in her allurements, is ungilt,
And looks, like other objects, black by night.
By night an atheist half believes a God.
Night is fair virtue's immemorial friend;
The conscious moon, through every distant age,
Has held a lamp to wisdom, and let fall,
On contemplation's eye, her purging ray.180
The famed Athenian, he who woo'd from heaven
Philosophy the fair, to dwell with men,
And form their manners, not inflame their pride,
While o'er his head, as fearful to molest
His labouring mind, the stars in silence slide,
And seem all gazing on their future guest,
See him soliciting his ardent suit
In private audience: all the live-long night,
Rigid in thought, and motionless, he stands;
Nor quits his theme, or posture, till the sun 190
(Rude drunkard rising rosy from the main!)
Disturbs his nobler intellectual beam,
And gives him to the tumult of the world.
Hail, precious moments! stolen from the black waste
Of murder'd time! Auspicious midnight! hail!
The world excluded, every passion hush'd,
And open'd a calm intercourse with Heaven,
Here the soul sits in council; ponders past,
Predestines future, action; sees, not feels,
Tumultuous life, and reasons with the storm; 200
All her lies answers, and thinks down her charms.
What awful joy! what mental liberty!
I am not pent in darkness; rather say
(If not too bold) in darkness I'm embower'd.
Delightful gloom! the clustering thoughts around
Spontaneous rise, and blossom in the shade;
But droop by day, and sicken in the sun.
Thought borrows light elsewhere; from that first fire,
Fountain of animation! whence descends
Urania, my celestial guest! who deigns 210
Nightly to visit me, so mean; and now,
Conscious how needful discipline to man,
From pleasing dalliance with the charms of Night
My wandering thought recalls, to what excites
Far other beat of heart! Narcissa's tomb!
Or is it feeble nature calls me back,
And breaks my spirit into grief again?
Is it a Stygian vapour in my blood?
A cold, slow puddle, creeping through my veins?
Or is it thus with all men? -- Thus with all.220
What are we? how unequal! Now we soar,
And now we sink; to be the same, transcends
Our present prowess. Dearly pays the soul
For lodging ill; too dearly rents her clay.224
Reason, a baffled counsellor! but adds
The blush of weakness to the bane of woe.
The noblest spirit fighting her hard fate,
In this damp, dusky region, charged with storms,
But feebly flutters, yet untaught to fly;
Or, flying, short her flight, and sure her fall.
Our utmost strength, when down, to rise again;
And not to yield, though beaten, all our praise.232
'Tis vain to seek in men for more than man.
Though proud in promise, big in previous thought,
Experience damps our triumph. I, who late,
Emerging from the shadows of the grave,
Where grief detain'd me prisoner, mounting high,
Threw wide the gates of everlasting day,
And call'd mankind to glory, shook off pain,
Mortality shook off, in ether pure, 240
And struck the stars; now feel my spirits fail;
They drop me from the zenith; down I rush,
Like him whom fable fledged with waxen wings,
In sorrow drown'd -- but not in sorrow lost.
How wretched is the man who never mourn'd!
I dive for precious pearl in sorrow's stream:
Not so the thoughtless man that only grieves;
Takes all the torment, and rejects the gain;
(Inestimable gain!) and gives Heaven leave
To make him but more wretched, not more wise.250
If wisdom is our lesson (and what else
Ennobles man? what else have angels learn'd?),
Grief! more proficients in thy school are made,
Than genius, or proud learning, e'er could boast.
Voracious learning, often over-fed,
Digests not into sense her motley meal.
This book-case, which dark booty almost burst, 257
This forager on others' wisdom, leaves
Her native farm, her reason, quite untill'd.
With mix'd manure she surfeits the rank soil,
Dung'd, but not dress'd; and rich to beggary.
A pomp untameable of weeds prevails.
Her servant's wealth, encumber'd wisdom mourns.263
And what says Genius? |Let the dull be wise.|
Genius, too hard for right, can prove it wrong;
And loves to boast, where blush men less inspired.
It pleads exemption from the laws of sense;
Considers reason as a leveller;
And scorns to share a blessing with the crowd.
That wise it could be, thinks an ample claim 270
To glory, and to pleasure gives the rest.
Crassus but sleeps, Ardelio is undone.
Wisdom less shudders at a fool, than wit.
But Wisdom smiles, when humbled mortals weep.
When sorrow wounds the breast, as ploughs the glebe,
And hearts obdurate feel her softening shower;
Her seed celestial, then, glad wisdom sows;
Her golden harvest triumphs in the soil.
If so, Narcissa , welcome my Relapse;
I'll raise a tax on my calamity, 280
And reap rich compensation from my pain.
I'll range the plenteous intellectual field;
And gather every thought of sovereign power
To chase the moral maladies of man;
Thoughts, which may bear transplanting to the skies,
Though natives of this coarse penurious soil;
Nor wholly wither there, where seraphs sing,
Refined, exalted, not annull'd, in heaven.
Reason, the sun that gives them birth, the same
In either clime, though more illustrious there.290
These choicely cull'd, and elegantly ranged, 291
Shall form a garland for Narcissa's tomb;
And, peradventure, of no fading flowers.
Say on what themes shall puzzled choice descend?
|Th' importance of contemplating the tomb;
Why men decline it; suicide's foul birth;
The various kind of grief; the faults of age;
And Death's dread character -- invite my song.|
And, first th' importance of our end survey'd.
Friends counsel quick dismission of our grief: 300
Mistaken kindness! our hearts heal too soon.
Are they more kind than He, who struck the blow?
Who bid it do his errand in our hearts,
And banish peace, till nobler guests arrive,
And bring it back, a true and endless peace?
Calamities are friends: as glaring day
Of these unnumber'd lustres robs our sight;
Prosperity puts out unnumber'd thoughts
Of import high, and light divine, to man.
The man how blest, who, sick of gaudy scenes, 310
(Scenes apt to thrust between us and ourselves!)
Is led by choice to take his favourite walk,
Beneath death's gloomy, silent, cypress shades,
Unpierced by vanity's fantastic ray;
To read his monuments, to weigh his dust,
Visit his vaults, and dwell among the tombs!
Lorenzo read with me Narcissa's stone;
(Narcissa was thy favourite) let us read
Her moral stone; few doctors preach so well;
Few orators so tenderly can touch 320
The feeling heart. What pathos in the date!
Apt words can strike: and yet in them we see
Faint images of what we here enjoy.
What cause have we to build on length of life?
Temptations seize, when fear is laid asleep; 325
And ill foreboded is our strongest guard.
See from her tomb, as from an humble shrine,
Truth, radiant goddess! sallies on my soul,
And puts delusion's dusky train to flight;
Dispels the mists our sultry passions raise,
From objects low, terrestrial, and obscene;
And shows the real estimate of things; 332
Which no man, unafflicted, ever saw;
Pulls off the veil from virtue's rising charms;
Detects temptation in a thousand lies.
Truth bids me look on men, as autumn leaves,
And all they bleed for, as the summer's dust,
Driven by the whirlwind: lighted by her beams,
I widen my horizon, gain new powers,
See things invisible, feel things remote, 340
Am present with futurities; think nought
To man so foreign, as the joys possess'd;
Nought so much his, as those beyond the grave.
No folly keeps its colour in her sight;
Pale worldly wisdom loses all her charms;
In pompous promise, from her schemes profound,
If future fate she plans, 'tis all in leaves,
Like Sibyl, unsubstantial, fleeting bliss!
At the first blast it vanishes in air.
Not so, celestial: would'st thou know, Lorenzo! 350
How differ worldly wisdom, and divine?
Just as the waning and the waxing moon.
More empty worldly wisdom every day;
And every day more fair her rival shines.
When later, there's less time to play the fool.
Soon our whole term for wisdom is expired
(Thou know'st she calls no council in the grave):
And everlasting fool is writ in fire, 358
Or real wisdom wafts us to the skies.
As worldly schemes resemble Sibyl's leaves,
The good man's days to Sibyl's books compare,
(In ancient story read, thou know'st the tale),
In price still rising, as in number less,
Inestimable quite his final hour.364
For that who thrones can offer, offer thrones;
Insolvent worlds the purchase cannot pay.
|O let me die his death!| all nature cries.
|Then live his life| -- all nature falters there;
Our great physician daily to consult,
To commune with the grave, our only cure.370
What grave prescribes the best? -- A friend's; and yet,
From a friend's grave, how soon we disengage!
Even to the dearest, as his marble, cold.
Why are friends ravish'd from us? 'Tis to bind,
By soft affection's ties, on human hearts,
The thought of death, which reason, too supine,
Or misemploy'd, so rarely fastens there.
Nor reason, nor affection, no, nor both
Combined, can break the witchcrafts of the world.
Behold, th' inexorable hour at hand! 380
Behold, th' inexorable hour forgot!
And to forget it, the chief aim of life,
Though well to ponder it, is life's chief end.
Is Death, that ever threatening, ne'er remote,
That all-important, and that only sure
(Come when he will), an unexpected guest?
Nay, though invited by the loudest calls
Of blind imprudence, unexpected still;
Though numerous messengers are sent before,
To warn his great arrival. What the cause, 390
The wondrous cause, of this mysterious ill? 391
All heaven looks down astonish'd at the sight.
Is it, that life has sown her joys so thick,
We can't thrust in a single care between?
Is it, that life has such a swarm of cares,
The thought of death can't enter for the throng?
Is it, that time steals on with downy feet,
Nor wakes indulgence from her golden dream?
To-day is so like yesterday, it cheats;
We take the lying sister for the same.400
Life glides away, Lorenzo, like a brook;
For ever changing, unperceived the change.
In the same brook none ever bathed him twice:
To the same life none ever twice awoke.
We call the brook the same; the same we think
Our life, though still more rapid in its flow;
Nor mark the much, irrevocably lapsed,
And mingled with the sea. Or shall we say
(Retaining still the brook to bear us on)
That life is like a vessel on the stream? 410
In life embark'd, we smoothly down the tide
Of time descend, but not on time intent;
Amused, unconscious of the gliding wave;
Till on a sudden we perceive a shock;
We start, awake, look out; what see we there?
Our brittle bark is burst on Charon's shore.
Is this the cause death flies all human thought?
Or is it judgment, by the will struck blind,
That domineering mistress of the soul!
Like him so strong, by Dalilah the fair? 420
Or is it fear turns startled reason back,
From looking down a precipice so steep?
'Tis dreadful; and the dread is wisely placed,
By nature, conscious of the make of man.
A dreadful friend it is, a terror kind, 425
A flaming sword to guard the tree of life.
By that unawed, in life's most smiling hour,
The good man would repine; would suffer joys,
And burn impatient for his promised skies.
The bad, on each punctilious pique of pride,
Or gloom of humour, would give rage the rein;
Bound o'er the barrier, rush into the dark, 432
And mar the schemes of Providence below.
What groan was that, Lorenzo? -- Furies! rise,
And drown in your less execrable yell
Britannia's shame. There took her gloomy flight,
On wing impetuous, a black sullen soul,
Blasted from hell, with horrid lust of death;
Thy friend, the brave, the gallant Altamont,
So call'd, so thought -- and then he fled the field.440
Less base the fear of death, than fear of life.
O Britain, infamous for suicide!
An island in thy manners! far disjoin'd
From the whole world of rationals beside!
In ambient waves plunge thy polluted head,
Wash the dire stain, nor shock the Continent.
But thou be shock'd, while I detect the cause
Of self-assault, expose the monster's birth,
And bid abhorrence hiss it round the world.
Blame not thy clime, nor chide the distant sun; 450
The sun is innocent, thy clime absolved:
Immoral climes kind nature never made.
The cause I sing, in Eden might prevail,
And proves, it is thy folly, not thy fate.
The soul of man (let man in homage bow,
Who names his soul), a native of the skies!
High-born, and free, her freedom should maintain,
Unsold, unmortgaged for earth's little bribes.
Th' illustrious stranger, in this foreign land, 459
Like strangers, jealous of her dignity,
Studious of home, and ardent to return,
Of earth suspicious, earth's enchanted cup
With cool reserve light touching, should indulge
On immortality her godlike taste;
There take large draughts, make her chief banquet there.
But some reject this sustenance divine;
To beggarly vile appetites descend;
Ask alms of earth, for guests that came from heaven!
Sink into slaves; and sell, for present hire,
Their rich reversion, and (what shares its fate) 470
Their native freedom, to the prince who sways
This nether world. And when his payments fail,
When his foul basket gorges them no more,
Or their pall'd palates loathe the basket full;
Are instantly, with wild demoniac rage,
For breaking all the chains of Providence,
And bursting their confinement; though fast barr'd
By laws divine and human; guarded strong
With horrors doubled to defend the pass,
The blackest, nature, or dire guilt, can raise; 480
And moated round with fathomless destruction,
Sure to receive, and whelm them in their fall.
Such, Britons! is the cause, to you unknown,
Or worse, o'erlook'd; o'erlook'd by magistrates,
Thus criminals themselves. I grant the deed
Is madness, but the madness of the heart.
And what is that? Our utmost bound of guilt.
A sensual, unreflecting life, is big
With monstrous births, and suicide, to crown
The black infernal brood. The bold to break 490
Heaven's law supreme, and desperately rush,
Through sacred Nature's murder, on their own,
Because they never think of death, they die.493
'Tis equally man's duty, glory, gain,
At once to shun, and meditate, his end.
When by the bed of languishment we sit
(The seat of wisdom! if our choice, not fate),
Or, o'er our dying friends, in anguish hang,
Wipe the cold dew, or stay the sinking head,
Number their moments, and, in every clock, 500
Start at the voice of an eternity;
See the dim lamp of life just feebly lift
An agonizing beam, at us to gaze,
Then sink again, and quiver into death,
That most pathetic herald of our own;
How read we such sad scenes? As sent to man
In perfect vengeance? No; in pity sent,
To melt him down, like wax, and then impress,
Indelible, Death's image on his heart;
Bleeding for others, trembling for himself.510
We bleed, we tremble, we forget, we smile.
The mind turns fool, before the cheek is dry.
Our quick-returning folly cancels all;
As the tide rushing razes what is writ
In yielding sands, and smooths the letter'd shore.
Lorenzo! hast thou ever weigh'd a sigh?
Or studied the philosophy of tears?
(A science, yet unlectured in our schools!)
Hast thou descended deep into the breast,
And seen their source? If not, descend with me, 520
And trace these briny rivulets to their springs.
Our funeral tears from different causes rise,
As if from separate cisterns in the soul,
Of various kinds, they flow. From tender hearts,
By soft contagion call'd, some burst at once,
And stream obsequious to the leading eye.
Some ask more time, by curious art distill'd.527
Some hearts, in secret hard, unapt to melt,
Struck by the magic of the public eye,
Like Moses' smitten rock, gush out amain.
Some weep to share the fame of the deceased,
So high in merit, and to them so dear.
They dwell on praises, which they think they share; 533
And thus, without a blush, commend themselves.
Some mourn, in proof that something they could love:
They weep not to relieve their grief, but show.
Some weep in perfect justice to the dead,
As conscious all their love is in arrear.
Some mischievously weep, not unapprised
Tears, sometimes, aid the conquest of an eye.540
With what address the soft Ephesians draw
Their sable network o'er entangled hearts!
As seen through crystal, how their roses glow,
While liquid pearl runs trickling down their cheek!
Of hers not prouder Egypt's wanton queen,
Carousing gems, herself dissolved in love.
Some weep at death, abstracted from the dead,
And celebrate, like Charles, their own decease.
By kind construction some are deem'd to weep,
Because a decent veil conceals their joy.550
Some weep in earnest, and yet weep in vain;
As deep in indiscretion, as in woe.
Passion, blind Passion! impotently pours
Tears, that deserve more tears; while Reason sleeps;
Or gazes like an idiot, unconcern'd;
Nor comprehends the meaning of the storm;
Knows not it speaks to her, and her alone.
Irrationals all sorrow are beneath,
That noble gift! that privilege of man!
From sorrow's pang, the birth of endless joy.560
But these are barren of that birth divine:
They weep impetuous, as the summer storm,
And full as short! The cruel grief soon tamed,
They make a pastime of the stingless tale;
Far as the deep resounding knell, they spread
The dreadful news, and hardly feel it more.
No grain of wisdom pays them for their woe.
Half-round the globe, the tears pump'd up by Death
Are spent in watering vanities of life;
In making folly flourish still more fair, 570
When the sick soul, her wonted stay withdrawn,
Reclines on earth, and sorrows in the dust;
Instead of learning, there, her true support,
Though there thrown down her true support to learn.
Without Heaven's aid, impatient to be bless'd,
She crawls to the next shrub, or bramble vile,
Though from the stately cedar's arms she fell;
With stale, forsworn embraces, clings anew,
The stranger weds, and blossoms, as before,
In all the fruitless fopperies of life: 580
Presents her weed, well-fancied, at the ball,
And raffles for the Death's-head on the ring.
So wept Aurelia, till the destined youth
Stepp'd in, with his receipt for making smiles,
And blanching sables into bridal bloom.
So wept Lorenzo fair Clarissa's fate;
Who gave that angel boy, on whom he doats;
And died to give him, orphan'd in his birth!
Not such, Narcissa, my distress for thee.
I'll make an altar of thy sacred tomb, 590
To sacrifice to wisdom. -- What wast thou?
|Young, gay, and fortunate!| Each yields a theme.
I'll dwell on each, to shun thought more severe;
(Heaven knows I labour with severer still!) 594
I'll dwell on each, and quite exhaust thy death.
A soul without reflection, like a pile
Without inhabitant, to ruin runs.
And, first, thy youth. What says it to grey hairs?
Narcissa, I'm become thy pupil now --
Early, bright, transient, chaste, as morning dew,
She sparkled, was exhaled, and went to heaven.
Time on this head has snow'd; yet still 'tis borne 602
Aloft; nor thinks but on another's grave.
Cover'd with shame I speak it, age severe
Old worn-out vice sets down for virtue fair;
With graceless gravity, chastising youth,
That youth chastised surpassing in a fault,
Father of all, forgetfulness of death:
As if, like objects pressing on the sight,
Death had advanced too near us to be seen: 610
Or, that life's loan Time ripen'd into right;
And men might plead prescription from the grave;
Deathless, from repetition of reprieve.
Deathless? far from it! such are dead already;
Their hearts are buried, and the world their grave.
Tell me, some god! my guardian angel! tell,
What thus infatuates? what enchantment plants
The phantom of an age 'twixt us, and Death
Already at the door? He knocks, we hear,
And yet we will not hear. What mail defends 620
Our untouch'd hearts? what miracle turns off
The pointed thought, which from a thousand quivers
Is daily darted, and is daily shunn'd?
We stand, as in a battle, throngs on throngs
Around us falling; wounded oft ourselves;
Though bleeding with our wounds, immortal still!
We see Time's furrows on another's brow,
And Death intrench'd, preparing his assault; 628
How few themselves, in that just mirror, see,
Or, seeing, draw their inference as strong!
There, death is certain; doubtful here: he must,
And soon; we may, within an age, expire.
Though grey our heads, our thoughts and aims are green;
Like damaged clocks, whose hand and bell dissent;
Folly sings six, while Nature points at twelve.
Absurd longevity! More, more! it cries:
More life, more wealth, more trash of every kind.
And wherefore mad for more, when relish fails?
Object, and appetite, must club for joy;
Shall Folly labour hard to mend the bow, 640
Baubles, I mean, that strike us from without,
While Nature is relaxing every string?
Ask thought for joy; grow rich, and hoard within.
Think you the soul, when this life's rattles cease,
Has nothing of more manly to succeed?
Contract the taste immortal; learn even now
To relish what alone subsists hereafter.
Divine, or none, henceforth your joys for ever.
Of age the glory is, to wish to die.
That wish is praise, and promise; it applauds 650
Past life, and promises our future bliss.
What weakness see not children in their sires?
Grey-hair'd authority, to faults of youth,
How shocking! it makes folly thrice a fool;
And our first childhood might our last despise.
Peace and esteem is all that age can hope.
Nothing but wisdom gives the first; the last,
Nothing, but the repute of being wise.
Folly bars both; our age is quite undone.660
What folly can be ranker? Like our shadows,
Our wishes lengthen, as our sun declines.662
No wish should loiter, then, this side the grave.
Our hearts should leave the world, before the knell
Calls for our carcases to mend the soil.
Enough to live in tempest, die in port;
Age should fly concourse, cover in retreat
Defects of judgment; and the will subdue;
Walk thoughtful on the silent, solemn shore
Of that vast ocean it must sail so soon; 670
And put good works on board; and wait the wind
That shortly blows us into worlds unknown:
If unconsider'd too, a dreadful scene!
All should be prophets to themselves; foresee
Their future fate; their future fate foretaste;
This art would waste the bitterness of death.
The thought of death alone, the fear destroys.
A disaffection to that precious thought
Is more than midnight darkness on the soul,
Which sleeps beneath it, on a precipice, 680
Puff'd off by the first blast, and lost for ever.
Dost ask, Lorenzo, why so warmly press'd,
By repetition hammer'd on thine ear,
The thought of death? That thought is the machine,
The grand machine, that heaves us from the dust,
And rears us into men. That thought, plied home,
Will soon reduce the ghastly precipice
O'er-hanging hell, will soften the descent,
And gently slope our passage to the grave;
How warmly to be wish'd! What heart of flesh 690
Would trifle with tremendous? dare extremes?
Yawn o'er the fate of infinite? What hand,
Beyond the blackest brand of censure bold,
(To speak a language too well known to thee),
Would at a moment give its all to chance, 695
And stamp the die for an eternity?
Aid me, Narcissa! aid me to keep pace
With Destiny; and ere her scissors cut
My thread of life, to break this tougher thread
Of moral death, that ties me to the world.
Sting thou my slumbering reason to send forth
A thought of observation on the foe; 702
To sally; and survey the rapid march
Of his ten thousand messengers to man;
Who, Jehu-like, behind him turns them all.
All accident apart, by Nature sign'd,
My warrant is gone out, though dormant yet;
Perhaps behind one moment lurks my fate.
Must I then forward only look for Death?
Backward I turn mine eye, and find him there.710
Man is a self-survivor every year.
Man, like a stream, is in perpetual flow.
Death's a destroyer of quotidian prey.
My youth, my noontide, his; my yesterday;
The bold invader shares the present hour.
Each moment on the former shuts the grave.
While man is growing, life is in decrease;
And cradles rock us nearer to the tomb.
Our birth is nothing but our death begun;
As tapers waste, that instant they take fire.720
Shall we then fear, lest that should come to pass,
Which comes to pass each moment of our lives?
If fear we must, let that Death turn us pale,
Which murders strength and ardour; what remains
Should rather call on Death, than dread his call.
Ye partners of my fault, and my decline!
Thoughtless of death, but when your neighbour's knell
(Rude visitant!) knocks hard at your dull sense,
And with its thunder scarce obtains your ear! 729
Be death your theme, in every place and hour;
Nor longer want, ye monumental sires!
A brother tomb to tell you ye shall die.
That death you dread (so great is Nature's skill)
Know, you shall court before you shall enjoy.
But you are learn'd; in volumes deep, you sit;
In wisdom, shallow: pompous ignorance!
Would you be still more learned than the learn'd?
Learn well to know how much need not be known,
And what that knowledge, which impairs your sense.
Our needful knowledge, like our needful food, 740
Unhedged, lies open in life's common field;
And bids all welcome to the vital feast.
You scorn what lies before you in the page
Of Nature, and Experience, moral truth;
Of indispensable, eternal fruit;
Fruit, on which mortals feeding, turn to gods:
And dive in science for distinguish'd names,
Dishonest fomentation of your pride!
Sinking in virtue, as you rise in fame.
Your learning, like the lunar beam, affords 750
Light, but not heat; it leaves you indevout,
Frozen at heart, while speculation shines.
Awake, ye curious indagators! fond
Of knowing all, but what avails you known.
If you would learn Death's character, attend.
All casts of conduct, all degrees of health,
All dies of fortune, and all dates of age,
Together shook in his impartial urn,
Come forth at random: or, if choice is made,
The choice is quite sarcastic, and insults 760
All bold conjecture, and fond hopes of man.
What countless multitudes not only leave,
But deeply disappoint us, by their deaths! 763
Though great our sorrow, greater our surprise.
Like other tyrants, Death delights to smite,
What, smitten, most proclaims the pride of power,
And arbitrary nod. His joy supreme,
To bid the wretch survive the fortunate;
The feeble wrap th' athletic in his shroud;
And weeping fathers build their children's tomb: 770
Me thine, Narcissa! -- What though short thy date?
Virtue, not rolling suns, the mind matures.
That life is long, which answers life's great end.
The time that bears no fruit, deserves no name;
The man of wisdom is the man of years.
In hoary youth Methusalems may die;
O how misdated on their flattering tombs!
Narcissa's youth has lectured me thus far.
And can her gaiety give counsel too?
That, like the Jews' famed oracle of gems, 780
Sparkles instruction; such as throws new light,
And opens more the character of Death;
Ill known to thee, Lorenzo! This thy vaunt:
|Give Death his due, the wretched, and the old;
Even let him sweep his rubbish to the grave;
Let him not violate kind Nature's laws,
But own man born to live as well as die.|
Wretched and old thou givest him; young and gay
He takes; and plunder is a tyrant's joy.
What if I prove, |The farthest from the fear, 790
Are often nearest to the stroke of Fate?|
All, more than common, menaces an end.
A blaze betokens brevity of life:
As if bright embers should emit a flame,
Glad spirits sparkled from Narcissa's eye,
And made youth younger, and taught life to live, 796
As Nature's opposites wage endless war,
For this offence, as treason to the deep
Inviolable stupor of his reign,
Where Lust, and turbulent Ambition, sleep,
Death took swift vengeance. As he life detests,
More life is still more odious; and, reduced
By conquest, aggrandizes more his power.803
But wherefore aggrandized? By Heaven's decree,
To plant the soul on her eternal guard,
In awful expectation of our end.
Thus runs Death's dread commission: |Strike, but so
As most alarms the living by the dead.|
Hence stratagem delights him, and surprise,
And cruel sport with man's securities.810
Not simple conquest, triumph is his aim;
And, where least fear'd, there conquest triumphs most.
This proves my bold assertion not too bold.
What are his arts to lay our fears asleep?
Tiberian arts his purposes wrap up
In deep dissimulation's darkest night.
Like princes unconfess'd in foreign courts,
Who travel under cover, Death assumes
The name and look of life, and dwells among us.
He takes all shapes that serve his black designs: 820
Though master of a wider empire far
Than that o'er which the Roman eagle flew.
Like Nero, he's a fiddler, charioteer,
Or drives his phaeton, in female guise;
Quite unsuspected, till, the wheel beneath,
His disarray'd oblation he devours.
He most affects the forms least like himself,
His slender self. Hence burly corpulence
Is his familiar wear, and sleek disguise.
Behind the rosy bloom he loves to lurk, 830
Or ambush in a smile; or wanton dive
In dimples deep; love's eddies, which draw in
Unwary hearts, and sink them in despair.
Such, on Narcissa's couch he loiter'd long
Unknown; and, when detected, still was seen
To smile; such peace has innocence in death!
Most happy they! whom least his arts deceive.
One eye on Death, and one full fix'd on heaven,
Becomes a mortal, and immortal man.
Long on his wiles a piqued and jealous spy, 840
I've seen, or dreamt I saw, the tyrant dress;
Lay by his horrors, and put on his smiles.
Say, Muse, for thou remember'st, call it back,
And show Lorenzo the surprising scene;
If 'twas a dream, his genius can explain.
'Twas in a circle of the gay I stood.
Death would have enter'd; Nature push'd him back;
Supported by a doctor of renown,
His point he gain'd. Then artfully dismiss'd
The sage; for Death design'd to be conceal'd.850
He gave an old vivacious usurer
His meagre aspect, and his naked bones;
In gratitude for plumping up his prey,
A pamper'd spendthrift; whose fantastic air,
Well-fashion'd figure, and cockaded brow,
He took in change, and underneath the pride
Of costly linen, tuck'd his filthy shroud.
His crooked bow he straighten'd to a cane;
And hid his deadly shafts in Myra's eye.
The dreadful masquerader, thus equipp'd, 860
Out sallies on adventures. Ask you where?
Where is he not? For his peculiar haunts,
Let this suffice; sure as night follows day,
Death treads in pleasure's footsteps round the world, 864
When pleasure treads the paths, which reason shuns.
When, against reason, riot shuts the door,
And gaiety supplies the place of sense,
Then, foremost at the banquet, and the ball,
Death leads the dance, or stamps the deadly die;
Nor ever fails the midnight bowl to crown.870
Gaily carousing to his gay compeers,
Inly he laughs, to see them laugh at him,
As absent far: and when the revel burns,
When fear is banish'd, and triumphant thought,
Calling for all the joys beneath the moon,
Against him turns the key; and bids him sup
With their progenitors -- He drops his mask;
Frowns out at full; they start, despair, expire.
Scarce with more sudden terror and surprise,
From his black mask of nitre, touch'd by fire, 880
He bursts, expands, roars, blazes, and devours.
And is not this triumphant treachery,
And more than simple conquest, in the fiend?
And now, Lorenzo, dost thou wrap thy soul
In soft security, because unknown
Which moment is commission'd to destroy?
In death's uncertainty thy danger lies.
Is death uncertain? Therefore thou be fix'd;
Fix'd as a sentinel, all eye, all ear,
All expectation of the coming foe.890
Rouse, stand in arms, nor lean against thy spear;
Lest slumber steal one moment o'er thy soul,
And Fate surprise thee nodding. Watch, be strong:
Thus give each day the merit, and renown,
Of dying well; though doom'd but once to die.
Nor let life's period hidden (as from most)
Hide too from thee the precious use of life.
Early, not sudden, was Narcissa's fate.898
Soon, not surprising, Death his visit paid.
Her thought went forth to meet him on his way,
Nor gaiety forgot it was to die:
Though Fortune too (our third and final theme),
As an accomplice, play'd her gaudy plumes,
And every glittering gewgaw, on her sight, 904
To dazzle, and debauch it from its mark.
Death's dreadful advent is the mark of man;
And every thought that misses it, is blind.
Fortune, with youth and gaiety, conspired
To weave a triple wreath of happiness
(If happiness on earth) to crown her brow.910
And could Death charge through such a shining shield?
That shining shield invites the tyrant's spear.
As if to damp our elevated aims,
And strongly preach humility to man.
O how portentous is prosperity!
How, comet-like, it threatens, while it shines!
Few years but yield us proof of Death's ambition,
To cull his victims from the fairest fold,
And sheath his shafts in all the pride of life.
When flooded with abundance, purpled o'er 920
With recent honours, bloom'd with every bliss,
Set up in ostentation, made the gaze,
The gaudy centre, of the public eye,
When Fortune thus has toss'd her child in air,
Snatch'd from the covert of an humble state,
How often have I seen him dropp'd at once,
Our morning's envy! and our evening's sigh!
As if her bounties were the signal given,
The flowery wreath to mark the sacrifice,
And call Death's arrows on the destined prey.930
High Fortune seems in cruel league with Fate.
Ask you for what? To give his war on man 932
The deeper dread, and more illustrious spoil;
Thus to keep daring mortals more in awe.
And burns Lorenzo still for the sublime
Of life? to hang his airy nest on high,
On the slight timber of the topmost bough,
Rock'd at each breeze, and menacing a fall?
Granting grim Death at equal distance there;
Yet peace begins just where ambition ends.940
What makes man wretched? Happiness denied?
Lorenzo! no: 'tis happiness disdain'd.
She comes too meanly dress'd to win our smile;
And calls herself Content, a homely name!
Our flame is transport, and Content our scorn.
Ambition turns, and shuts the door against her,
And weds a toil, a tempest, in her stead;
A tempest to warm transport near of kin.
Unknowing what our mortal state admits,
Life's modest joys we ruin, while we raise; 950
And all our ecstasies are wounds to peace;
Peace, the full portion of mankind below.
And since thy peace is dear, ambitious youth!
Of fortune fond! as thoughtless of thy fate!
As late I drew Death's picture, to stir up
Thy wholesome fears; now, drawn in contrast, see
Gay Fortune's, thy vain hopes to reprimand.
See, high in air, the sportive goddess hangs,
Unlocks her casket, spreads her glittering ware,
And calls the giddy winds to puff abroad 960
Her random bounties o'er the gaping throng.
All rush rapacious; friends o'er trodden friends;
Sons o'er their fathers, subjects o'er their kings,
Priests o'er their gods, and lovers o'er the fair
(Still more adored), to snatch the golden shower.
Gold glitters most, where virtue shines no more;
As stars from absent suns have leave to shine.967
O what a precious pack of votaries
Unkennell'd from the prisons, and the stews,
Pour in, all opening in their idol's praise;
All, ardent, eye each wafture of her hand,
And, wide-expanding their voracious jaws,
Morsel on morsel swallow down unchew'd, 973
Untasted, through mad appetite for more;
Gorged to the throat, yet lean and ravenous still.
Sagacious all, to trace the smallest game,
And bold to seize the greatest. If (bless'd chance!)
Court-zephyrs sweetly breathe, they launch, they fly,
O'er just, o'er sacred, all-forbidden ground,
Drunk with the burning scent of place or power, 980
Staunch to the foot of lucre, till they die.
Or, if for men you take them, as I mark
Their manners, thou their various fates survey.
With aim mismeasured, and impetuous speed,
Some darting, strike their ardent wish far off,
Through fury to possess it: some succeed,
But stumble, and let fall the taken prize.
From some, by sudden blasts, 'tis whirl'd away,
And lodged in bosoms that ne'er dreamt of gain.
To some it sticks so close, that, when torn off, 990
Torn is the man, and mortal is the wound.
Some, o'er-enamour'd of their bags, run mad,
Groan under gold, yet weep for want of bread.
Together some (unhappy rivals!) seize,
And rend abundance into poverty;
Loud croaks the raven of the law, and smiles:
Smiles too the goddess; but smiles most at those
(Just victims of exorbitant desire!)
Who perish at their own request, and, whelm'd
Beneath her load of lavish grants, expire.1000
Fortune is famous for her numbers slain,
The number small, which happiness can bear.1002
Though various for a while their fates; at last
One curse involves them all: at Death's approach,
All read their riches backward into loss,
And mourn, in just proportion to their store.
And Death's approach (if orthodox my song)
Is hasten'd by the lure of Fortune's smiles.
And art thou still a glutton of bright gold?
And art thou still rapacious of thy ruin? 1010
Death loves a shining mark, a signal blow;
A blow, which, while it executes, alarms;
And startles thousands with a single fall.
As when some stately growth of oak, or pine,
Which nods aloft, and proudly spreads her shade,
The sun's defiance, and the flock's defence;
By the strong strokes of labouring hinds subdued,
Loud groans her last, and, rushing from her height,
In cumbrous ruin, thunders to the ground:
The conscious forest trembles at the shock, 1020
And hill, and stream, and distant dale, resound.
These high-aim'd darts of Death, and these alone,
Should I collect, my quiver would be full.
A quiver, which, suspended in mid-air,
Or near heaven's archer, in the zodiac, hung,
(So could it be) should draw the public eye,
The gaze and contemplation of mankind!
A constellation awful, yet benign,
To guide the gay through life's tempestuous wave;
Nor suffer them to strike the common rock, 1030
|From greater danger to grow more secure,
And, wrapt in happiness, forget their fate.|
Lysander, happy past the common lot,
Was warn'd of danger, but too gay to fear.
He woo'd the fair Aspasia: she was kind:
In youth, form, fortune, fame, they both were bless'd:
All who knew, envied; yet in envy loved: 1037
Can fancy form more finish'd happiness?
Fix'd was the nuptial hour. Her stately dome
Rose on the sounding beach. The glittering spires
Float in the wave, and break against the shore:
So break those glittering shadows, human joys.
The faithless morning smiled: he takes his leave, 1043
To re-embrace, in ecstasies, at eve.
The rising storm forbids. The news arrives:
Untold, she saw it in her servant's eye.
She felt it seen (her heart was apt to feel);
And, drown'd, without the furious ocean's aid,
In suffocating sorrows, shares his tomb.
Now, round the sumptuous bridal monument, 1050
The guilty billows innocently roar;
And the rough sailor passing, drops a tear.
A tear? -- can tears suffice? -- But not for me.
How vain our efforts! and our arts, how vain!
The distant train of thought I took, to shun,
Has thrown me on my fate -- these died together;
Happy in ruin! undivorced by death!
Or ne'er to meet, or ne'er to part, is peace --
Narcissa! pity bleeds at thought of thee.
Yet thou wast only near me; not myself.1060
Survive myself? -- That cures all other woe.
Narcissa lives; Philander is forgot.
O the soft commerce! O the tender ties,
Close twisted with the fibres of the heart!
Which, broken, break them; and drain off the soul
Of human joy; and make it pain to live --
And is it then to live? When such friends part,
'Tis the survivor dies -- My heart! no more.1068
IN TWO PARTS;
THE NATURE, PROOF, AND IMPORTANCE