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As the occasion of this Poem was real, not fictitious; so the method pursued in it was rather imposed by what spontaneously arose in the Author's mind on that occasion, than meditated or designed. Which will appear very probable from the nature of it. For it differs from the cominon mode of poetry ; which is, from long narrations to draw short morals. Here, on the contrary, the narrative is short, and the morality arising from it makes the bulk of the Poem. The reason of it is, that the facts mentioned did naturally pour these moral reflections on the thought of the Writer.
ON LIFE, DEATH AND IMMORTALITY.
TO THE RIGHT HON. ARTHUR ONSLOW, ESQ.
SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.
11 At random drove, her helm of reason lost. Though now restored, 'tis only change of pain, (A bitter change !) severer for severe. The Day too short for my distress; and Night, 15 E’en in the zenith of her dark domain, Is sunshine to the colour of my fate.
Night, sable goddess ! from her ebon throne, In rayless majesty, now stretches forth Her leaden sceptre o'er a slumbering world. 20 Silence how dead! and darkness how profound Nor eye nor listening ear an object finds; Creation sleeps. 'Tis as the general pulse Of life stood still, and Nature made a pause : An awful pause! prophetic of her end.
And let her prophecy be soon fulfill'd
Silence and Darkness! solemn sisters ! twins
30 (That column of true majesty in man,) Assist me: I will thank you in the grave; The grave your kingdom : there this frame shall fall A victim sacred to your dreary shrine. But what are ye?
35 Thou who didst put to flight Primeval Silence, when the morning stars, Exulting, shouted o'er the rising ball ; O Thou ! whose word from solid darkness struck That spark, the Sun, strike wisdom from my soul; 40 My soul, which flies to thee, her trust, her treasure, As misers to their gold, while others rest. Through this opaque of Nature and of Soul, This double night, transmit one pitying ray, To lighten and to cheer. O lead my mind 45 (A mind that fain would wander from its woe,) Lead it through various scenes of life and death, And from each scene the noblest truths inspire. Nor less inspire my conduct than my song; Teach my best reason, reason; my best will 50 Teach rectitude ; and fix my firm resolve Wisdom to wed, and pay her long arrear : Nɔr let the phial of thy vengeance, pour'd On this devoted head, be poured in vain.
The bell strikes one. We take no note of time 55 But from its 'uss: to give it then a tongue Is wise in man As if an angel spoke I feel the solemn sound. If heard aright, It is the knell of my departed hours. Where are they? With the years beyond the flood. 60 It is the signal that demands despatch: How much is to be done! My hopes and fears Start up alarm’d, and o'er life's narrow verge
Look down-02 what ? A fathomless abyss.
65 And can eternity belong to me, Poor pensioner on the bounties of an hour ?
How poor, how rich, how abject, how august, Ilow complicate, how wonderful, is man! How passing wonder He who made himn such! 70 Who centred in our make such strange extremes ! From different natures marvellously mix’d, Connexion exquisite of distant worlds ! Distinguish'd link in being's endless chain! Midway from nothing to the Deity!
75 A beam ethereal, sullied and absorb'd! Though sullied and dishonour'd, still divine ! Dim miniature of greatness absolute ! An heir of glory! a frail child of dust! Helpless immortal! insect infinite !
80 A worm! A god !-I tremble at myself, And in myself am lost. At home a stranger, Thought wanders up and down, surprised, aghast, And wondering at her own.
How Reason reels ! O what a miracle to man is man!
85 Triumphantly distress'd! what joy ! what droad! Alternately transported and alarm’d; What can preserve my life! or what destroy An angel's arm can't snatch me from the grave; Legions of angels can't confine me there.
90 'Tis past conjecture ; all things rise in proof: While o'er my limbs Sleep's soft dominion spreads, What though my soul fantastic measures trod O'er fairy fields, or mourn'd along the gloom Of pathless woods, or down the craggy steep
95 Hurl'c headlong, swam with pain the mantled pool, Or scaled the cliff, or danced on hollow winds With antic shapes, wild natives of the brain ! Her ceaseless flight, though devious, speaks her nature Of subtler essence than the trodden clod; 100 Active, aerial, toweriny, unconfined,