doceas iter et sacra ostia pandas. VIRG. EN. 6.
1 ASK what is human life the sage replies
2 With disappointment low'ring in his eyes,
3 A painful passage o'er a restless flood,
4 A vain pursuit of fugitive false good,
5 A scene of fancied bliss and heart-felt care,
6 Closing at last in darkness and despair.
[Page 142]
7 The poor, inur'd to drudgery and distress,
8 Act without aim, think little and feel less,
9 And no where but in feign'd Arcadian scenes,
10 Taste happiness, or know what pleasure means.
11 Riches are pass'd away from hand to hand,
12 As fortune, vice or folly may command;
13 As in a dance the pair that take the lead
14 Turn downward, and the lowest pair succeed,
15 So shifting and so various is the plan
16 By which Heav'n rules the mixt affairs of man,
17 Vicissitude wheels round the motley crowd,
18 The rich grow poor, the poor become purse-proud:
19 Bus'ness is labour, and man's weakness such,
20 Pleasure is labour too, and tires as much,
21 The very sense of it foregoes its use,
22 By repetition pall'd, by age obtuse.
23 Youth lost in dissipation, we deplore
24 Through life's sad remnant, what no sighs restore,
25 Our years, a fruitless race without a prize,
26 Too many, yet too few to make us wise.
[Page 143]
27 Dangling his cane about, and taking snuff,
28 Lothario cries, what philosophic stuff.
29 Oh querulous and weak! whose useless brain
30 Once thought of nothing, and now thinks in vain,
31 Whose eye reverted weeps o'er all the past,
32 Whose prospect shows thee a disheartning waste,
33 Would age in thee resign his wintry reign,
34 And youth invigorate that frame again,
35 Renew'd desire would grace with other speech
36 Joys always priz'd, when plac'd within our reach.
37 For lift thy palsied head, shake off the gloom
38 That overhangs the borders of thy tomb,
39 See nature gay as when she first began,
40 With smiles alluring her admirer, man,
41 She spreads the morning over eastern hills,
42 Earth glitters with the drops the night distils,
43 The sun obedient, at her call appears
44 To fling his glories o'er the robe she wears,
45 Banks cloath'd with flow'rs, groves fill'd with sprightly sounds,
46 The yellow tilth, green meads, rocks, rising grounds,
[Page 144]
47 Streams edg'd with osiers, fatt'ning ev'ry field
48 Where'er they flow, now seen and now conceal'd,
49 From the blue rim where skies and mountains meet,
50 Down to the very turf beneath thy feet,
51 Ten thousand charms that only fools despise,
52 Or pride can look at with indiff'rent eyes,
53 All speak one language, all with one sweet voice
54 Cry to her universal realm, rejoice.
55 Man feels the spur of passions and desires,
56 And she gives largely more than he requires,
57 Not that his hours devoted all to care,
58 Hollow-ey'd abstinence and lean despair,
59 The wretch may pine, while to his smell, taste, sight,
60 She holds a Paradise of rich delight,
61 But gently to rebuke his aukward fear,
62 To prove that what she gives, she gives sincere,
63 To banish hesitation, and proclaim
64 His happiness, her dear, her only aim.
65 'Tis grave philosophy's absurdest dream,
66 That Heav'n's intentions are not what they seem,
[Page 145]
67 That only shadows are dispens'd below,
68 And earth has no reality but woe.
69 Thus things terrestrial wear a diff'rent hue,
70 As youth or age persuades, and neither true;
71 So Flora's wreath through colour'd chrystal seen,
72 The rose or lily appears blue or green,
73 But still th' imputed tints are those alone
74 The medium represents, and not their own.
75 To rise at noon, sit slipshod and undress'd,
76 To read the news or fiddle as seems best,
77 'Till half the world comes rattling at his door,
78 To fill the dull vacuity 'till four,
79 And just when evening turns the blue vault grey,
80 To spend two hours in dressing for the day,
81 To make the sun a bauble without use,
82 Save for the fruits his heav'nly beams produce,
83 Quite to forget, or deem it worth no thought,
84 Who bids him shine, or if he shine or not,
85 Through mere necessity to close his eyes
86 Just when the larks and when the shepherds rise,
[Page 146]
87 Is such a life, so tediously the same,
88 So void of all utility or aim,
89 That poor JONQUIL, with almost ev'ry breath
90 Sighs for his exit, vulgarly call'd, death:
91 For he, with all his follies, has a mind
92 Not yet so blank, or fashionably blind,
93 But now and then perhaps a feeble ray
94 Of distant wisdom shoots across his way,
95 By which he reads, that life without a plan,
96 As useless as the moment it began,
97 Serves merely as a soil for discontent
98 To thrive in, an incumbrance, e'er half spent.
99 Oh weariness beyond what asses feel,
100 That tread the circuit of the cistern wheel,
101 A dull rotation never at a stay,
102 Yesterday's face twin image of to-day,
103 While conversation, an exhausted stock,
104 Grows drowsy as the clicking of a clock.
105 No need, he cries, of gravity stuff'd out
106 With academic dignity devout,
[Page 147]
107 To read wise lectures, vanity the text;
108 Proclaim the remedy, ye learned, next,
109 For truth self-evident with pomp impress'd,
110 Is vanity surpassing all the rest.
111 That remedy, not hid in deeps profound,
112 Yet seldom sought, where only to be found,
113 While passion turns aside from its due scope
114 Th' enquirer's aim, that remedy, is hope.
115 Life is his gift, from whom whate'er life needs,
116 And ev'ry good and perfect gift proceeds,
117 Bestow'd on man, like all that we partake,
118 Royally, freely, for his bounty sake.
119 Transient indeed, as is the fleeting hour,
120 And yet the seed of an immortal flow'r,
121 Design'd in honour of his endless love,
122 To fill with fragrance his abode above.
123 No trifle, howsoever short it seem,
124 And howsoever shadowy, no dream,
125 Its value, what no thought can ascertain,
126 Nor all an angel's eloquence explain.
[Page 148]
127 Men deal with life, as children with their play,
128 Who first misuse, then cast their toys away,
129 Live to no sober purpose, and contend
130 That their creator had no serious end.
131 When God and man stand opposite in view,
132 Man's disappointment must of course ensue.
133 The just Creator condescends to write
134 In beams of inextinguishable light,
135 His names of wisdom, goodness, pow'r and love,
136 On all that blooms below or shines above,
137 To catch the wand'ring notice of mankind,
138 And teach the world, if not perversely blind,
139 His gracious attributes, and prove the share
140 His offspring hold in his paternal care.
141 If led from earthly things to things divine,
142 His creature thwart not his august design,
143 Then praise is heard instead of reas'ning pride,
144 And captious cavil and complaint subside.
145 Nature employ'd in her allotted place,
146 Is hand-maid to the purposes of grace,
[Page 149]
147 By good vouchsaf'd makes known superior good,
148 And bliss not seen by blessings understood.
149 That bliss reveal'd in scripture with a glow
150 Bright as the covenant-insuring bow,
151 Fires all his feelings with a noble scorn
152 Of sensual evil, and thus hope is born.
153 Hope sets the stamp of vanity on all
154 That men have deem'd substantial since the fall,
155 Yet has the wond'rous virtue to educe
156 From emptiness itself a real use,
157 And while she takes as at a father's hand
158 What health and sober appetite demand,
159 From fading good derives with chymic art
160 That lasting happiness, a thankful heart.
161 Hope with uplifted foot set free from earth,
162 Pants for the place of her ethereal birth,
163 On steady wing sails through th' immense abyss,
164 Plucks amaranthin joys from bow'rs of bliss,
165 And crowns the soul while yet a mourner here,
166 With wreaths like those triumphant spirits wear.
[Page 150]
167 Hope as an anchor firm and sure, holds fast
168 The Christian vessel, and defies the blast;
169 Hope! nothing else can nourish and secure
170 His new-born virtues, and preserve him pure;
171 Hope! let the wretch once conscious of the joy,
172 Whom now despairing agonies destroy,
173 Speak, for he can, and none so well as he,
174 What treasures center, what delights in thee.
175 Had he the gems, the spices, and the land
176 That boasts the treasure, all at his command,
177 The fragrant grove, th' inestimable mine,
178 Were light when weigh'd against one smile of thine.
179 Though clasp'd and cradl'd in his nurse's arms,
180 He shine with all a cherub's artless charms,
181 Man is the genuine offspring of revolt,
182 Stubborn and sturdy, a wild ass's colt;
183 His passions like the wat'ry stores that sleep
184 Beneath the smiling surface of the deep,
185 Wait but the lashes of a wintry storm,
186 To frown and roar, and shake his feeble form.
[Page 151]
187 From infancy through childhood's giddy maze,
188 Froward at school, and fretful in his plays,
189 The puny tyrant burns to subjugate
190 The free republic of the whip-gig state.
191 If one, his equal in athletic frame,
192 Or more provoking still, of nobler name,
193 Dares step across his arbitrary views,
194 An Iliad, only not in verse, ensues.
195 The little Greeks look trembling at the scales,
196 'Till the best tongue or heaviest hand prevails.
197 Now see him launched into the world at large;
198 If priest, supinely droning o'er his charge,
199 Their fleece his pillow, and his weekly drawl,
200 Though short, too long, the price he pays for all;
201 If lawyer, loud whatever cause he plead,
202 But proudest of the worst, if that succeed.
203 Perhaps a grave physician, gath'ring fees,
204 Punctually paid for length'ning out disease,
205 No COTTON, whose humanity sheds rays
206 That make superior skill his second praise.
[Page 152]
207 If arms engage him, he devotes to sport
208 His date of life, so likely to be short,
209 A soldier may be any thing, if brave,
210 So may a tradesman, if not quite a knave.
211 Such stuff the world is made of; and mankind
212 To passion, int'rest, pleasure, whim resign'd,
213 Insist on, as if each were his own pope,
214 Forgiveness, and the privilege of hope;
215 But conscience in some awful silent hour,
216 When captivating lusts have lost their pow'r,
217 Perhaps when sickness, or some fearful dream
218 Reminds him of religion, hated theme!
219 Starts from the down on which she lately slept,
220 And tells of laws despis'd, at least not kept;
221 Shows with a pointing finger and no noise,
222 A pale procession of past sinful joys,
223 All witnesses of blessings foully scorn'd,
224 And life abus'd and not to be suborn'd.
225 Mark these, she says, these summoned from afar,
226 Begin their march to meet thee at the bar;
[Page 153]
227 There find a Judge, inexorably just,
228 And perish there, as all presumption must.
229 Peace be to those (such peace as earth can give)
230 Who live in pleasure, dead ev'n while they live,
231 Born capable indeed of heav'nly truth,
232 But down to latest age from earliest youth
233 Their mind a wilderness through want of care,
234 The plough of wisdom never ent'ring there.
235 Peace (if insensibility may claim
236 A right to the meek honours of her name)
237 To men of pedigree, their noble race
238 Emulous always of the nearest place
239 To any throne, except the throne of grace.
240 Let cottagers and unenlightened swains
241 Revere the laws they dream that heav'n ordains,
242 Resort on Sundays to the house of pray'r,
243 And ask, and fancy they find blessings there;
244 Themselves perhaps when weary they retreat
245 T' enjoy cool nature in a country seat,
246 T' exchange the center of a thousand trades,
247 For clumps and lawns and temples and cascades,
[Page 154]
248 May now and then their velvet cushions take,
249 And seem to pray for good example sake;
250 Judging, in charity no doubt, the town
251 Pious enough, and having need of none.
252 Kind souls! to teach their tenantry to prize
253 What they themselves without remorse despise;
254 Nor hope have they nor fear of aught to come,
255 As well for them had prophecy been dumb;
256 They could have held the conduct they pursue,
257 Had Paul of Tarsus lived and died a Jew;
258 And truth propos'd to reas'ners wise as they,
259 Is a pearl cast completely cast away.
260 They die Death lends them, pleas'd and as in sport,
261 All the grim honours of his ghastly court;
262 Far other paintings grace the chamber now,
263 Where late we saw the mimic landscape glow;
264 The busy heralds hang the sable scene
265 With mournful 'scutcheons and dim lamps between,
266 Proclaim their titles to the crowd around,
267 But they that wore them, move not at the sound;
[Page 155]
268 The coronet placed idly at their head,
269 Adds nothing now to the degraded dead,
270 And ev'n the star that glitters on the bier,
271 Can only say, nobility lies here.
272 Peace to all such 'twere pity to offend
273 By useless censure whom we cannot mend,
274 Life without hope can close but in despair,
275 'Twas there we found them and must leave them there.
276 As when two pilgrims in a forest stray,
277 Both may be lost, yet each in his own way,
278 So fares it with the multitudes beguil'd
279 In vain opinion's waste and dang'rous wild;
280 Ten thousand rove the brakes and thorns among,
281 Some eastward, and some westward, and all wrong:
282 But here, alas! the fatal diff'rence lies,
283 Each man's belief is right in his own eyes;
284 And he that blames what they have blindly chose,
285 Incurs resentment for the love he shows.
286 Say botanist! within whose province fall
287 The cedar and the hyssop on the wall,
[Page 156]
288 Of all that deck the lanes, the fields, the bow'rs,
289 What parts the kindred tribes of weeds and flow'rs?
290 Sweet scent, or lovely form, or both combin'd,
291 Distinguish ev'ry cultivated kind,
292 The want of both denotes a meaner breed,
293 And Chloe from her garland picks the weed.
294 Thus hopes of every sort, whatever sect
295 Esteem them, sow them, rear them, and protect;
296 If wild in nature, and not duly found
297 Gethsemane! in thy dear, hallowed ground,
298 That cannot bear the blaze of scripture light,
299 Nor cheer the spirit, nor refresh the sight,
300 Nor animate the soul to Christian deeds,
301 Oh cast them from thee! are weeds, arrant weeds.
302 Ethelred's house, the center of six ways,
303 Diverging each from each, like equal rays,
304 Himself as bountiful as April rains,
305 Lord paramount of the surrounding plains,
306 Would give relief of bed and board to none,
307 But guests that sought it in th' appointed, ONE.
[Page 157]
308 And they might enter at his open door,
309 Ev'n till his spacious hall would hold no more.
310 He sent a servant forth by ev'ry road,
311 To sound his horn and publish it abroad,
312 That all might mark, knight, menial, high and low,
313 An ord'nance it concern'd them much to know.
314 If after all, some headstrong, hardy lowt,
315 Would disobey, though sure to be shut out,
316 Could he with reason murmur at his case,
317 Himself sole author of his own disgrace?
318 No! the decree was just and without flaw,
319 And he that made, had right to make the law;
320 His sov'reign pow'r and pleasure unrestrain'd,
321 The wrong was his, who wrongfully complain'd.
322 Yet half mankind maintain a churlish strife
323 With him, the donor of eternal life,
324 Because the deed by which his love confirms
325 The largess he bestows, prescribes the terms.
326 Compliance with his will your lot insures,
327 Accept it only, and the boon is yours;
[Page 158]
328 And sure it is as kind to smile and give,
329 As with a frown to say, do this and live.
330 Love is not pedlars trump'ry, bought and sold,
331 He will give freely, or he will withold,
332 His soul abhors a mercenary thought,
333 And him as deeply who abhors it not;
334 He stipulates indeed, but merely this,
335 That man will freely take an unbought bliss,
336 Will trust him for a faithful gen'rous part,
337 Nor set a price upon a willing heart.
338 Of all the ways that seem to promise fair,
339 To place you where his saints his presence share,
340 This only can for this plain cause, express'd
341 In terms as plain; himself has shut the rest.
342 But oh the strife, the bick'ring and debate,
343 The tidings of unpurchas'd heav'n create!
344 The flirted fan, the bridle and the toss,
345 All speakers, yet all language at a loss.
346 From stucco'd walls smart arguments rebound,
347 And beaus, adepts in ev'ry thing profound,
348 Die of disdain, or whistle off the sound.
[Page 159]
349 Such is the clamor of rooks, daws, and kites,
350 Th' explosion of the levell'd tube excites,
351 Where mould'ring abbey-walls o'erhang the glade,
352 And oaks cooeval spread a mournful shade.
353 The screaming nations hov'ring in mid air,
354 Loudly resent the stranger's freedom there,
355 And seem to warn him never to repeat
356 His bold intrusion on their dark retreat.
357 Adieu, Vinoso cries, e'er yet he sips,
358 The purple bumper trembling at his lips,
359 Adieu to all morality! if grace
360 Make works a vain ingredient in the case.
361 The Christian hope is waiter, draw the cork
362 If I mistake not blockhead! with a fork!
363 Without good works, whatever some may boast,
364 Mere folly and delusion Sir, your toast.
365 My firm persuasion is, at least sometimes,
366 That heav'n will weigh man's virtues and his crimes,
367 With nice attention in a righteous scale,
368 And save or damn as these or those prevail.
[Page 160]
369 I plant my foot upon this ground of trust,
370 And silence every fear with God is just;
371 But if perchance on some dull drizzling day,
372 A thought intrude that says, or seems to say.
373 If thus th' important cause is to be tried,
374 Suppose the beam should dip on the wrong side,
375 I soon recover from these needless frights,
376 And God is merciful sets all to rights.
377 Thus between justice, as my prime support,
378 And mercy fled to, as the last resort,
379 I glide and steal along with heav'n in view,
380 And pardon me, the bottle stands with you.
381 I never will believe, the col'nel cries,
382 The sanguinary schemes that some devise,
383 Who make the good Creator, on their plan,
384 A being of less equity than man.
385 If appetite, or what divines call lust,
386 Which men comply with, e'en because they must,
387 Be punish'd with perdition, who is pure?
388 Then theirs, no doubt, as well as mine, is sure.
[Page 161]
389 If sentence of eternal pain belong
390 To ev'ry sudden slip and transient wrong,
391 Then heav'n enjoins the fallible and frail,
392 An hopeless task, and damns them if they fail.
393 My creed (whatever some creed-makers mean
394 By Athanasian nonsense or Nicene)
395 My creed is, he is safe that does his best,
396 And death's a doom sufficient for the rest.
397 Right, says an ensign, and for aught I see,
398 Your faith and mine substantially agree:
399 The best of ev'ry man's performance here,
400 Is to discharge the duties of his sphere.
401 A lawyer's dealing should be just and fair,
402 Honesty shines with great advantage there;
403 Fasting and pray'r sit well upon a priest,
404 A decent caution and reserve at least.
405 A soldier's best is courage in the field,
406 With nothing here that wants to be conceal'd,
407 Manly deportment, gallant, easy, gay,
408 An hand as lib'ral as the light of day,
[Page 161]
409 The soldier thus endow'd, who never shrinks,
410 Nor closets up his thought what'er he thinks,
411 Who scorns to do an injury by stealth,
412 Must go to heav'n and I must drink his health.
413 Sir Smug! he cries (for lowest at the board,
414 Just made fifth chaplain of his patron lord,
415 His shoulders witnessing by many a shrug,
416 How much his feelings suffered, sat Sir Smug)
417 Your office is to winnow false from true,
418 Come, prophet, drink, and tell us what think you.
419 Sighing and smiling as he takes his glass,
420 Which they that wooe preferment, rarely pass,
421 Fallible man, the church-bred youth replies,
422 Is still found fallible, however wise,
423 And differing judgments serve but to declare
424 That truth lies somewhere, if we knew but where.
425 Of all it ever was my lot to read
426 Of critics now alive or long since dead,
427 The book of all the world that charm'd me most
428 Was, well-a-day, the title-page was lost.
[Page 163]
429 The writer well remarks, an heart that knows
430 To take with gratitude what heav'n bestows,
431 With prudence always ready at our call,
432 To guide our use of it, is all in all.
433 Doubtless it is to which of my own store
434 I superadd a few essentials more;
435 But these, excuse the liberty I take,
436 I wave just now, for conversation sake.
437 Spoke like an oracle, they all exclaim,
438 And add Right Rev'rend to Smug's honour'd name,
439 And yet our lot is giv'n us in a land
440 Where busy arts are never at a stand,
441 Where science points her telescopic eye,
442 Familiar with the wonders of the sky,
443 Where bold enquiry diving out of sight,
444 Brings many a precious pearl of truth to light,
445 Where nought eludes the persevering quest,
446 That fashion, taste, or luxury suggest.
447 But above all, in her own light array'd,
448 See mercy's grand apocalypse display'd!
[Page 164]
449 The sacred book no longer suffers wrong,
450 Bound in the fetters of an unknown tongue,
451 But speaks with plainness art could never mend,
452 What simplest minds can soonest comprehend.
453 God gives the word, the preachers throng around,
454 Live from his lips, and spread the glorious sound:
455 That sound bespeaks salvation on her way,
456 The trumpet of a life-restoring day;
457 'Tis heard where England's eastern glory shines,
458 And in the gulphs of her Cornubian mines.
459 And still it spreads. See Germany send forth
460 Her
* The Moravian missionaries in Greenland. Vide Krantz.
sons to pour it on the farthest north:
461 Fir'd with a zeal peculiar, they defy
462 The rage and rigor of a polar sky,
463 And plant successfully sweet Sharon's rose,
464 On icy plains and in eternal snows.
465 Oh blest within th' inclosure of your rocks,
466 Nor herds have ye to boast, nor bleating flocks,
467 No fertilizing streams your fields divide,
468 That show revers'd the villas on their side,
[Page 165]
469 No groves have ye; no cheerful sound of bird,
470 Or voice of turtle in your land is heard,
471 Nor grateful eglantine regales the smell
472 Of those that walk at ev'ning where ye dwell
473 But winter arm'd with terrors, here unknown,
474 Sits absolute on his unshaken throne,
475 Piles up his stores amid'st the frozen waste,
476 And bids the mountains he has built, stand fast,
477 Beckons the legions of his storms away
478 From happier scenes, to make your land a prey,
479 Proclaims the soil a conquest he has won,
480 And scorns to share it with the distant sun.
481 Yet truth is yours, remote, unenvied isle,
482 And peace, the genuine offspring of her smile,
483 The pride of letter'd ignorance that binds
484 In chains of error, our accomplish'd minds,
485 That decks with all the splendor of the true
486 A false religion, is unknown to you.
487 Nature indeed vouchsafes for our delight
488 The sweet vicissitudes of day and night,
[Page 166]
489 Soft airs and genial moisture, feed and cheer
490 Field, fruit and flow'r, and ev'ry creature here,
491 But brighter beams than his who fires the skies,
492 Have ris'n at length on your admiring eyes,
493 That shoot into your darkest caves the day
494 From which our nicer optics turn away.
495 Here see th' encouragement grace gives to vice,
496 The dire effect of mercy without price!
497 What were they? what some fools are made by art
498 They were by nature, atheists, head and heart.
499 The gross idolatry blind heathens teach
500 Was too refin'd for them, beyond their reach;
501 Not ev'n the glorious sun, though men revere
502 The monarch most that seldom will appear,
503 And though his beams that quicken where they shine,
504 May claim some right to be esteem'd divine,
505 Not ev'n the sun, desirable as rare,
506 Could bend one knee, engage one vot'ry there;
507 They were what base credulity believes
508 True Christians are, dissemblers, drunkards, thieves.
[Page 167]
509 The full-gorged savage at his nauseous feast
510 Spent half the darkness, and snor'd out the rest,
511 Was one, whom justice on an equal plan
512 Denouncing death upon the sins of man,
513 Might almost have indulg'd with an escape,
514 Chargeable only with an human shape.
515 What are they now? morality may spare
516 Her grave concern, her kind suspicions there.
517 The wretch that once sang wildly, danc'd and laugh'd,
518 And suck'd in dizzy madness with his draught,
519 Has wept a silent flood, revers'd his ways,
520 Is sober, meek, benevolent, and prays;
521 Feeds sparingly, communicates his store,
522 Abhors the craft he boasted of before,
523 And he that stole has learn'd to steal no more.
524 Well spake the prophet, let the desart sing,
525 Where sprang the thorn, the spiry fir shall spring,
526 And where unsightly and rank thistles grew,
527 Shall grow the myrtle and luxuriant yew.
528 Go now, and with important tone demand
529 On what foundation virtue is to stand,
[Page 168]
530 If self-exalting claims be turn'd adrift,
531 And grace be grace indeed, and life a gift;
532 The poor reclaim'd inhabitant, his eyes
533 Glist'ning at once with pity and surprise,
534 Amaz'd that shadows should obscure the sight
535 Of one whose birth was in a land of light,
536 Shall answer, Hope, sweet Hope, has set me free,
537 And made all pleasures else mere dross to me.
538 These amidst scenes as waste as if denied
539 The common care that waits on all beside,
540 Wild as if nature there, void of all good,
541 Play'd only gambols in a frantic mood;
542 Yet charge not heav'nly skill with having plann'd
543 A play-thing world unworthy of his hand,
544 Can see his love, though secret evil lurks
545 In all we touch, stamp'd plainly on his works,
546 Deem life a blessing with its num'rous woes,
547 Nor spurn away a gift a God bestows.
548 Hard task indeed, o'er arctic seas to roam!
549 Is hope exotic? grows it not at home?
[Page 169]
550 Yes, but an object bright as orient morn,
551 May press the eye too closely to be borne,
552 A distant virtue we can all confess,
553 It hurts our pride and moves our envy less.
554 Leuconomus (beneath well-sounding Greek
555 I slur a name a poet must not speak)
556 Stood pilloried on infamy's high stage,
557 And bore the pelting scorn of half an age,
558 The very butt of slander, and the blot
559 For ev'ry dart that malice ever shot.
560 The man that mentioned him, at once dismiss'd
561 All mercy from his lips, and sneer'd and hiss'd;
562 His crimes were such as Sodom never knew,
563 And perjury stood up to swear all true;
564 His aim was mischief, and his zeal pretence,
565 His speech rebellion against common sense,
566 A knave when tried on honesty's plain rule,
567 And when by that of reason, a mere fool,
568 The world's best comfort was, his doom was pass'd,
569 Die when he might, he must be damn'd at last.
[Page 170]
570 Now truth perform thine office, waft aside
571 The curtain drawn by prejudice and pride,
572 Reveal (the man is dead) to wond'ring eyes,
573 This more than monster in his proper guise.
574 He lov'd the world that hated him: the tear
575 That dropped upon his Bible was sincere.
576 Assail'd by scandal and the tongue of strife,
577 His only answer was a blameless life,
578 And he that forged and he that threw the dart,
579 Had each a brother's interest in his heart.
580 Paul's love of Christ, and steadiness unbrib'd,
581 Were copied close in him, and well transcrib'd;
582 He followed Paul: his zeal a kindred flame,
583 His apostolic charity the same,
584 Like him cross'd chearfully tempestuous seas,
585 Forsaking country, kindred, friends, and ease;
586 Like him he labour'd, and like him, content
587 To bear it, suffer'd shame where'er he went.
588 Blush calumny! and write upon his tomb,
589 If honest eulogy can spare thee room,
[Page 171]
590 Thy deep repentance of thy thousand lies,
591 Which aim'd at him, have pierc'd th' offended skies,
592 And say, blot out my sin, confess'd, deplor'd,
593 Against thine image in thy saint, oh Lord!
594 No blinder bigot, I maintain it still,
595 Than he that must have pleasure, come what will;
596 He laughs, whatever weapon truth may draw,
597 And deems her sharp artillery mere straw.
598 Scripture indeed is plain, but God and he
599 On scripture-ground, are sure to disagree;
600 Some wiser rule must teach him how to live,
601 Than that his Maker has seen fit to give,
602 Supple and flexible as Indian cane,
603 To take the bend his appetites ordain,
604 Contriv'd to suit frail nature's crazy case,
605 And reconcile his lusts with saving grace.
606 By this, with nice precision of design,
607 He draws upon life's map a zig-zag line,
608 That shows how far 'tis safe to follow sin,
609 And where his danger and God's wrath begin.
[Page 172]
610 By this he forms, as pleas'd he sports along,
611 His well pois'd estimate of right and wrong,
612 And finds the modish manners of the day,
613 Though loose, as harmless as an infant's play.
614 Build by whatever plan caprice decrees,
615 With what materials, on what ground you please,
616 Your hope shall stand unblam'd, perhaps admir'd,
617 If not that hope the scripture has requir'd:
618 The strange conceits, vain projects and wild dreams,
619 With which hypocrisy for ever teems,
620 (Though other follies strike the public eye,
621 And raise a laugh) pass unmolested by;
622 But if unblameable in word and thought,
623 A man arise, a man whom God has taught,
624 With all Elijah's dignity of tone,
625 And all the love of the beloved John,
626 To storm the citadels they build in air,
627 And smite th' untemper'd wall, 'tis death to spare.
628 To sweep away all refuges of lies,
629 And place, instead of quirks themselves devise,
630 LAMA SABACTHANI, before their eyes,
[Page 173]
631 To prove that without Christ, all gain is loss,
632 All hope, despair, that stands not on his cross,
633 Except the few his God may have impress'd,
634 A tenfold frenzy seizes all the rest.
635 Throughout mankind, the Christian kind at least,
636 There dwells a consciousness in ev'ry breast,
637 That folly ends where genuine hope begins,
638 And he that finds his heav'n must lose his sins:
639 Nature opposes with her utmost force,
640 This riving stroke, this ultimate divorce,
641 And while religion seems to be her view,
642 Hates with a deep sincerity, the true;
643 For this of all that ever influenced man,
644 Since Abel worshipp'd, or the world began,
645 This only spares no lust, admits no plea,
646 But makes him, if at all, completely free,
647 Sounds forth the signal, as she mounts her car,
648 Of an eternal, universal war,
649 Rejects all treaty, penetrates all wiles,
650 Scorns with the same indiff'rence frowns and smiles,
[Page 174]
651 Drives through the realms of sin, where riot reels,
652 And grinds his crown beneath her burning wheels!
653 Hence all that is in man, pride, passion, art,
654 Powr's of the mind, and feelings of the heart,
655 Insensible of truth's almighty charms,
656 Starts at her first approach, and sounds to arms!
657 While bigotry with well-dissembled fears,
658 His eyes shut fast, his fingers in his ears,
659 Mighty to parry, and push by God's word
660 With senseless noise, his argument the sword,
661 Pretends a zeal for godliness and grace,
662 And spits abhorrence in the Christian's face.
663 Parent of hope, immortal truth, make known
664 Thy deathless wreaths, and triumphs all thine own:
665 The silent progress of thy pow'r is such,
666 Thy means so feeble, and despis'd so much,
667 That few believe the wonders thou hast wrought,
668 And none can teach them but whom thou hast taught.
669 Oh see me sworn to serve thee, and command
670 A painter's skill into a poet's hand,
[Page 175]
671 That while I trembling trace a work divine,
672 Fancy may stand aloof from the design,
673 And light and shade and ev'ry stroke be thine.
674 If ever thou hast felt another's pain,
675 If ever when he sigh'd, hast sigh'd again,
676 If ever on thine eye-lid stood the tear
677 That pity had engender'd, drop one here.
678 This man was happy had the world's good word,
679 And with it ev'ry joy it can afford;
680 Friendship and love seem'd tenderly at strife,
681 Which most should sweeten his untroubl'd life;
682 Politely learn'd, and of a gentle race,
683 Good-breeding and good sense gave all a grace,
684 And whether at the toilette of the fair
685 He laugh'd and trifled, made him welcome there;
686 Or, if in masculine debate he shar'd,
687 Insur'd him mute attention and regard.
688 Alas how chang'd! expressive of his mind,
689 His eyes are sunk, arms folded, head reclind,
690 Those awful syllables, hell, death, and sin,
691 Though whisper'd, plainly tell what works within,
[Page 176]
692 That conscience there performs her proper part,
693 And writes a doomsday sentence on his heart;
694 Forsaking, and forsaken of all friends,
695 He now perceives where earthly pleasure ends,
696 Hard task! for one who lately knew no care,
697 And harder still as learnt beneath despair:
698 His hours no longer pass unmark'd away,
699 A dark importance saddens every day,
700 He hears the notice of the clock, perplex'd,
701 And cries, perhaps eternity strikes next:
702 Sweet music is no longer music here,
703 And laughter sounds like madness in his ear,
704 His grief the world of all her pow'r disarms,
705 Wine has no taste, and beauty has no charms:
706 God's holy word, once trivial in his view,
707 Now by the voice of his experience, true,
708 Seems, as it is, the fountain whence alone
709 Must spring that hope he pants to make his own.
710 Now let the bright reverse be known abroad,
711 Say, man's a worm, and pow'r belongs to God.
[Page 177]
712 As when a felon whom his country's laws
713 Have justly doom'd for some atrocious cause,
714 Expects in darkness and heart-chilling fears,
715 The shameful close of all his mispent years,
716 If chance, on heavy pinions slowly borne,
717 A tempest usher in the dreaded morn,
718 Upon his dungeon walls the lightnings play,
719 The thunder seems to summon him away,
720 The warder at the door his key applies,
721 Shoots back the bolt, and all his courage dies:
722 If then, just then, all thoughts of mercy lost,
723 When Hope, long ling'ring, at last yields the ghost,
724 The sound of pardon pierce his startled ear,
725 He drops at once his fetters and his fear,
726 A transport glows in all he looks and speaks,
727 And the first thankful tears bedew his cheeks.
728 Joy, far superior joy, that much outweighs
729 The comfort of a few poor added days,
730 Invades, possesses, and o'erwhelms the soul
731 Of him whom hope has with a touch made whole:
[Page 178]
732 'Tis heav'n, all heav'n descending on the wings
733 Of the glad legions of the King of Kings;
734 'Tis more 'tis God diffus'd through ev'ry part,
735 'Tis God himself triumphant in his heart.
736 Oh welcome now, the sun's once hated light,
737 His noon-day beams were never half so bright,
738 Not kindred minds alone are call'd t' employ
739 Their hours, their days in list'ning to his joy,
740 Unconscious nature, all that he surveys,
741 Rocks, groves and streams must join him in his praise.
742 These are thy glorious works, eternal truth,
743 The scoff of wither'd age and beardless youth,
744 These move the censure and illib'ral grin
745 Of fools that hate thee and delight in sin:
746 But these shall last when night has quench'd the pole,
747 And heav'n is all departed as a scroll:
748 And when, as justice has long since decreed,
749 This earth shall blaze, and a new world succeed,
750 Then these thy glorious works, and they that share
751 That Hope which can alone exclude despair,
[Page 179]
752 Shall live exempt from weakness and decay,
753 The brightest wonders of an endless day.
754 Happy the bard, (if that fair name belong
755 To him that blends no fable with his song)
756 Whose lines uniting, by an honest art,
757 The faithful monitors and poets part,
758 Seek to delight, that they may mend mankind,
759 And while they captivate, inform the mind.
760 Still happier, if he till a thankful soil,
761 And fruit reward his honorable toil:
762 But happier far who comfort those that wait
763 To hear plain truth at Judah's hallow'd gate;
764 Their language simple as their manners meek,
765 No shining ornaments have they to seek,
766 Nor labour they, nor time nor talents waste
767 In sorting flowers to suit a fickle taste;
768 But while they speak the wisdom of the skies,
769 Which art can only darken and disguise,
770 Th' abundant harvest, recompence divine,
771 Repays their work the gleaning only, mine.


  • TEI/XML [chunk] (XML - 538K / ZIP - 66K) / ECPA schema (RNC - 357K / ZIP - 73K)
  • Plain text [excluding paratexts] (TXT - 33K / ZIP - 15K)

About this text

Title (in Source Edition): HOPE.
Themes: hope
Genres: heroic couplet; essay

Text view / Document view

Source edition

Poems: by William Cowper, of the Inner Temple, Esq. London: printed for J. Johnson, 1782, pp. []-179. [4],367,[1]p. ; 8⁰. (ESTC T14895; OTA K027775.000)

Editorial principles

The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the ECCO-TCP project, this ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 3.0.

Other works by William Cowper