— studiis florens ignobilis oti. VIRG. GEOR. LIB. 4.
1 HACKNEY'D in business, wearied at that oar
2 Which thousands once fast chain'd to, quit no more,
3 But which when life at ebb runs weak and low,
4 All wish, or seem to wish they could forego,
5 The statesman, lawyer, merchant, man of trade,
6 Pants for the refuge of some rural shade,
7 Where all his long anxieties forgot
8 Amid the charms of a sequester'd spot,[Page 259]
9 Or recollected only to gild o'er
10 And add a smile to what was sweet before,
11 He may possess the joys he thinks he sees,
12 Lay his old age upon the lap of ease,
13 Improve the remnant of his wasted span,
14 And having liv'd a trifler, die a man.
15 Thus conscience pleads her cause within the breast,
16 Though long rebell'd against, not yet suppress'd,
17 And calls a creature formed for God alone,
18 For heaven's high purposes and not his own,
19 Calls him away from selfish ends and aims,
20 From what debilitates and what inflames,
21 From cities humming with a restless crowd,
22 Sordid as active, ignorant as loud,
23 Whose highest praise is that they live in vain,
24 The dupes of pleasure, or the slaves of gain,
25 Where works of man are cluster'd close around,
26 And works of God are hardly to be found,
27 To regions where in spite of sin and woe,
28 Traces of Eden are still seen below,[Page 260]
29 Where mountain, river, forest, field and grove,
30 Remind him of his Maker's pow'r and love.
31 'Tis well if look'd for at so late a day,
32 In the last scene of such a senseless play,
33 True wisdom will attend his feeble call,
34 And grace his action e'er the curtain fall.
35 Souls that have long despised their heav'nly birth,
36 Their wishes all impregnated with earth,
37 For threescore years employed with ceaseless care,
38 In catching smoke and feeding upon air,
39 Conversant only with the ways of men,
40 Rarely redeem the short remaining ten.
41 Invet'rate habits choak th' unfruitful heart,
42 Their fibres penetrate its tend'rest part,
43 And draining its nutritious pow'rs to feed
44 Their noxious growth, starve ev'ry better seed.
45 Happy if full of days — but happier far
46 If e'er we yet discern life's evening star,
47 Sick of the service of a world that feeds
48 Its patient drudges with dry chaff and weeds,[Page 261]
49 We can escape from custom's ideot sway,
50 To serve the sov'reign we were born t' obey.
51 Then sweet to muse upon his skill display'd
52 (Infinite skill) in all that he has made!
53 To trace in nature's most minute design,
54 The signature and stamp of pow'r divine,
55 Contrivance intricate express'd with ease
56 Where unassisted sight no beauty sees,
57 The shapely limb and lubricated joint,
58 Within the small dimensions of a point,
59 Muscle and nerve miraculously spun,
60 His mighty work who speaks and it is done,
61 Th' invisible in things scarce seen reveal'd,
62 To whom an atom is an ample field.
63 To wonder at a thousand insect forms,
64 These hatch'd, and those resuscitated worms,
65 New life ordain'd and brighter scenes to share,
66 Once prone on earth, now buoyant upon air,
67 Whose shape would make them, had they bulk and size,
68 More hideous foes than fancy can devise,[Page 262]
69 With helmed heads and dragon scales adorn'd,
70 The mighty myriads, now securely scorn'd,
71 Would mock the majesty of man's high birth,
72 Despise his bulwarks and unpeople earth.
73 Then with a glance of fancy to survey,
74 Far as the faculty can stretch away,
75 Ten thousand rivers poured at his command
76 From urns that never fail through ev'ry land,
77 These like a deluge with impetuous force,
78 Those winding modestly a silent course,
79 The cloud-surmounting alps, the fruitful vales,
80 Seas on which ev'ry nation spreads her sails,
81 The sun, a world whence other worlds drink light,
82 The crescent moon, the diadem of night,
83 Stars countless, each in his appointed place,
84 Fast-anchor'd in the deep abyss of space —
85 At such a sight to catch the poet's flame,
86 And with a rapture like his own exclaim,
87 These are thy glorious works, thou source of good,
88 How dimly seen, how faintly understood! —[Page 263]
89 Thine, and upheld by thy paternal care,
90 This universal frame, thus wond'rous fair;
91 Thy pow'r divine and bounty beyond thought,
92 Ador'd and prais'd in all that thou hast wrought.
93 Absorbed in that immensity I see,
94 I shrink abased, and yet aspire to thee;
95 Instruct me, guide me to that heav'nly day,
96 Thy words, more clearly than thy works display,
97 That while thy truths my grosser thoughts refine,
98 I may resemble thee and call thee mine.
99 Oh blest proficiency! surpassing all
100 That men erroneously their glory call,
101 The recompence that arts or arms can yield,
102 The bar, the senate or the tented field.
103 Compar'd with this sublimest life below,
104 Ye kings and rulers what have courts to show?
105 Thus studied, used and consecrated thus,
106 Whatever is, seems form'd indeed for us,
107 Not as the plaything of a froward child,
108 Fretful unless diverted and beguiled,[Page 264]
109 Much less to feed and fan the fatal fires
110 Of pride, ambition or impure desires,
111 But as a scale by which the soul ascends
112 From mighty means to more important ends,
113 Securely, though by steps but rarely trod,
114 Mounts from inferior beings up to God,
115 And sees by no fallacious light or dim,
116 Earth made for man, and man himself for him.
117 Not that I mean t' approve, or would inforce
118 A superstitious and monastic course:
119 Truth is not local, God alike pervades
120 And fills the world of traffic and the shades,
121 And may be fear'd amid the busiest scenes,
122 Or scorn'd where business never intervenes.
123 But 'tis not easy with a mind like ours,
124 Conscious of weakness in its noblest pow'rs,
125 And in a world where (other ills apart)
126 The roving eye misleads the careless heart,
127 To limit thought, by nature prone to stray
128 Wherever freakish fancy points the way,[Page 265]
129 To bid the pleadings of self-love be still,
130 Resign our own and seek our maker's will,
131 To spread the page of scripture, and compare
132 Our conduct with the laws engraven there,
133 To measure all that passes in the breast,
134 Faithfully, fairly, by that sacred test,
135 To dive into the secret deeps within,
136 To spare no passion and no fav'rite sin,
137 And search the themes important above all,
138 Ourselves and our recov'ry from our fall.
139 But leisure, silence, and a mind releas'd
140 From anxious thoughts how wealth may be encreas'd,
141 How to secure in some propitious hour,
142 The point of int'rest or the post of power,
143 A soul serene, and equally retired,
144 From objects too much dreaded or desired,
145 Safe from the clamours of perverse dispute,
146 At least are friendly to the great pursuit.
147 Op'ning the map of God's extensive plan,
148 We find a little isle, this life of man,[Page 266]
149 Eternity's unknown expanse appears
150 Circling around and limiting his years;
151 The busy race examine and explore
152 Each creek and cavern of the dang'rous shore,
153 With care collect what in their eyes excells,
154 Some, shining pebbles, and some, weeds and shells,
155 Thus laden dream that they are rich and great,
156 And happiest he that groans beneath his weight;
157 The waves o'ertake them in their serious play,
158 And ev'ry hour sweep multitudes away,
159 They shriek and sink, survivors start and weep,
160 Pursue their sport, and follow to the deep;
161 A few forsake the throng, with lifted eyes
162 Ask wealth of heav'n, and gain a real prize,
163 Truth, wisdom, grace, and peace like that above,
164 Seal'd with his signet whom they serve and love;
165 Scorn'd by the rest, with patient hope they wait
166 A kind release from their imperfect state,
167 And unregretted are soon snatch'd away
168 From scenes of sorrow into glorious day.[Page 267]
169 Nor these alone prefer a life recluse,
170 Who seek retirement for its proper use,
171 The love of change that lives in ev'ry breast,
172 Genius, and temper, and desire of rest,
173 Discordant motives in one center meet,
174 And each inclines it's vot'ry to retreat.
175 Some minds by nature are averse to noise.
176 And hate the tumult half the world enjoys,
177 The lure of av'rice, or the pompous prize
178 That courts display before ambitious eyes,
179 The fruits that hang on pleasure's flow'ry stem,
180 Whate'er enchants them are no snares to them.
181 To them the deep recess of dusky groves,
182 Or forest where the deer securely roves,
183 The fall of waters and the song of birds,
184 And hills that echo to the distant herds,
185 Are luxuries excelling all the glare
186 The world can boast, and her chief fav'rites share.
187 With eager step and carelessly array'd,
188 For such a cause the poet seeks the shade,[Page 268]
189 From all he sees he catches new delight,
190 Pleas'd fancy claps her pinions at the sight,
191 The rising or the setting orb of day,
192 The clouds that flit, or slowly float away,
193 Nature in all the various shapes she wears,
194 Frowning in storms, or breathing gentle airs,
195 The snowy robe her wintry state assumes,
196 Her summer heats, her fruits, and her perfumes,
197 All, all alike transport the glowing bard,
198 Success in rhime his glory and reward.
199 Oh nature! whose Elysian scenes disclose
200 His bright perfections at whose word they rose,
201 Next to that pow'r who form'd thee and sustains,
202 Be thou the great inspirer of my strains.
203 Still as I touch the lyre, do thou expand
204 Thy genuine charms, and guide an artless hand,
205 That I may catch a fire but rarely known,
206 Give useful light though I should miss renown,
207 And poring on thy page, whose ev'ry line
208 Bears proof of an intelligence divine,[Page 269]
209 May feel an heart enrich'd by what it pays,
210 That builds its glory on its Maker's praise.
211 Woe to the man whose wit disclaims its use,
212 Glitt'ring in vain, or only to seduce,
213 Who studies nature with a wanton eye,
214 Admires the work, but slips the lesson by,
215 His hours of leisure and recess employs,
216 In drawing pictures of forbidden joys,
217 Retires to blazon his own worthless name,
218 Or shoot the careless with a surer aim.
219 The lover too shuns business and alarms,
220 Tender idolator of absent charms.
221 Saints offer nothing in their warmest prayr's,
222 That he devotes not with a zeal like theirs;
223 'Tis consecration of his heart, soul, time,
224 And every thought that wanders is a crime.
225 In sighs he worships his supremely fair,
226 And weeps a sad libation in despair,
227 Adores a creature, and devout in vain,
228 Wins in return an answer of disdain.[Page 270]
229 As woodbine weds the plants within her reach,
230 Rough elm, or smooth-grain'd ash, or glossy beech,
231 In spiral rings ascends the trunk, and lays
232 Her golden tassels on the leafy sprays,
233 But does a mischief while she lends a grace,
234 Streight'ning its growth by such a strict embrace,
235 So love that clings around the noblest minds,
236 Forbids th' advancement of the soul he binds,
237 The suitor's air indeed he soon improves,
238 And forms it to the taste of her he loves,
239 Teaches his eyes a language, and no less
240 Refines his speech and fashions his address;
241 But farewell promises of happier fruits,
242 Manly designs, and learning's grave pursuits,
243 Girt with a chain he cannot wish to break,
244 His only-bliss is sorrow for her sake,
245 Who will may pant for glory and excell,
246 Her smile his aim, all higher aims farewell!
247 Thyrsis, Alexis, or whatever name
248 May least offend against so pure a flame,[Page 271]
249 Though sage advice of friends the most sincere,
250 Sounds harshly in so delicate an ear,
251 And lovers of all creatures, tame or wild,
252 Can least brook management, however mild,
253 Yet let a poet (poetry disarms
254 The fiercest animals with magic charms)
255 Risque an intrusion on thy pensive mood,
256 And wooe and win thee to thy proper good.
257 Pastoral images and still retreats,
258 Umbrageous walks and solitary seats,
259 Sweet birds in concert with harmonious streams,
260 Soft airs, nocturnal vigils, and day-dreams,
261 Are all enchantments in a case like thine,
262 Conspire against thy peace with one design,
263 Sooth thee to make thee but a surer prey,
264 And feed the fire that wastes thy pow'rs away.
265 Up — God has formed thee with a wiser view,
266 Not to be led in chains, but to subdue,
267 Calls thee to cope with enemies, and first
268 Points out a conflict with thyself, the worst.[Page 272]
269 Woman indeed, a gift he would bestow
270 When he design'd a paradise below,
271 The richest earthly boon his hands afford,
272 Deserves to be belov'd, but not ador'd.
273 Post away swiftly to more active scenes,
274 Collect the scatter'd truths that study gleans,
275 Mix with the world, but with its wiser part,
276 No longer give an image all thine heart,
277 Its empire is not her's, nor is it thine,
278 'Tis God's just claim, prerogative divine.
279 Virtuous and faithful HEBERDEN! whose skill
280 Attempts no task it cannot well fulfill,
281 Gives melancholy up to nature's care,
282 And sends the patient into purer air.
283 Look where he comes — in this embower'd alcove,
284 Stand close conceal'd, and see a statue move:
285 Lips busy, and eyes fixt, foot falling slow,
286 Arms hanging idly down, hands clasp'd below,
287 Interpret to the marking eye, distress,
288 Such as its symptoms can alone express.[Page 273]
289 That tongue is silent now, that silent tongue
290 Could argue once, could jest or joint the song,
291 Could give advice, could censure or commend,
292 Or charm the sorrows of a drooping friend.
293 Renounced alike its office and its sport,
294 Its brisker and its graver strains fall short,
295 Both fail beneath a fever's secret sway,
296 And like a summer-brook are past away.
297 This is a sight for pity to peruse
298 'Till she resemble faintly what she views,
299 'Till sympathy contract a kindred pain,
300 Pierced with the woes that she laments in vain.
301 This of all maladies that man infest,
302 Claims most compassion and receives the least,
303 Job felt it when he groan'd beneath the rod,
304 And the barbed arrows of a frowning God,
305 And such emollients as his friends could spare,
306 Friends such as his for modern Jobs prepare.
307 Blest, (rather curst) with hearts that never feel,
308 Kept snug in caskets of close-hammer'd steel,[Page 274]
309 With mouths made only to grin wide and eat,
310 And minds that deem derided pain, a treat,
311 With limbs of British oak and nerves of wire,
312 And wit that puppet-prompters might inspire,
313 Their sov'reign nostrum is a clumsy joke,
314 On pangs inforc'd with God's severest stroke.
315 But with a soul that ever felt the sting
316 Of sorrow, sorrow is a sacred thing,
317 Not to molest, or irritate, or raise
318 A laugh at its expence, is slender praise;
319 He that has not usurp'd the name of man.
320 Does all, and deems too little, all he can,
321 T' assuage the throbbings of the sester'd part,
322 And staunch the bleedings of a broken heart;
323 'Tis not as heads that never ach suppose,
324 Forg'ry of fancy and a dream of woes,
325 Man is an harp whose chords elude the sight,
326 Each yielding harmony, disposed aright,
327 The screws revers'd (a task which if he please
328 God in a moment executes with ease)[Page 275]
329 Ten thousand thousand strings at once go loose,
330 Lost, 'till he tune them, all their pow'r and use.
331 Then neither heathy wilds, nor scenes as fair
332 As ever recompensed the peasant's care,
333 Nor soft declivities with tufted hills,
334 Nor view of waters turning busy mills,
335 Parks in which art preceptress nature weds,
336 Nor gardens interspers'd with flow'ry beds,
337 Nor gales that catch the scent of blooming groves,
338 And waft it to the mourner as he roves,
339 Can call up life into his faded eye,
340 That passes all he sees unheeded by:
341 No wounds like those a wounded spirit feels,
342 No cure for such, 'till God who makes them, heals.
343 And thou sad suff'rer under nameless ill,
344 That yields not to the touch of human skill,
345 Improve the kind occasion, understand
346 A father's frown, and kiss his chast'ning hand:
347 To thee the day-spring and the blaze of noon,
348 The purple evening and resplendent moon,[Page 276]
349 The stars that sprinkled o'er the vault of night
350 Seem drops descending in a show'r of light,
351 Shine not, or undesired and hated shine,
352 Seen through the medium of a cloud like thine:
353 Yet seek him, in his favour life is found,
354 All bliss beside, a shadow or a sound:
355 Then heav'n eclipsed so long, and this dull earth
356 Shall seem to start into a second birth,
357 Nature assuming a more lovely face,
358 Borrowing a beauty from the works of grace,
359 Shall be despised and overlook'd no more,
360 Shall fill thee with delights unfelt before,
361 Impart to things inanimate a voice,
362 And bid her mountains and her hills rejoice,
363 The sound shall run along the winding vales,
364 And thou enjoy an Eden e'er it fails.
365 Ye groves (the statesman at his desk exclaims
366 Sick of a thousand disappointed aims)
367 My patrimonial treasure and my pride,
368 Beneath your shades your gray possessor hide,[Page 277]
369 Receive me languishing for that repose
370 The servant of the public never knows.
371 Ye saw me once (ah those regretted days
372 When boyish innocence was all my praise)
373 Hour after hour delightfully allot
374 To studies then familiar, since forgot,
375 And cultivate a taste for antient song,
376 Catching its ardour as I mused along;
377 Nor seldom, as propitious heav'n might send,
378 What once I valued and could boast, a friend,
379 Were witnesses how cordially I press'd
380 His undissembling virtue to my breast;
381 Receive me now, not uncorrupt as then,
382 Nor guiltless of corrupting other men,
383 But vers'd in arts that while they seem to stay
384 A falling empire, hasten its decay.
385 To the fair haven of my native home,
386 The wreck of what I was, fatigued I come,
387 For once I can approve the patriot's voice,
388 And make the course he recommends, my choice,[Page 278]
389 We meet at last in one sincere desire,
390 His wish and mine both prompt me to retire.
391 'Tis done — he steps into the welcome chaise,
392 Lolls at his ease behind four handsome bays,
393 That whirl away from bus'ness and debate,
394 The disincumber'd Atlas of the state.
395 Ask not the boy, who when the breeze of morn
396 First shakes the glitt'ring drops from ev'ry thorn,
397 Unfolds his flock, then under bank or bush
398 Sits linking cherry stones or platting rush,
399 How fair is freedom? — he was always free —
400 To carve his rustic name upon a tree,
401 To snare the mole, or with ill-fashion'd hook
402 To draw th' incautious minnow from the brook,
403 Are life's prime pleasures in his simple view,
404 His flock the chief concern he ever knew:
405 She shines but little in his heedless eyes,
406 The good we never miss, we rarely prize.
407 But ask the noble drudge in state-affairs,
408 Escap'd from office and its constant cares,[Page 279]
409 What charms he sees in freedom's smile express'd,
410 In freedom lost so long, now repossess'd,
411 The tongue whose strains were cogent as commands,
412 Revered at home, and felt in foreign lands,
413 Shall own itself a stamm'rer in that cause,
414 Or plead its silence as its best applause.
415 He knows indeed that whether dress'd or rude,
416 Wild without art, or artfully subdued,
417 Nature in ev'ry form inspires delight,
418 But never mark'd her with so just a sight.
419 Her hedge row shrubs, a variegated store,
420 With woodbine and wild roses mantled o'er,
421 Green baulks and furrow'd lands, the stream that spreads
422 Its cooling vapour o'er the dewy meads,
423 Downs that almost escape th' enquiring eye,
424 That melt and fade into the distant skie,
425 Beauties he lately slighted as he pass'd,
426 Seem all created since he travell'd last.
427 Master of all th' enjoyments he design'd,
428 No rough annoyance rankling in his mind,[Page 280]
429 What early philosophic hours he keeps,
430 How regular his meals, how sound he sleeps!
431 Not sounder he that on the mainmast head,
432 While morning kindles with a windy red,
433 Begins a long look-out for distant land,
434 Nor quits till evening-watch his giddy stand,
435 Then swift descending with a seaman's haste,
436 Slips to his hammock, and forgets the blast.
437 He chuses company, but not the squire's,
438 Whose wit is rudeness, whose good breeding tires;
439 Nor yet the parson's, who would gladly come,
440 Obsequious when abroad, though proud at home,
441 Nor can he much affect the neighb'ring peer,
442 Whose toe of emulation treads too near,
443 But wisely seeks a more convenient friend,
444 With whom, dismissing forms, he may unbend,
445 A man whom marks of condescending grace
446 Teach, while they flatter him, his proper place,
447 Who comes when call'd, and at a word withdraws,
448 Speaks with reserve, and listens with applause,[Page 281]
449 Some plain mechanic, who without pretence
450 To birth or wit, nor gives nor takes offence,
451 On whom he rests well pleas'd his weary pow'rs,
452 And talks and laughs away his vacant hours.
453 The tide of life, swift always in its course,
454 May run in cities with a brisker force,
455 But no where with a current so serene,
456 Or half so clear as in the rural scene.
457 Yet how fallacious is all earthly bliss,
458 What obvious truths the wisest heads may miss;
459 Some pleasures live a month, and some a year,
460 But short the date of all we gather here,
461 Nor happiness is felt, except the true,
462 That does not charm the more for being new.
463 This observation, as it chanced, not made,
464 Or if the thought occurr'd, not duely weigh'd,
465 He sighs — for after all, by slow degrees,
466 The spot he loved has lost the pow'r to please;
467 To cross his ambling poney day by day,
468 Seems at the best, but dreaming life away,[Page 282]
469 The prospect, such as might enchant despair,
470 He views it not, or sees no beauty there,
471 With aching heart and discontented looks,
472 Returns at noon, to billiards or to books,
473 But feels while grasping at his faded joys,
474 A secret thirst of his renounced employs,
475 He chides the tardiness of every post,
476 Pants to be told of battles won or lost,
477 Blames his own indolence, observes, though late,
478 'Tis criminal to leave a sinking state,
479 Flies to the levee, and receiv'd with grace,
480 Kneels, kisses hands, and shines again in place.
481 Suburban villas, highway-side retreats,
482 That dread th' encroachment of our growing streets,
483 Tight boxes, neatly sash'd, and in a blaze
484 With all a July sun's collected rays,
485 Delight the citizen, who gasping there
486 Breathes clouds of dust and calls it country air.
487 Oh sweet retirement, who would baulk the thought,
488 That could afford retirement, or could not?[Page 283]
489 'Tis such an easy walk, so smooth and strait,
490 The second milestone fronts the garden gate,
491 A step if fair, and if a show'r approach,
492 You find safe shelter in the next stage-coach.
493 There prison'd in a parlour snug and small,
494 Like bottled wasps upon a southern wall,
495 The man of bus'ness and his friends compress'd,
496 Forget their labours, and yet find no rest;
497 But still 'tis rural — trees are to be seen
498 From ev'ry window, and the fields are green,
499 Ducks paddle in the pond before the door,
500 And what could a remoter scene show more?
501 A sense of elegance we rarely find
502 The portion of a mean or vulgar mind,
503 And ignorance of better things, makes man
504 Who cannot much, rejoice in what he can;
505 And he that deems his leisure well bestow'd
506 In contemplations of a turnpike road,
507 Is occupied as well, employs his hours
508 As wisely, and as much improves his pow'rs,[Page 284]
509 As he that slumbers in pavilion's graced
510 With all the charms of an accomplish'd taste.
511 Yet hence alas! Insolvencies, and hence
512 Th' unpitied victim of ill-judg'd expence,
513 From all his wearisome engagements freed,
514 Shakes hands with bus'ness, and retires indeed.
515 Your prudent grand mammas ye modern belles,
516 Content with Bristol, Bath, and Tunbridge-wells,
517 When health requir'd it would consent to roam,
518 Else more attach'd to pleasures found at home.
519 But now alike, gay widow, virgin, wife,
520 Ingenious to diversify dull life,
521 In coaches, chaises, caravans and hoys,
522 Fly to the coast for daily, nightly joys,
523 And all impatient of dry land, agree
524 With one consent to rush into the sea. —
525 Ocean exhibits, fathomless and broad,
526 Much of the pow'r and majesty of God.
527 He swathes about the swelling of the deep,
528 That shines and rests, as infants smile and sleep,[Page 285]
529 Vast as it is, it answers as it flows
530 The breathings of the lightest air that blows,
531 Curling and whit'ning over all the waste,
532 The rising waves obey th' increasing blast,
533 Abrupt and horrid as the tempest roars,
534 Thunder and flash upon the stedfast shores,
535 'Till he that rides the whirlwind, checks the rein,
536 Then, all the world of waters sleeps again. —
537 Nereids or Dryads, as the fashion leads,
538 Now in the floods, now panting in the meads,
539 Vot'ries of pleasure still, where'er she dwells,
540 Near barren rocks, in palaces or cells,
541 Oh grant a poet leave to recommend,
542 (A poet fond of nature and your friend)
543 Her slighted works to your admiring view,
544 Her works must needs excel, who fashion'd you.
545 Would ye, when rambling in your morning ride,
546 With some unmeaning coxcomb at your side,
547 Condemn the prattler for his idle pains,
548 To waste unheard the music of his strains,[Page 286]
549 And deaf to all the impertinence of tongue,
550 That while it courts, affronts and does you wrong.
551 Mark well the finish'd plan without a fault,
552 The seas globose and huge, th' o'erarching vault,
553 Earth's millions daily fed, a world employ'd
554 In gath'ring plenty yet to be enjoy'd,
555 'Till gratitude grew vocal in the praise
556 Of God, beneficent in all his ways,
557 Grac'd with such wisdom how would beauty shine?
558 Ye want but that to seem indeed divine.
559 Anticipated rents and bills unpaid,
560 Force many a shining youth into the shade,
561 Not to redeem his time but his estate,
562 And play the fool, but at a cheaper rate.
563 There hid in loath'd obscurity, remov'd
564 From pleasures left, but never more belov'd,
565 He just endures, and with a sickly spleen
566 Sighs o'er the beauties of the charming scene.
567 Nature indeed looks prettily in rhime,
568 Streams tinkle sweetly in poetic chime,[Page 287]
569 The warblings of the black-bird, clear and strong,
570 Are musical enough in Thomson's song,
571 And Cobham's groves and Windsor's green retreats,
572 When Pope describes them, have a thousand sweets,
573 He likes the country, but in truth must own,
574 Most likes it, when he studies it in town.
575 Poor Jack — no matter who — for when I blame
576 I pity, and must therefore sink the name,
577 Liv'd in his saddle, lov'd the chace, the course,
578 And always, e'er he mounted, kiss'd his horse.
579 Th' estate his sires had own'd in antient years,
580 Was quickly distanc'd, match'd against a peer's.
581 Jack vanish'd, was regretted and forgot,
582 'Tis wild good-nature's never-failing lot.
583 At length, when all had long suppos'd him dead,
584 By cold submersion, razor, rope or lead,
585 My lord, alighting at his usual place,
586 The crown, took notice of an ostler's face.
587 Jack knew his friend, but hop'd in that disguise
588 He might escape the most observing eyes,[Page 288]
589 And whistling as if unconcern'd and gay,
590 Curried his nag and look'd another way.
591 Convinc'd at last upon a nearer view,
592 'Twas he, the same, the very Jack he knew,
593 O'erwhelm'd at once with wonder, grief and joy,
594 He press'd him much to quit his base employ,
595 His countenance, his purse, his heart, his hand,
596 Infl'ence and pow'r were all at his command.
597 Peers are not always gen'rous as well-bred,
598 But Granby was, meant truly what he said.
599 Jack bow'd and was oblig'd — confess'd 'twas strange
600 That so retir'd he should not wish a change,
601 But knew no medium between guzzling beer,
602 And his old stint, three thousand pounds a year.
603 Thus some retire to nourish hopeless woe,
604 Some seeking happiness not found below,
605 Some to comply with humour, and a mind
606 To social scenes by nature disinclin'd,
607 Some sway'd by fashion, some by deep disgust,
608 Some self-impoverish'd, and because they must,[Page 289]
609 But few that court Retirement, are aware
610 Of half the toils they must encounter there.
611 Lucrative offices are seldom lost
612 For want of pow'rs proportion'd to the post:
613 Give ev'n a dunce th' employment he desires,
614 And he soon finds the talents it requires;
615 A business with an income at its heels,
616 Furnishes always oil for its own wheels.
617 But in his arduous enterprize to close
618 His active years with indolent repose,
619 He finds the labours of that state exceed
620 His utmost faculties, severe indeed.
621 'Tis easy to resign a toilsome place,
622 But not to manage leisure with a grace,
623 Absence of occupation is not rest,
624 A mind quite vacant is a mind distress'd.
625 The vet'ran steed excused his task at length,
626 In kind compassion of his failing strength,
627 And turn'd into the park or mead to graze,
628 Exempt from future service all his days,[Page 290]
629 There feels a pleasure perfect in its kind,
630 Ranges at liberty, and snuffs the wind.
631 But when his lord would quit the busy road,
632 To taste a joy like that he has bestow'd,
633 He proves, less happy than his favour'd brute,
634 A life of ease a difficult pursuit.
635 Thought, to the man that never thinks, may seem
636 As natural, as when asleep, to dream,
637 But reveries (for human minds will act)
638 Specious in show, impossible in fact,
639 Those flimsy webs that break as soon as wrought,
640 Attain not to the dignity of thought.
641 Nor yet the swarms that occupy the brain
642 Where dreams of dress, intrigue, and pleasure reign,
643 Nor such as useless conversation breeds,
644 Or lust engenders, and indulgence feeds.
645 Whence, and what are we? to what end ordain'd?
646 What means the drama by the world sustain'd?
647 Business or vain amusement, care or mirth,
648 Divide the frail inhabitants of earth,[Page 291]
649 Is duty a mere sport, or an employ?
650 Life an intrusted talent, or a toy?
651 Is there as reason, conscience, scripture say,
652 Cause to provide for a great future day,
653 When earth's assign'd duration at an end,
654 Man shall be summon'd and the dead attend?
655 The trumpet — will it sound? the curtain rise?
656 And show th' august tribunal of the skies,
657 Where no prevarication shall avail,
658 Where eloquence and artifice shall fail,
659 The pride of arrogant distinctions fall,
660 And conscience and our conduct judge us all?
661 Pardon me, ye that give the midnight oil,
662 To learned cares or philosophic toil,
663 Though I revere your honourable names,
664 Your useful labors and important aims,
665 And hold the world indebted to your aid,
666 Enrich'd with the discoveries ye have made,
667 Yet let me stand excused, if I esteem
668 A mind employ'd on so sublime a theme,[Page 292]
669 Pushing her bold enquiry to the date
670 And outline of the present transient state,
671 And after poising her advent'rous wings,
672 Settling at last upon eternal things,
673 Far more intelligent, and better taught
674 The strenuous use of profitable thought,
675 Than ye when happiest, and enlighten'd most,
676 And highest in renown, can justly boast.
677 A mind unnerv'd, or indispos'd to bear
678 The weight of subjects worthiest of her care,
679 Whatever hopes a change of scene inspires,
680 Must change her nature, or in vain retires.
681 An idler is a watch that wants both hands,
682 As useless if it goes as when it stands.
683 Books therefore, not the scandal of the shelves,
684 In which lewd sensualists print out themselves,
685 Nor those in which the stage gives vice a blow,
686 With what success, let modern manners show,
687 Nor his, who for the bane of thousands born,
688 Built God a church and laugh'd his word to scorn,[Page 293]
689 Skilful alike to seem devout and just,
690 And stab religion with a sly side-thrust;
691 Nor those of learn'd philologists, who chase
692 A panting syllable through time and space,
693 Start it at home, and hunt it in the dark,
694 To Gaul, to Greece, and into Noah's ark;
695 But such as learning without false pretence,
696 The friend of truth, th' associate of sound sense,
697 And such as in the zeal of good design,
698 Strong judgment lab'ring in rhe scripture mine,
699 All such as manly and great souls produce,
700 Worthy to live, and of eternal use;
701 Behold in these what leisure hours demand,
702 Amusement and true knowledge hand in hand.
703 Luxury gives the mind a childish cast,
704 And while she polishes, perverts the taste,
705 Habits of close attention, thinking heads,
706 Become more rare as dissipation spreads,
707 'Till authors hear at length, one gen'ral cry,
708 Tickle and entertain us, or we die.[Page 294]
709 The loud demand from year to year the same,
710 Beggars invention and makes fancy lame,
711 'Till farce itself most mournfully jejune,
712 Calls for the kind assistance of a tune,
713 And novels (witness ev'ry month's review)
714 Belie their name and offer nothing new.
715 The mind relaxing into needfull sport,
716 Should turn to writers of an abler sort,
717 Whose wit well manag'd, and whose classic stile,
718 Give truth a lustre, and make wisdom smile.
719 Friends (for I cannot stint as some have done
720 Too rigid in my view, that name to one,
721 Though one, I grant it in th' gen'rous breast
722 Will stand advanc'd a step above the rest,
723 Flow'rs by that name promiscuously we call,
724 But one, the rose, the regent of them all)
725 Friends, not adopted with a school-boy's haste,
726 But chosen with a nice discerning taste,
727 Well-born, well-disciplin'd, who plac'd a-part
728 From vulgar minds, have honour much at heart,[Page 295]
729 And (tho' the world may think th' ingredients odd)
730 The love of virtue, and the fear of God!
731 Such friends prevent what else wou'd soon succeed,
732 A temper rustic as the life we lead,
733 And keep the polish of the manners clean,
734 As their's who bustle in the busiest scene;
735 For solitude, however some may rave,
736 Seeming a sanctuary, proves a grave,
737 A sepulchre in which the living lie,
738 Where all good qualities grow sick and die.
739 I praise the*
* Bruyere.Frenchman, his remark was shrew'd —
740 How sweet, how passing sweet is solitude!
741 But grant me still a friend in my retreat,
742 Whom I may whisper, solitude is sweet.
743 Yet neither these delights, nor aught beside
744 That appetite can ask, or wealth provide,
745 Can save us always from a tedious day,
746 Or shine the dullness of still life away;
747 Divine communion carefully enjoy'd,
748 Or sought with energy, must fill the void.[Page 296]
749 Oh sacred art, to which alone life owes
750 Its happiest seasons, and a peaceful close,
751 Scorn'd in a world, indebted to that scorn
752 For evils daily felt and hardly borne,
753 Not knowing thee, we reap with bleeding hands,
754 Flow'rs of rank odor upon thorny lands,
755 And while experience cautions us in vain,
756 Grasp seeming happiness, and find it pain.
757 Despondence, self-deserted in her grief,
758 Lost by abandoning her own relief,
759 Murmuring and ungrateful discontent,
760 That scorns afflictions mercifully meant,
761 Those humours tart as wines upon the fret,
762 Which idleness and weariness beget,
763 These and a thousand plagues that haunt the breast
764 Fond of the phantom of an earthly rest,
765 Divine communion chases as the day
766 Drives to their dens th' obedient beasts of prey.
767 See Judah's promised king, bereft of all,
768 Driv'n out an exile from the face of Saul,[Page 297]
769 To distant caves the lonely wand'rer flies,
770 To seek that peace a tyrant's frown denies.
771 Hear the sweet accents of his tuneful voice,
772 Hear him o'erwhelm'd with sorrow, yet rejoice,
773 No womanish or wailing grief has part,
774 No, not a moment, in his royal heart,
775 Tis manly music, such as martyrs make,
776 Suff'ring with gladness for a Saviour's sake;
777 His soul exults, hope animates his lays,
778 The sense of mercy kindles into praise,
779 And wilds familiar with the lion's roar,
780 Ring with extatic sounds unheard before;
781 'Tis love like his that can alone defeat
782 The foes of man, or make a desart sweet.
783 Religion does not censure or exclude
784 Unnumber'd pleasures harmlessly pursued.
785 To study culture, and with artful toil
786 To meliorate and tame the stubborn soil,
787 To give dissimilar yet fruitful lands
788 The grain or herb or plant that each demands,[Page 298]
789 To cherish virtue in an humble state,
790 And share the joys your bounty may create,
791 To mark the matchless workings of the pow'r
792 That shuts within its seed the future flow'r,
793 Bids these in elegance of form excell,
794 In colour these, and those delight the smell,
795 Sends nature forth, the daughter of the skies,
796 To dance on earth, and charm all human eyes;
797 To teach the canvass innocent deceit,
798 Or lay the landscape on the snowy sheet,
799 These, these are arts pursued without a crime,
800 That leave no stain upon the wing of time.
801 Me poetry (or rather notes that aim
802 Feebly and vainly at poetic fame)
803 Employs, shut out from more important views,
804 Fast by the banks of the slow-winding Ouse,
805 Content, if thus sequester'd I may raise
806 A monitor's, though not a poet's praise,
807 And while I teach an art too little known,
808 To close life wisely, may not waste my own.
About this text
Title (in Source Edition): RETIREMENT.
Author: William Cowper
Genres: heroic couplet; essay
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Other works by William Cowper
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- AN EPISTLE TO JOSEPH HILL, ESQ. ()
- EXPOSTULATION. ()
- A FABLE. ()
- HEROISM. ()
- HOPE. ()
- HORACE. Book the 2d. ODE the 10th. ()
- HUMAN FRAILTY. ()
- THE LILY AND THE ROSE. ()
- THE LOVE OF THE WORLD REPROVED; OR, HYPOCRISY DETECTED. ()
- THE MODERN PATRIOT. ()
- MUTUAL FORBEARANCE, Necessary to the Happiness of the Married State. ()
- THE NIGHTINGALE AND GLOW-WORM. ()
- ODE TO PEACE. ()
- On a GOLDFINCH starved to Death in his Cage. ()
- On observing some Names of little Note recorded in the BIOGRAPHIA BRITANNICA. ()
- On the Burning of LORD MANSFIELD'S Library, together with his MSS. by the Mob, in the Month of June, 1780. ()
- On the Promotion of EDWARD THURLOW, Esq. to the Lord High Chancellorship of ENGLAND. ()
- ON THE SAME. ()
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- REPORT Of an adjudged Case not to be found in any of the Books. ()
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- [THE TASK, A POEM, IN SIX BOOKS.] BOOK I. ()
- [THE TASK, A POEM, IN SIX BOOKS.] BOOK II. ()
- [THE TASK, A POEM, IN SIX BOOKS.] BOOK III. ()
- [THE TASK, A POEM, IN SIX BOOKS.] BOOK IV. ()
- [THE TASK, A POEM, IN SIX BOOKS.] BOOK V. ()
- [THE TASK, A POEM, IN SIX BOOKS.] BOOK VI. ()
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- [Translation] 1. THE GLOW-WORM, ()
- [Translation] 2. THE JACK DAW. ()
- [Translation] 3. THE CRICKET. ()
- [Translation] 4. THE PARROT. ()
- TRUTH. ()
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