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1 FRIEND to the wretch, whom every friend forsakes,
2 I woo thee, Death! In Fancy's fairy paths
3 Let the gay Songster rove, and gently trill
4 The strain of empty joy. Life and its joys
5 I leave to those that prize them. At this hour,
6 This solemn hour, when Silence rules the world,
7 And wearied Nature makes a general pause!
8 Wrapt in Night's sable robe, through cloysters drear
9 And charnels pale, tenanted by a throng
10 Of meagre phantoms shooting cross my path
11 With silent glance, I seek the shadowy vale
12 Of Death. Deep in a murky cave's recess
13 Lav'd by Oblivion's listless stream, and fenc'd
14 By shelving rocks and intermingled horrors
15 Of yew' and cypress' shade from all intrusion
16 Of busy noontide-beam, the Monarch sits
17 In unsubstantial Majesty enthron'd.
18 At his right hand, nearest himself in place
19 And frightfulness of form, his parent Sin
20 With fatal industry and cruel care
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21 Busies herself in pointing all his stings,
22 And tipping every shaft with venom drawn
23 From her infernal store: around him rang'd
24 In terrible array and strange diversity
25 Of uncouth shapes, stand his dread Ministers:
26 Foremost Old Age, his natural ally
27 And firmest friend: next him diseases thick,
28 A motley train; Fever with cheek of fire;
29 Consumption wan; Palsy, half warm with life,
30 And half a clay-cold lump; joint-torturing Gout,
31 And ever-gnawing Rheum; Convulsion wild;
32 Swol'n Dropsy; panting Asthma; Apoplex
33 Full-gorg'd. There too the Pestilence that walks
34 In darkness, and the Sickness that destroys
35 At broad noon-day. These and a thousand more,
36 Horrid to tell, attentive wait; and, when
37 By Heaven's command Death waves his ebon wand,
38 Sudden rush forth to execute his purpose,
39 And scatter desolation o'er the Earth.
40 Ill-fated Man, for whom such various forms
41 Of Misery wait, and mark their future prey!
42 Ah! why, All-Righteous Father, didst thou make
43 This Creature Man? why wake th' unconscious dust
44 To life and wretchedness? O better far
45 Still had he slept in uncreated night,
46 If this the Lot of Being! Was it for this
47 Thy Breath divine kindled within his breast
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48 The vital flame? For this was thy fair image
49 Stampt on his soul in godlike lineaments?
50 For this dominion given him absolute
51 O'er all thy creatures, only that he might reign
52 Supreme in woe? From the blest source of Good
53 Could Pain and Death proceed? Could such foul Ills
54 Fall from fair Mercy's hands? Far be the thought,
55 The impious thought! God never made a Creature
56 But what was good. He made a living Man:
57 The Man of Death was made by Man himself.
58 Forth from his Maker's hands he sprung to life,
59 Fresh with immortal bloom; No pain he knew,
60 No fear of death, no check to his desires
61 Save one command. That one command (which stood
62 'Twixt him and ruin, the test of his obedience,)
63 Urg'd on by wanton curiosity
64 He broke. There in one moment was undone
65 The fairest of God's works. The same rash hand
66 That pluck'd in evil hour the fatal fruit,
67 Unbarr'd the gates of Hell, and let loose Sin
68 And Death and all the family of Pain
69 To prey upon Mankind. Young Nature saw
70 The monstrous crew, and shook thro' all her frame.
71 Then fled her new-born lustre, then begar.
72 Heaven's chearful face to low'r, then vapours choak'd
73 The troubled air, and form'd a veil of clouds
74 To hide the willing Sun. The Earth convuls'd
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75 With painful throes threw forth a bristly crop
76 Of thorns and briars; and Insect, Bird, and Beast,
77 That wont before with admiration fond
78 To gaze at Man, and fearless croud around him,
79 Now fled before his face, shunning in haste
80 Th' infection of his misery. He alone,
81 Who justly might, th' offended Lord of Man,
82 Turn'd not away his face, he full of pity
83 Forsook not in this uttermost distress
84 His best-lov'd work. That comfort still remain'd,
85 (That best, that greatest comfort in affliction)
86 The countenance of God, and thro' the gloom
87 Shot forth some kindly gleams, to chear and warm
88 Th' offender's sinking soul. Hope sent from Heaven
89 Uprais'd his drooping head, and shew'd afar
90 A happier scene of things; the Promis'd Seed
91 Trampling upon the Serpent's humbled crest,
92 Death of his sting disarm'd, and the dank grave
93 Made pervious to the realms of endless day,
94 No more the limit but the gate of life.
95 Chear'd with the view, Man went to till the ground
96 From whence he rose; sentenc'd indeed to toil
97 As to a punishment, yet (ev'n in wrath
98 So merciful is Heaven) this toil became
99 The solace of his woes, the sweet employ
100 Of many a live-long hour, and surest guard
101 Against disease and Death. Death tho' denounc'd
102 Was yet a distant Ill, by feeble arm
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103 Of Age, his sole support, led slowly on.
104 Not then, as since, the short-liv'd sons of men
105 Flock'd to his realms in countless multitudes;
106 Scarce in the course of twice five hundred years
107 One solitary ghost went shivering down
108 To his unpeopled shore. In sober state,
109 Through the sequester'd vale of rural life,
110 The venerable Patriarch guileless held
111 The tenor of his way; Labour prepar'd
112 His simple fare, and Temperance rul'd his board.
113 Tir'd with his daily toil, at early eve
114 He sunk to sudden rest; gentle and pure
115 As breath of evening Zephyr and as sweet
116 Were all his slumbers; with the Sun lie rose,
117 Alert and vigorous as He, to run
118 His destin'd course. Thus nerv'd with Giant Strength
119 He stem'd the tide of time, and stood the shock
120 Of ages rolling harmless o'er his head.
121 At life's meridian point arriv'd, he stood,
122 And looking round saw all the vallies fill'd
123 With nations from his loins; full-well content
124 To leave his race thus scatter'd o'er the Earth,
125 Along the gentle slope of life's decline
126 He bent his gradual way, till full of years
127 He dropt like mellow fruit into his grave.
128 Such in the infancy of time was Man,
129 So calm was life, so impotent was Death.
130 O had he but preserv'd these few remains,
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131 These shatter'd fragments of lost happiness,
132 Snatch'd by the hand of heaven from the sad wreck
133 Of innocence primaeval; still had he liv'd
134 Great ev'n in ruin; tho' fall'n, yet not forlorn;
135 Though mortal, yet not every where beset
136 With Death in every shape! But He, impatient
137 To be compleatly wretched, hastes to fill up
138 The measure of his woes. 'Twas Man himself
139 Brought Death into the world, And Man himself
140 Gave keenness to his darts, quicken'd his pace,
141 And multiplied destruction on mankind.
142 First Envy, Eldest-Born of Hell, embru'd
143 Her hands in blood, and taught the Sons of Men
144 To make a Death which Nature never made,
145 And God abhorr'd, with violence rude to break
146 The thread of life ere half its length was run,
147 And rob a wretched brother of his being.
148 With joy Ambition saw, and soon improv'd
149 The execrable deed. 'Twas not enough
150 By subtle fraud to snatch a single life,
151 Puny impiety! whole kingdoms fell
152 To sate the lust of power; more horrid still,
153 The foulest stain and scandal of our nature
154 Became its boast. One Murder made a Villain,
155 Millions a Hero. Princes were privileg'd
156 To kill, and numbers sanctified the crime.
157 Ah! why will Kings forget that they are Men?
158 And Men that they are brethren? Why delight
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159 In human sacrifice? Why burst the ties
160 Of Nature, that should knit their souls together
161 In one soft bond of amity and love?
162 Yet still they breathe destruction, still go on
163 Inhumanly ingenious to find out
164 New pains for life, new terrors for the grave,
165 Artificers of Death! Still Monarchs dream
166 Of universal Empire growing up
167 From universal ruin. Blast the design,
168 Great God of Hosts, nor let thy creatures fall
169 Unpitied victims at Ambition's shrine!
170 Yet say, should Tyrants learn at last to feel,
171 And the loud din of battle cease to roar;
172 Should dove-ey'd Peace o'er all the earth extend
173 Her olive branch, and give the world repose,
174 Would Death be foil'd? Would health, and strength, and youth
175 Defy his power? Has he no arts in store,
176 No other shafts save those of war? Alas!
177 Ev'n in the smile of Peace, that smile which sheds
178 A heavenly sunshine o'er the soul, there basks
179 That serpent Luxury: War its thousands slays,
180 Peace its ten thousands: In th' embattled plain
181 Though Death exults, and claps his raven wings,
182 Yet reigns he not ev'n there so absolute,
183 So merciless, as in yon frantic scenes
184 Of midnight revel and tumultuous mirth,
185 Where, in th' intoxicating draught conceal'd,
186 Or couch'd beneath the glance of lawless Love,
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187 He snares the simple youth, who nought suspecting
188 Means to be blest But finds himself undone.
189 Down the smooth stream of life the Stripling darts
190 Gay as the morn; bright glows the vernal sky,
191 Hope swells his sails, and Fancy steers his course;
192 Safe glides his little bark along the shore
193 Where Virtue takes her stand; but if too far
194 He launches forth beyond Discretion's mark,
195 Sudden the tempest scowls, the surges roar,
196 Blot his fair day, and plunge him in the deep.
197 O sad but sure mischance! O happier far
198 To lie like gallant Howe midst Indian wilds
199 A breathless corse, cut off by savage hands
200 In earliest prime, a generous sacrifice
201 To Freedom's holy cause; than so to fail
202 Tern immature from life's meridian joys,
203 A prey to Vice, Intemperance, and Disease.
204 Yet die ev'n thus, thus rather perish still,
205 Ye Sons of Pleasure, by th' Almighty stricken,
206 Than ever dare (though oft, alas! ye dare)
207 To lift against yourselves the murderous steel,
208 To wrest from God's own hand the sword of Justice,
209 And be your own avengers. Hold, rash Man,
210 Though with anticipating speed thou'st rang'd
211 Through every region of delight, nor left
212 One joy to gild the evening of thy days,
213 Though life seem one uncomfortable void,
214 Guilt at thy heels, before thy face despair,
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215 Yet gay this scene, and light this load of woe,
216 Compar'd with thy hereafter. Think, O think,
217 And ere thou plunge into the vast abyss,
218 Pause on the verge awhile, look down and see
219 Thy future mansion. Why that start of horror?
220 From thy slack hand why drops th' uplifted steel?
221 Didst thou not think such vengeance must await
222 The wretch, that with his crimes all fresh about him
223 Rushes irreverent, unprepar'd, uncall'd,
224 Into his Maker's presence, throwing back
225 With insolent disdain his choicest gift?
226 Live then, while Heaven in pity lends thee life,
227 And think it all too short to wash away
228 By penitential tears and deep contrition
229 The scarlet of thy crimes. So shalt thou find
230 Rest to thy soul, so unappall'd shalt meet
231 Death when he comes, not wantonly invite
232 His lingering stroke. Be it thy sole concern
233 With innocence to live, with patience wait
234 Th' appointed hour; too soon that hour will come,
235 Tho' Nature run her course; But Nature's God,
236 If need require, by thousand various ways,
237 Without thy aid, can shorten that short span,
238 And quench the lamp of life. O when he comes,
239 Rous'd by the cry of wickedness extreme
240 To Heaven ascending from some guilty land
241 Now ripe for vengeance; when he comes array'd
242 In all the terrors of Almighty wrath;
243 Forth from his bosom plucks his lingering Arm,
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244 And on the miscreants pours destruction down!
245 Who can abide his coming? Who can bear
246 His whole displeasure? In no common form
247 Death then appears, but starting into Size
248 Enormous, measures with gigantic stride
249 Th' astonish'd Earth, and from his looks throws round
250 Unutterable horror and dismay.
251 All Nature lends her aid. Each Element
252 Arms in his cause. Ope fly the doors of Heaven,
253 The fountains of the deep their barriers break,
254 Above, below, the rival torrents pour,
255 And drown Creation, or in floods of fire
256 Descends a livid cataract, and consumes
257 An impious race. Sometimes when all seems peace,
258 Wakes the grim whirlwind, and with rude embrace
259 Sweeps nations to their grave, or in the deep
260 Whelms the proud wooden world; full many a youth
261 Floats on his watery bier, or lies unwept
262 On some sad desert shore! At dead of night
263 In sullen silence stalks forth Pestilence:
264 Contagion close behind taints all her steps
265 With poisonous dew; no smiting Hand is seen,
266 No sound is heard; but soon her secret path
267 Is mark'd with desolation; heaps on heaps
268 Promiscuous drop: No friend, no refuge near;
269 All, all, is false and treacherous around,
270 All that they touch, or taste, or breathe, is Death.
271 But ah! what means that ruinous roar? why fail
272 These tottering feet? Earth to its centre feels
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273 The Godhead's power, and trembling at his touch
274 Through all its pillars, and in every pore,
275 Hurls to the ground with one convulsive heave
276 Precipitating domes, and towns, and towers,
277 The work of ages. Crush'd beneath the weight
278 Of general devastation, millions find
279 One common grave; not ev'n a widow left
280 To wail her sons: the house, that should protect,
281 Entombs its master, and the faithless plain,
282 If there he flies for help, with sudden yawn
283 Starts from beneath him. Shield me, gracious Heaven!
284 O snatch me from destruction! If this Globe,
285 This solid Globe, which thine own hand hath made
286 So firm and sure, if this my steps betray;
287 If my own mother Earth from whence I sprung
288 Rise up with rage unnatural to devour
289 Her wretched offspring, whither shall I fly?
290 Where look for succour? Where, but up to thee,
291 Almighty Father? Save, O save thy suppliant
292 From horrors such as these! At thy good time
293 Let Death approach; I reck not let him but come
294 In genuine form, not with thy vengeance arm'd,
295 Too much for Man to bear. O rather lend
296 Thy kindly aid to mitigate his stroke,
297 And at that hour when all aghast I stand,
298 (A trembling Candidate for thy compassion,)
299 On this World's brink, and look into the next;
300 When my soul starting from the dark unknown
301 Casts back a wishful look, and fondly clings
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302 To her frail prop, unwilling to be wrench'd
303 From this fair scene, from all her custom'd joys,
304 And all the lovely relatives of life,
305 Then shed thy comforts o'er me; then put on
306 The gentlest of thy looks. Let no dark Crimes
307 In all their hideous forms then starting up
308 Plant themselves round my couch in grim array,
309 And stab my bleeding heart with two edg'd-torture,
310 Sense of past guilt, and dread of future woe.
311 Far be the ghastly crew! and in their stead,
312 Let chearful Memory from her purest cells
313 Lead forth a goodly train of Virtues fair
314 Cherish'd in earliest youth, now paying back
315 With tenfold usury the pious care,
316 And pouring o'er my wounds the heavenly balm
317 Of conscious innocence. But chiefly, Thou,
318 Whom soft-ey'd Pity once led down from Heaven
319 To bleed for Man, to teach him how to live,
320 And, oh! still harder Lesson! how to die,
321 Disdain not Thou to smooth the restless bed
322 Of Sickness and of Pain. Forgive the tear
323 That feeble Nature drops, calm all her fears,
324 Wake all her hopes, and animate her faith,
325 Till my rapt Soul anticipating Heaven
326 Bursts from the thraldom of incumbering clay,
327 And on the wing of Extasy upborn
328 Springs into Liberty, and Light, and Life.


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About this text

Title (in Source Edition): DEATH: A POETICAL ESSAY.
Themes: death
Genres: blank verse; essay
References: DMI 32552

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Source edition

A collection of poems in four volumes. By several hands. Vol. III. [The second edition]. London: printed for G. Pearch, 1770, pp. 49-60. 4v. ; 8⁰. (ESTC T116245; DMI 1136)

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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.