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ODE ON DEATH.

WRITTEN IN FRENCH BY HIS MAJESTY THE KING OF PRUSSIA.

1 WHAT does the sad presaging mean?
2 Few days, few years, perhaps few moments urge
3 My footsteps to the dreary verge,
4 Where Fate the curtain drops to close the scene:
5 Then farewel! Life and Light! and thou blest Sun serene.
6 Earth, o'er me rolls thy mighty bed;
7 The world recedes; I view the grave profound:
8 Of life I touch the utmost bound;
9 And rush to mix a victim with the dead,
10 Where Fate embraces all, and none can backward tread.
11 While yet I wake or sleep, there stand
12 Ten thousand Deaths in arms; before, behind,
13 They press me round; and every wind
14 Wafts the contagion from each distant land,
15 And all the Elements conspire to arm the dreadful band;
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16 Within, without, above, below,
17 By turns they sink, or rend my feeble frame,
18 Now chill, now urge the vital flame,
19 Till Nature's tortur'd stream forgets to flow,
20 And Art itself but proves a still more dangerous foe.
21 Dust to its Dust will soon return
22 This mortal part, proud Tyrant of the Mind,
23 Nor leave of all its pomp behind,
24 But horrid lessons human Pride should learn,
25 Foul Worms, and Blood, and Stench that sill the Royal Urn.
26 Recede, ye base and servile train,
27 I cannot be the mighty thing ye say;
28 The wretched object of a day,
29 Which slatter'd Fancy would exalt in vain,
30 I know what I must be, and what I am disdain.
31 But warm'd with Heaven's eternal flame,
32 Shall that which lives, which thinks, the Mind
33 Be fleeting as the empty wind?
34 Or say, can Death its active efforts tame,
35 O God, who first inspir'd this animated frame?
36 No: for the Mind above the grave
37 Unfetter'd springs, and searching Nature's stores
38 It knows itself, and thee adores,
39 Secure, O God, whose word its being gave,
40 That what created first has certain power to save;
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41 While thus of Death dispels the cloud,
42 Can sensual joy life's narrow view confine?
43 True Virtue feels the hope divine
44 Of bliss sincere: not so the guilty crowd;
45 Thy arm for ever blasts the wicked and the proud.
46 Great God! and is eternal pain
47 Or joy of Heaven reserv'd for me in store?
48 Thy breath but wafts to either shore;
49 Scarce can the tortur'd mind the thought sustain;
50 I fly forbidden joys, the sensual, and the vain.
51 Yet fast to earth is Nature bound:
52 Back on its wonted objects turns the Mind,
53 And lags the slave of life behind:
54 While Reason's efforts are too painful found
55 To rend the rooted oak that loves its native ground.
56 Objects of every jealous eye,
57 Ye dreams of mortal good, that swift decay,
58 How do ye stop my destin'd way?
59 And force me back the paths of sense to try?
60 Ye point the sting of Death, and more than once I die.
61 Scenes of astonishment! the world how blind!
62 Is Death depriv'd of all his mighty power?
63 Do none expect the fatal hour?
64 Is there a wish to Nature's bounds confin'd?
65 Is there a scheme forgot, or toil for this resign'd?
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66 See Mortals still acquire, assume,
67 As if more vigilant they Death could shun,
68 To honours fly, to combats run,
69 And he whose footsteps tremble o'er the tomb
70 Builds up new plans of life, and sudden meets his doom.
71 Rush on, ye madding train,
72 A thousand rocks, a thousand storms despise,
73 To reach the good ye idolize:
74 Go, of accumulated wealth be vain:
75 Go, ravage other worlds, if other worlds remain
76 Let neither law, nor power divine,
77 Nor Nature's anxious Monitor within
78 Repress each greatly daring Sin;
79 Go: bid with want the plunder'd Orphan pine,
80 And with polluted hands disturb each sacred Shrine;
81 Proceed: but soon your views are past;
82 Accurst; at once ye droop, and are no more:
83 Who would not think, to see your store,
84 That all the projects your Ambition cast
85 Beyond the grave were stretch'd, and would for ever last?
86 Ye mighty Leaders, mighty Kings,
87 With flames, and blood, whose battles mark your way;
88 Do Monarchs hope eternal sway?
89 In vain each distant clime its tribute brings,
90 Sprung from the dust ye mix with long-forgotten things.
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91 Himself the Victor cannot save;
92 If but to die is yours, how short is Glory's sum?
93 In vain ye fought and overcome,
94 Nor aught avail the spoils Ambition gave
95 To hang with conquer'd crowns the putrid Monarch's grave.
96 On Nature's theatre display'd
97 All is the sport of Death; the change I fear;
98 New objects rise, then disappear;
99 Around my brows the cypress casts a shade;
100 I scorn the sweets of life, and all its roses fade.
101 Yet 'midst this sage, but painful lore,
102 While awful truths their sacred light reveal,
103 What means this latent wish I feel?
104 Is then my bosom's Lord itself no more?
105 Wretch! that I drag new chains more ponderous than before.
106 Rules then the mind, this Lord supreme?
107 Which every weak, and vain allurement draws
108 To Pleasure's throne, and tyrant laws.
109 Quick we return in life from what we seem
110 To what we are, and wake from calm Reflection's dream.
111 As wandering Fancy leads we go;
112 By turns we reason, or submit to sense,
113 And incoherent parts commence
114 That fill the stage of Folly, Shame, and Woe;
115 Nor from the hook escap'd again the bait we know.
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116 Voltaire, in this eternal round
117 How swift our active spirits urge their way!
118 By both extremes deceiv'd we stray,
119 Now caught by sense, now lost in thought profound,
120 And in the mutual change our happiness is found.

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About this text

Title (in Source Edition): ODE ON DEATH. WRITTEN IN FRENCH BY HIS MAJESTY THE KING OF PRUSSIA.
Themes: death
Genres: elegy; imitation; translation; paraphrase
References: DMI 32616

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Source edition

A collection of poems in four volumes. By several hands. Vol. IV. [The second edition]. London: printed for G. Pearch, 1770, pp. 16-21. 4v. ; 8⁰. (ESTC T116245; DMI 1137)

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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.