[Page 158]

PRE-EXISTENCE:

A POEM, In Imitation of MILTON.

Has quoniam coeli nondum dignamur honore,
Quas dedimus certe terras habitare sinamus.
[ed.] Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.194-195. (AH)
1 NOW had th' archangel trumpet, rais'd sublime
2 Above the walls of heav'n, begun to sound;
3 All aether took the blast, and hell beneath
4 Shook with celestial noise; th' almighty host
5 Hot with pursuit, and reeking with the blood
6 Of guilty cherubs smear'd in sulphurous dust,
7 Pause at the known command of sounding gold.
8 At first they close the wide Tartarian gates,
9 Th' impenetrable folds on brazen hinge
10 Roll creaking horrible; the din beneath
11 O'ercomes the roar of flames, and deafens hell.
12 Then through the solid gloom with nimble wing
13 They cut their shining traces up to light;
[Page 159]
14 Return'd upon the edge of heavenly day,
15 Where thinnest beams play round the vast obscure,
16 And with eternal gleam drive back the night.
17 They find the troops less stubborn, less involv'd
18 In crime and ruin, barr'd the realms of peace,
19 Yet uncondemn'd to baleful seats of woe,
20 Doubtful and suppliant; all the plumes of light
21 Moult from their shuddering wings, and sickly fear
22 Shades every face with horror; conscious guilt
23 Rolls in the livid eye-ball, and each breast
24 Shakes with the dread of future doom unknown.
25 'Tis here the wide circumference of heaven
26 Opens in two vast gates, that inward turn
27 Voluminous, on jasper columns hung
28 By geometry divine: they ever glow
29 With living sculptures, that arise by turns
30 T' imboss the shining leaves, by turns they set
31 To give succeeding argument their place;
32 In holy hieroglyphicks on they move,
33 The gaze of journeying angels, as they pass
34 Oft looking back, and held in deep surprize.
35 Here stood the troops distinct; the cherub guard
36 Unbarr'd the splendid gates, and in they roll
37 Harmonious; for a vocal spirit sits
38 Within each hinge, and, as they onward drive,
39 In just divisions breaks the numerous jarr
40 With symphony melodious, such as spheres
41 Involv'd in tenfold wreaths are said to sound.
[Page 160]
42 Out flows a blaze of glory; for on high
43 Tow'ring advanc'd the moving throne of God,
44 Vast and majestick; on each radiant side
45 The pointed rays slope glittering; at the foot
46 Glides a full tide of day, that onward pours,
47 In liquid torrents through the black abyss,
48 Sparkling among reluctant shapes which thence
49 Retire confus'd; as when Vesuvio shakes
50 With inward torments, and disgorges flames,
51 O'er the vast mountain's ridge the burning waves
52 Drive their refulgent curls, and on they roll
53 Sweeping the glowing plains down to the sea;
54 Th' affrighted sea leaps back with hideous roar
55 To give the fire its course; thus Chaos wild
56 Hissing recoils to let in floods of light.
57 Above the throne, th' ideas heavenly bright
58 Of past, of present, and of coming time
59 Fix'd their immov'd abode, and there present
60 An endless landscape of created things
61 To sight celestial, where angelick eyes
62 Are lost in prospect; for the shiny range,
63 Boundless and various in its bosom bears
64 Millions of full-proportion'd worlds, beheld
65 With stedfast eyes, till more arise to view,
66 And farther inward scenes start up unknown.
67 Myriads of seraphs in long series wait
68 About the throne, and as it moves, proceed
69 In numerous order, to celestial song.
[Page 161]
70 Above, the symphony of mellow flutes;
71 And harps, by flying angels gently touch'd,
72 Relieve the trumpet's rage, and fitly blend
73 The solemn sounds in harmony divine;
74 Such as might tune new worlds, and give the laws
75 To globes on high, and the just figure guide
76 Of planets forming all their airy dance.
77 Below, the blazing wheels drive bounding o'er
78 The starry pavement; stars and hills of light
79 Double their glories where the chariot rolls
80 With rattling sound; and th' empyraeum vast
81 Down to its stedfast axis, groans throughout
82 Under the burning tracts, till now it rests
83 Upon the gaping brink of heaven; and there
84 With open pomp, fills the vast empty space.
85 Silence ensues; a deep and aweful pause
86 More terrible, all expectation held
87 In horror: now wrath imminent amaz'd
88 With dreadful precipice, to all it seems
89 More formidable near; then from the throne
90 A vocal thunder roll'd the sense of God,
91 Majestically long, repugnant all
92 To princes' customs here; their judgments flash
93 On guilt, with words concise, and sudden blaze.
94 Quite otherwise, the God's enlarged speech
95 Set wide the fate of things; that all around
96 Might take full prospects of their coming doom.
[Page 162]
97 Servants of God! and Virtues great in arms;
98 We approve your faithful works, and you return
99 Bless'd from the dire pursuit of rebel foes;
100 Resolv'd, obdurate, they have try'd the force
101 Of this right hand, and known Almighty pow'r;
102 Transfix'd with lightning down they sunk, they fell
103 Into the fiery gulph, and deep they plunge
104 Below the burning waves, to hide their heads
105 In shelter from my vengeance bellowing hence
106 More fierce, and scorching with more dreadful fires.
107 There let 'em find their doom, that durst defy
108 Omnipotence, and slight his proferr'd grace;
109 Rolling in flames, and ne'er to find a dawn
110 Of heavenly day; instead, the mind imbibes
111 Eternal gloom, and fing'd with constant flames,
112 Can find no ease; while fierce their boiling rage
113 Eats through th' impyreal mould, and glows within
114 With endless pain; not one repentant thought
115 Shall cool the breast, but proud in horrid crime,
116 The soul anneals and hardens in the fire.
117 But you commission'd by commands divine,
118 Have wisely fill'd your trust, and clos'd 'em all
119 Within the fervid lake, lest any roam
120 Into the dark abyss to shun their doom,
121 And in the womb immense of things unborn
122 Should seek annihilation; you must rise
123 Among the shining virtues more sublime;
124 On lofty thrones preferr'd for lofty deeds.
[Page 163]
125 For you, ye guilty throng! that lately join'd
126 In this sedition, since seduc'd from good,
127 And caught in trains of guile, by spirits malign,
128 Superior in their order; you accept,
129 Trembling, my heavenly clemency and grace.
130 When the long aera once has fill'd its orb,
131 You shall emerge to light, and humbly here
132 Again shall bow before his favouring throne,
133 If your own virtue second my decree:
134 But all must have their manes first below,
135 So stands th' eternal fate, but smoother yours
136 Than what lost angels feel; nor can our reign,
137 Without just dooms, the peace of heav'n secure;
138 For forms celestial new erect in glory
139 Wou'd totter, dazzled with the heights of power,
140 Did not the nerves of justice fix their sight.
141 See, where below in Chaos wond'rous deep
142 A speck of light dawns forth, and thence throughout
143 The shades, in many a wreath, my forming power
144 There swiftly turns the burning eddy round,
145 Absorbing all crude matter near its brink;
146 Which next, with subtle motions, takes the form
147 I please to stamp, the seed of infant worlds
148 All now in embryo, but ere long shall rise
149 Variously scatter'd in this vast expanse,
150 Involv'd in winding orbs, until the brims
151 Of outward circles brush the heavenly gates.
152 The middle point a globe of curling fire
[Page 164]
153 Shall hold, which round it sheds its genial heat;
154 Where'er I kindle life the motion grows
155 In all the endless orbs, from this machine;
156 And infinite vicissitudes shall roll
157 About the restless center; for I rear,
158 In those meanders turn'd, a dusty ball,
159 Deform'd all o'er with woods, whose shaggy tops
160 Inclose eternal mists, and deadly damps
161 Hover within their boughs, to choak the light;
162 Impervious scenes of horror, 'till reform'd
163 To fields, and grassy dales, and flow'ry meads,
164 By your continual pains. The torrid zone
165 Here fries with constant heat, the swarthy world;
166 Parching the plains where hideous monsters glare,
167 And dusty mountains, tumbled by the winds,
168 Stretch their uncertain heaps; no less the frost
169 At either end shall rage, and high shall raise
170 Firm promontories; vast the ruins seem
171 Of desart nature, and th' eternal piles
172 Load all the dreary coast, and thick in ice,
173 Arm either pole, that yearly peeps askance
174 On coming light, but feels no gentle ray
175 Unbind the frozen chain. Between these lie
176 The changeful climes, alternately they burn,
177 And chill again by turns; for both extremes
178 Make their incursions here; and this my will
179 Unchangeable ordains your doleful seat.
[Page 165]
180 Beneath mishapen Chaos, and the field
181 Of fighting atoms, where hot, moist, and dry,
182 Wage an eternal war with dismal roar;
183 The dismal roar breaks smoothly on the ground,
184 Sacred to horror, and eternal night:
185 Here Silence sits, whose visionary shape
186 In folds of wreathy mantling sinks obscure,
187 And in dark fumes reclines his drowsy head;
188 An urn he holds, from whence a lake proceeds,
189 Wide, flowing gently, smooth, and Lethe nam'd:
190 Hither compell'd, each soul must drink long draughts
191 Of those forgetful streams, 'till forms within.
192 And all the great ideas fade and die:
193 For if vast thought should play about a mind
194 Inclos'd in flesh, and dragging cumbrous life,
195 Flutt'ring and beating in the mournful cage,
196 It soon would break its grates and wing away:
197 'Tis therefore my decree, the soul return
198 Naked from off this beach, and perfect blank,
199 To visit the new world; and strait to feel
200 Itself, in crude consistence closely shut,
201 The dreadful monument of just revenge;
202 Immur'd by heaven's own hand, and plac'd erect
203 On fleeting matter all imprison'd round
204 With walls of clay; th' aetherial mould shall bear
205 The chain of members, deafen'd with an ear,
206 Blinded by eyes, and manacled in hands.
207 Here anger, vast ambition, and disdain,
[Page 166]
208 And all the haughty movements rise and fall,
209 As storms of neighbouring atoms tear the soul;
210 And hope, and love, and all the calmer turns
211 Of easy hours, in their gay gilded shapes,
212 With sudden run, skim o'er deluded minds,
213 As matter leads the dance; but one desire,
214 Unsatisfy'd, shall mar ten thousand joys.
215 The rank of beings, that shall first advance,
216 Drink deep of human life; and long shall stay
217 On this great scene of cares. From all the rest,
218 That longer for the destin'd body wait,
219 Less penance I expect; and short abode
220 In those pale dreary kingdoms will content:
221 Each has his lamentable lot, and all,
222 On different racks, abide the pains of life.
223 The pensive spirit takes the lonely grove:
224 Nightly he visits all the sylvan scenes,
225 Where far remote, a melancholy moon
226 Raising her head, serene and shorn of beams,
227 Throws here and there the glimmerings thro' the trees,
228 To make more aweful darkness. Starry lights,
229 Hung up on high, shed round 'em as they burn
230 A pale sad influence; and they gild the plains
231 With doubtful rays, which strike within the shades
232 A trembling lustre and uncertain light.
233 The SAGE shall haunt this solitary ground,
234 And view the dismal landscape, limn'd within
235 In horrid shades, mix'd with imperfect light.
[Page 167]
236 Here JUDGMEGT, blinded by delusive SENSE,
237 Contracted through the cranny of an eye,
238 Shoots up faint languid beams, to that dark seat,
239 Wherein the soul bereav'd of native fire,
240 Sits intricate, in misty clouds obscur'd,
241 Ev'n from itself conceal'd, and there presides
242 O'er jarring images with reason's sway,
243 Which by his ordering more confounds their form;
244 And by decisions more embroils the fray:
245 The more he strives t' appease, the more he feels
246 The struggling surges of the darksome void
247 Impetuous, and the thick revolving thoughts
248 Encount'ring thoughts, image on image turn'd,
249 A Chaos of wild science, where sometimes
250 The clashing notions strike out casual light,
251 Which soon must perish and be lost again
252 In the thick darkness round it. Now, he tries
253 With all his might to raise some weighty thought,
254 Of me, of fate, or of th' eternal round,
255 Which but recoils to crush the labouring mind.
256 High are his reasonings, but the feeble clue
257 Of fleeting images he draws in vain
258 To wond'rous length; (for still the turning maze
259 Eludes his art) its end flies far away,
260 And leaves him tracing round the toilsome path,
261 Returning oft on the same beaten thought.
262 For much of good he talks, and life serene,
263 Of happiness deny'd, the dismal waste
[Page 168]
264 Of wisdom's privilege, and th' obdurate breast,
265 Stubborn in anguish; idle wisdom all,
266 Weak sorcery to charm a real pain;
267 Distasting crowds and business, thus he seeks
268 Diversion in himself, but with deep thoughts
269 He kindles doubt; and while he strives to blow
270 The ashes off, revives the brand of care.
271 Hence far remov'd, a diff'rent noisy race
272 In cities full and frequent take their seat,
273 Where honour's crush'd, and gratitude oppress'd
274 With swelling hopes of gain, that raise within
275 A tempest, and, driv'n onward by success,
276 Can find no bounds. For creatures of a day
277 Stretch their wide cares to ages; full increase
278 Starves the penurious soul, while empty sound
279 Fills the ambitious; that shall ever shrink,
280 Pining with endless cares, whilst this shall swell
281 To tympany enormous. Bright in arms
282 Here shines the hero, out he fiercely leads
283 A martial throng, his instruments of rage,
284 To fill the world with death, and thin mankind.
285 Ambition drives, and round the world he roams,
286 Marking his way with blood; the dreadful noise
287 Begets a fame; and all the breath he leaves
288 Is spent in his false praise, and vainly bloats
289 The tyrant's soul; while high his kingdoms rise
290 In fleeting pomp, hov'ring o'er their gaudy wings
291 Around the servile globe, that tamely bends
[Page 169]
292 Beneath his haughty reign; and all his slaves
293 Under his yoke shall groan, and scarce shall groan
294 Without a crime. Here torturing engines roar
295 With human voice disguis'd; earth, water, fire,
296 Are made (dire elements of cruelty!)
297 Subservient to his lust, and power to kill;
298 Yet shall the herd endure, nor dare to break
299 United their imaginary chain;
300 While their great monarch chills with equal fears,
301 No less a slave than they. Each rumour shakes
302 The haughty purple, dark and cloudy cares
303 Involve the aweful throne, that stands erect,
304 Balanc'd on the wild people's temper'd rage,
305 And fortify'd with dangerous arts of power.
306 But death shall shift those scenes of misery;
307 Then doubtful titles kindle up new wars,
308 And urge on ling'ring fate; the ensigns blaze
309 About the camp, and drums and trumpets' sound
310 Prepare a solemn way to griezly war;
311 Javelins and bearded spears in ghastly ranks
312 Erect their shining heads, and round the field
313 A harvest's scene of formidable death;
314 Then joins the horrid shock, whose bellowing burst
315 Torments the shatter'd air, and drowns the groans
316 Of men below that roll in certain death.
317 These are the mortal sports, the tragick plays
318 By man himself embroil'd; the dire debate
319 Make the waste desart seem serene and mild,
[Page 170]
320 Where savage nature in one common lies,
321 By homely cots possess'd; all squalid, wild,
322 And despicably poor, they range the field,
323 And feel their share of hunger, care, and pain,
324 Cheated by flying prey; and now they tear
325 Their panting flesh; and now with nails unclean
326 They tug their shaggy beards; and deeply quaff
327 Of human woe, even when they rudely sip
328 The flowing stream, or chew the savory pulp
329 Of nature's freshest viands; fragrant fruits
330 Enjoy'd with trembling, and in danger sought.
331 But where th' appointed limits of a law
332 Fences the general safety of the world,
333 No greater quiet reigns; for wanton man,
334 In giddy frolick easily leaps o'er
335 His own invented bounds; hence rapine, fraud,
336 Revenge, and lust, and all the hideous train
337 Of nameless ills, distort the meagre mind
338 To endless shapes of woe. Here misers mourn
339 Departed gold, and their defrauded heirs
340 Dire perjuries complain; the blended loads
341 Of punishment and crime deform the world,
342 And give no rest to man; with pangs and throes
343 He enters on the stage; prophetick tears
344 And infant cries prelude his future woes;
345 And all is one continu'd scene of grief,
346 'Till the fad sable curtain falls in death.
[Page 171]
347 But that last act shall in one moment close
348 Of doubt and darkness; pain shall crack the strings
349 Of life decayed; no less the soul convuls'd,
350 Trembles in anxious cares, and shuddering stands,
351 Afraid to leap into the opening gulph
352 Of future fate, till all the banks of clay
353 Fall from beneath his feet: in vain he grasps
354 The shatter'd reeds that cheat his easy wish.
355 Reason is now no more; that narrow lamp
356 (Which with its sickly fires would shoot its beams
357 To distances unknown, and stretch its rays
358 Askance my paths, in deepest darkness veil'd)
359 Is sunk into his socket; inly there
360 It burns a dismal light; th' expiring flame
361 Is choak'd in fumes, and parts in various doubt.
362 Then the gay glories of the living world
363 Shall cast their empty varnish, and retire
364 Out of his feeble view; and rising shade
365 Sit hov'ring o'er all nature's various face.
366 Musick shall cease, and instruments of joy
367 Shall fail that sullen hour; nor can the mind
368 Attend their sounds, when fancies swim in death,
369 Confus'd and crush'd with cares: for long shall seem
370 The dreary road, and melancholy dark,
371 That leads he knows not where. Here empty space
372 Gapes horrible, and threatens to absorb
373 All being: yonder sooty demons glare,
374 And dolorous spectres grin; the shapeless rout
[Page 172]
375 Of wild imagination dance and play
376 Before his eyes obscure; till all in death
377 Shall vanish, and the prisoner, now enlarg'd,
378 Regains the flaming borders of the sky.
379 He ended. Peals of thunder rend the heavens,
380 And Chaos, from the bottom turn'd, resounds
381 The mighty clangor: All the heavenly host
382 Approve the high decree, and loud they sing
383 Eternal justice; while the guilty troops,
384 Sad with their doom, but sad without despair,
385 Fall fluttering down to Lethe's lake, and there
386 For penance, and the destin'd body, wait.

    Text

    • TEI/XML [chunk] (XML - 838K / ZIP - 83K) / ECPA schema (RNC - 357K / ZIP - 73K)
    • Plain text [excluding paratexts] (TXT - 17K / ZIP - 7.9K)

    Facsimile

    (Page images digitized by the Eighteenth-Century Poetry Archive from a copy in the archive's library.)

    Images

    All Images (ZIP - 39M)

    PDF

    All Images (PDF - 12M)

    About this text

    Title (in Source Edition): PRE-EXISTENCE: A POEM, In Imitation of MILTON.
    Author: Abel Evans
    Themes: heaven; God
    Genres: blank verse; imitation
    References: DMI 22237

    Text view / Document view

    Source edition

    A Collection of Poems in Six Volumes. By Several Hands. Vol. I. London: printed by J. Hughs, for R. and J. Dodsley, 1763 [1st ed. 1758], pp. 158-172. 6v.: music; 8⁰. (ESTC T131163; OTA K104099.001) (Page images digitized by the Eighteenth-Century Poetry Archive from a copy in the archive's library.)

    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.