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Digression is so much in modern use, Thought is so rare, and fancy so profuse, Some never seem so wide of their intent, As when returning to the theme they meant ; As mendicants, whose business is to roam, Make every parish but their own their home. Though such continual zig-zags in a book, Such drunken reelings have an awkward look, And I had rather creep to what is true, Than rove and stagger with no mark in view; Yet to consult a little, seemed no crime, The freakish humour of the present time : But now to gather up what seems dispersed And touch the subject I designed at first, May prove, though much beside the rules of art, Best for the public, and my wisest part. And first, let no man charge me that I mean To clothe in sable every social scene, And give good company a face severe, As if they met around a father's bier ; For tell some men, that pleasure all their bent, And laughter all their work, is life mispent, Their wisdom bursts into this sage reply, Then mirth is sin, and we should always cry. To find the medium asks some share of wit, And therefore 'tis a mark fools never hit. But though life's valley be a vale of tears, A brighter scene beyond that vale appears, Whose glory with a light, that never fades, Shoots between scattered rocks and opening shades, And, while it shows the land the soul desires, The language of the land she seeks inspires. Thus touched the tongue receives a sacred cure Of all that was absurd, profane, impure ; Held within modest bounds the tide of speech Pursues the course, that truth and nature teach;
No longer labours merely to produce
The pomp of sound, or tinkle without use:
Where'er it winds, the salutary stream,
Sprightly and fresh, enriches every theme,
While all the happy man possessed before,
The gift of nature, or the classic store,
Is made subservient to the grand design,
For which heaven formed the faculty divine.
So should an idiot, while at large he strays,
Find the sweet lyre, on which an artist plays,
With rash and awkward force the chords he shakes,
And grins with wonder at the jar he makes;
But let the wise and well-instructed hand
Once take the shell beneath his just command,
In gentle sounds it seems as it complained
of the rude injuries it late sustained,
Till tuned at length to some immortal song,
It sounds Jehovah's name, and pours his praise along.
studiis florens ignobilis oti.
Virg. Georg. Lib. 4.
HACKNEYED in business, wearied at that oar,
Which thousands, once fast chained to, quit no more,
But which, when life at ebb runs weak and low,
All wish, or seem to wish, they could forego;
The statesman, lawyer, merchant, man of trade,
Pants for the refuge of some rural shade,
Where, all his long anxieties forgot
Amid the charms of a sequestered spot,
Or recollected only to gild o'er,
And add a smile to what was sweet before,
He may possess the joys he thinks he sees,
Lay his old age upon the lap of ease,
Improve the remnant of his wasted span,
And, having lived a trifler, die a man.
Thus conscience pleads her cause within the breast,
Though long rebelled against, not yet suppressed,
And calls a creature formed for God alone,
For heaven's high purposes, and not his own;
Calls him away from selfish ends and aims,
From what debilitates and what inflames,
From cities humming with a restless crowd,
Sordid as active, ignorant as loud,
Whose highest praise is that they live in vain,
The dupes of pleasure, or the slaves of gain,
Where works of man are clustered close around,
And works of God are hardly to be found,
To regions where, in spite of sin and woe,
Traces of Eden are still seen below,
Where mountain, river, forest, field, and grove,
Remind him of his Maker's power and love.
'Tis well if, looked for at so late a day,
In the last scene of such a senseless play,
True wisdom will attend his feeble call,
And grace his action ere the curtain fall.
Souls, that have long despised their heavenly birth,
Their wishes all impregnated with earth,
For threescore years employed with ceaseless care
In catching smoke and feeding upon air,
Conversant only with the ways of men,
Rarely redeem the short remaining ten.
Inveterate habits choke th' unfruitful heart,
Their fibres penetrate its tenderest part,
And, draining its nutritious powers to feed
Their noxious growth, starve every better seed.
Happy, if full of days—but happier far, If, ere we yet discern life's evening star, Sick of the service of a world, that feeds Its patient drudges with dry chaff and weeds, We can escape from custom's idiot sway, To serve the Sovereign we were born t' obey. Then sweet to muse upon his skill displayed (Infinite skill) in all that he has made ! To trace in nature's most minute design The signature and stamp of power divine, Contrivance intricate, expressed with ease, Where unassisted sight no beauty sees, The shapely limb and lubricated joint, Within the small dimensions of a point, Muscle and nerve miraculously spun, His mighty work, who speaks and it is done, The invisible in things scarce seen revealed, To whom an atom is an ample field ; To wonder at a thousand insect forms, These hatched, and those resuscitated worms, New life ordained and brighter scenes to share, Once prone on earth, now buoyant upon air, Whose shape would make them, had they bulk and size, More hideous foes than fancy can devise ; With helmet heads and dragon scales adorned, The mighty myriads, now securely scorned, Would mock the inajesty of man's high birth, Despise his bulwarks, and unpeople earth : Then with a glance of fancy to survey, Far as the faculty can stretch away, Ten thousand rivers poured at his command From urns, that never fail, through every land ; These like a deluge with impetuous force, Those winding modestly a silent course ; The cloud surmounting alps, the fruitful vales; Seas, on which every nation spreads her sails;
The sun, a world whence other worlds drink light,
The crescent moon, the diadem of night;
Stars countless, each in his appointed place,
Fast-anchored in the deep abyss of space-
At such a sight to catch the poet's flame,
And with a rapture like his own exclaim,
These are thy glorious works, thou source of good,
How dimly seen, how faintly understood !
Thine, and upheld by thy paternal care,
This universal frame, thus wondrous fair;
Thy power divine, and bounty beyond thought,
Adored and praised in all that thou hast wrought.
Absorbed in that immensity I see,
I shrink abased, and yet aspire to thee;
Instruct me, guide me to that heavenly day
Thy words, more clearly than thy works, display,
That, while thy truths my grosser thoughts refine,
I may resemble thee and call thee mine,
Oh blest proficiency! surpassing all
That men erroneously their glory call,
The recompense that arts or arms can yield,
The bar, the senate, or the tented field.
Compared with this sublimest life below,
Ye kings and rulers, what have courts to show?
Thus studied, used, and consecrated thus,
On earth what is, seems formed indeed for us ;
Not as the plaything of a froward child,
Fretful unless diverted and beguiled,
Much less to feed and fan the fatal fires
Of pride, ambition, or impure desires,
But as a scale, by which the soul ascends
From mighty means to more important ends,
Securely, though by steps but rarely trod,
Mounts from inferior beings up to God,
And sees by no fallacious light or dim,
Earth made for man, and man himself for him.